Part II: 60 Days to The Rumble At Rustenburg

…and we’re back with Part II, The Key Tactical Battle…

Walcott attacks...

Part II of “Rumble at Rustenburg” looks at the most important section of the field to win.

For those readers who have made themselves familiar with the intimate tactical details under Bob Bradley, it’s no secret that Coach Bradley often likes to: A) move the the ball to the wings quickly and away from threats in the middle, B) protect the left flank through the threat of counterattack (Donovan to Davies,

Will Boca be tasked with punching out the England attack?

while a speedy Ricardo Clark–or Maurice Edu–trail and protect a reverse on Bocanegra or Bornstein) and C) draw a midfielder in on the right to force the action down the right flank where Spector, Gooch and Bradley (all fairly big, athletic players) can shut down attacks way out wide–the weak left flank is thus protected.

Conversely England will look to exploit the Yanks weakness on the left while making Ashley Cole available over the drawn in midfielder on the right for attacks down that flank.

That match-up on the US left flank will be the pivotal battle to win….so say “GeorgeCross” and “Tuesday.”

The Key Battle: Walcott/Lennon vs. the US Left Flank by “GeorgeCross”

Theo Walcott is the main player here….

I feel that England can drag Bocanegra out of position and stretch the defence, creating space to exploit. Looking at Fig. 1, you can see that if Walcott hugs the right wing, and Bocanegra comes across to cover then that leave space between the left back and centre back – green shaded area.

Figure: Walcott or Lennon attack wide...

We have at least two options here. One is that it creates an opportunity for a through ball to be played for Walcott to use his pace to get behind the defense. Two, this space can be utilized by Rooney or Heskey – which means that Onyewu (or Demerit) picks them up.

If Bocanegra stays compact with his back four, this denies that pocket of space. But this allows Walcott to either cross the ball behind the back four (green shaded area) – for the other offensive players and perhaps Lampard to attack, or to run at Bocanegra on the outside.

Fig. 4 looks at the prospect of Walcott running at Bocanegra on his inside and wrong foot. Walcott using his pace can cause Bocanegra real problems, especially if his gets inside the box on his wrong side – all it takes is a mis-timed challenge and it’s a penalty (see 1st goal vs. Croatia at Wembley). Walcott can also cut inside and shoot with his left foot, which he has demonstrated in the EPL this season. Furthermore, by Walcott cutting inside and taking Bocanegra with him, it will create space (green shaded area) for Johnson to overlap and be the potential spare man in space getting behind the USA back four.

Tuesday’s take…

Pinning Johnson back defensively could be the difference in the match….

(Click Here To Watch The Glen Johnson-Theo Threat Unfold)

…and the difference between Walcott being the best winger in the world on the day or entirely anonymous.

England’s right flank vs. US left flank is really the key battle of the match – In the US half, it’s a speedy English winger, supported by Johnson attacking the US left back spot. In the England half, it’s Glen Johnson’s tendency to misread the game and get caught forward balanced against the pace and directness of the US counter-attacking game. While playing conservatively in the first half an hour so as not to concede an early goal, the US must use the space vacated by fullback to attack with enough threat to force Capello to reign in their advance.

A reasonably fit Charlie Davies taking up his preferred starting position wide on the left would inhabit the space vacated by Glen Johnson when he makes a forward run and cause problems for England’s defense.

Could a Beasley-Donovan tandem be key?

I think an asymmetric 4-2-2-2 deployed against Spain in the Confederations Cup lines would cause England more trouble than anyone expects if we can field Davies. If Johnson is forced back, the right wing is isolated giving the US left back a far easier defensive task. Like England with Ashley Cole, we’re a far more dangerous side with Charlie Davies, but aren’t without options.

Does Charlie Davies Complete his miraculous recovery? His impact as a second half sub could be more important than as a starter.

If CD9 weren’t fit, the approach would be different approach but the goal remains the same. Donovan and Beasley starting in wide positions for old times sake might even be the best option!

Part III coming…all the rest of the offense and defense…

23 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/04/12 at 12:42 PM

    Matthew if you thought I would love this post because i basically pre-determined Tuesday’s argument…then you were right (although I was expecting some random mention of Duliver).

    Love the graphics. I hope Boca chooses the latter option in keeping shaping and pushing Walcott to the outside because his crossing ability is not the greatest(See the buildup to Bendtner’s goal at Camp Nou and hell, any other Gooners game this season). I’m also willling to let Johnson cross away(at every opportunity he gets, barring Charlie Davies fitness & the former’s rare appearances that far up the pitch). Besides, I think we’re an above average team in the air on defense when we’re healthy


    • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/04/12 at 12:47 PM

      and of course by healthy i mean Gooch & JD in the middle


    • Yup, my fully realized theory on Walcott has become “Don’t let him beat you with speed, make him beat you with his final ball”. He’s much more dangerous running onto the ball than running with it.

      I’d happily let him have the ball in wide positions to run at Bocanegra, who should stay tight to the back four. Important to deny those through-balls by high pressing the fullbacks and the base of midfield as well as asking Edu to drift into the channel to cut out those passes. More on this coming in the next part.


      • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 1:11 PM

        You obviously did not see the CL Liverpool Arsenal game a couple of seasons back…
        My take on this is space. And the dynamics will change once England go one or two nil up – and in tournament football, you have to have a go as there’s no point in not taking the risk and losing.


        • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/04/12 at 1:43 PM

          that was one game… “a couple seasons back”


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 1:54 PM

          And we’re talking about *one* game a couple of months ahead!

          People slate Walcott for being inconsistent, and I agree that he does deserve *some* criticism. But I have also said that this season, he has been injured a lot and now he is only now getting his match sharpness back – this is essentially his pre-season.

          Jim mentioned about AW using him as a sub, but I feel like that was due in part to be a impact sub and partly because of returning from fitness.

          He will be 100% in 8 weeks and Mr. Capello will have him well drilled as to what he expects from him.


        • Posted by Jim S on 2010/04/12 at 2:19 PM

          Agree George. Cappello isn’t dumb by any means and he make sure his players follow orders. Theo is definitely a threat at full fitness, but then a question arises. If Boca keeps shape and limits him to crosses, which we would have to assume, no matter past experience or not, he will get a handful of good in. Is it smart to use heskey since gooch can handle his size, and instead bring in crouch for the extra height? Once again though I see walcoot pace slowing as the game goes on, so will Capello need to sub earlier than later (say at the half) to try and crouch and walcott to connect for any early goal? We all know that with the US, if we don’t give up the early goal, we normally at least get a draw, but it seems we let in too many early goals which put us on our heels and give the opposing team confidence.


        • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 3:10 PM

          Jim – in another piece I have talked about Heskey’s merits over Crouch so I will wait until then to see if you have further comments.

          If Bocanegra stays compact and doesn’t get dragged out wide, then there’s no reason why Walcott would not run at him in addition to crossing the ball. Personally, I favour running at Bocanegra inside the box, and if Walcott does intent to cross, then get to the byline and cut back. One, it means that Bocanegra might stick a leg out and foul him because of his speed, “conceding”^^ a penalty, or two, defending those cuts backs (like a ‘short corner’ in hockey) is really hard especially changing direction against England’s Lampard and Gerrard coming in from deep.

          ^^I don’t necessarily like it, but drawing fouls from an opponent is part of the game – by this I mean ‘playing for contact’ rather than doing a Klinsmann (remember the 1990 WC Final?).


  2. Posted by Paul on 2010/04/12 at 1:05 PM

    Great post. Always nice to see detailed analysis added to commentary. How does adding Bornstein instead of Boca change the picture? With Gooch’s slow return, I see Bradley sliding Boca into the center and replacing him at left back with Bornstein. I would prefer starting ‘dolo and sliding Spector out left, but I would bet a good sum that Bob, creature of habit, prefers Bornstein to Spector on the left. I think Bornstein has more speed, which allows for further tactical flexibility on the left; however, Bornstein tends to get caught out of position, and I can see him giving up the space to make the possibility illustrated by figure 1 a reality–a far more dangerous option, as Tuesday rightly argues.


    • Posted by Jim S on 2010/04/12 at 1:16 PM

      He would most likely be able to maintain shape because of his speed, but he give probably give up at 1 or 2 stupid fouls which either result in a pk or a close-range free kick. Good part is at least becks won’t be there to take advantage of those.


  3. Posted by Jim S on 2010/04/12 at 1:14 PM

    Tuesday, it’s a bit funny that your scenario encapsulates one of Washington’s greatest Revolutinary War Battles in Georgia. After the British attacked heavily early, Washington’s left Flank (CD9 if healthy) took advantage of their weakened right side (johnson in the 2nd half) and came around back to hit the English. Let’s hope history repeats itself.


  4. Posted by Jim S on 2010/04/12 at 1:20 PM

    One thing to mention also, is that walcott’s pace drops on a much larger curve than most as the game goes on. AW uses him well as a sub, but if he goes out too fast as a starter, and we can hold them back, a sub of (cough) jb or dolo would contain the left side enough to prevent any major 2nd half threat


  5. Posted by matthewsf on 2010/04/12 at 3:40 PM

    Ok…finally a chance to catch up with all the commentary.

    First…great job guys….
    Second…everyone knows I’m a fan of Jonathan Bornstein…yes…I…said…it.

    I am going to concur with Tuesday’s assessment above AND merely just rephrase it below.

    And that is both the work of the States’ CDM on the left side, specifically Ricardo Clark (or Maurice Edu) and Landon Donovan.

    The trouble for the US specifically above is getting caught on the counterattack here.

    To use a present day example, Theo Walcott burned Barca not in the normal run of play, but when the game was moving vertically after a Barca attempt on goal.

    This make that CDM role all the more important in trailing effectively and not losing shape.

    Further, Bob Bradley is keen to double team frequently on the left flank. We’ve seen that quite a bit. Whether it be Benny Feilhaber doubling down as he did in the friendly up in Slovakia on Vladimir Weiss, whether it be Ricardo Clark helping out Bornstein down in San Pedro Sula or more recently the “attempt” to double down by Paco Torres up in Holland…it didn’t work out so well as Torres defensive deficiencies were evident.

    If the CDM on that side is doubling down then CD comes up of course to Rooney or Heskey.

    A real key as Tuesday alluded to above is pinning Glen Johnson back…and I agree that is one of the top keys of the of the game…I might also add in tirelessly working Rooney on defense as well (and we’ll talk about that in another post).

    Anyway, Landon Donovan in terms of covering and passing Glen Johnson and providing an outlet is going to be vital if England attempt to attack the States’ left flank.

    Even more so for Donovan because he may or may not have Davies ahead of him–which is why Beasley or Bedoya are good selections to the team…they can punish “space” left by defenders.

    Great points guys…for those not keen on why we named Davies #3 on our USMNT Indispensable List…here’s just another reason why….


  6. All of this is assuming that Walcott even makes the team


    • Posted by GeorgeCross on 2010/04/12 at 5:11 PM

      Given that Mr. Capello has generally employed speed on the right, and Lennon is injured and SWP hasn’t really impressed, I think it is safe to assume Walcott will start. My preference is still Lennon as I feel he is really direct, mixes up his play more… but it is doubtful if he can get to pre-Christmas levels.


      • Posted by Antonio H. on 2010/04/12 at 6:43 PM

        IMO I think Ashley Young would test Boca better than Walcott would. The only reason I say this is because he has a delivery.


  7. I think the US is pretty solid in the air, although Rooney would give us all we could handle as he’s very strong. Heskey I am not worried about as much. The key is to get physical with Rooney, give him no space and make him frustrated. But I think Spain had(Confed)/has better crossing than England and our full-strength side was able to handle their barrage of crosses. And they were crossing to Torres, who’s no slouch.

    I agree with you George that the game can be won or lost at the US left back position. Just like you said, if Boca/Bornstien/whoever gets pulled out of position they risk a lot, although Bob likes to counter that with help from the defensive midfielders helping out. But this isn’t our biggest match up issue; the biggest matchup issue is the difference in quality at the midfield.

    Let us not forget that our midfield is made up of guys who tackle first and ask questions later. They are prone to risky tackles that don’t pay a lot of dividends, it’s almost always our undoing against teams with more quality at midfield (see versus Italy in the Confed Cup). But this is where Lamps and Gerrard can seal the deal if we don’t handle the play off the right wing, against our left back. They shoot from distance with accuracy. There is a lot riding against them scoring from distance–English World Cup jitters, hastiness…oh, and Timmy–but I worry less about the left back position getting beat on the flank than Sweatpants Jr./Rico/Edu getting into trouble early or giving Lamps/Gerrard too much space.

    Quality matchups all over the field. I can talk about this stuff for days…

    Good article George, hopefully Sweatpants reads TSG and takes note.


    • Funny, but I think that England will have much of the same problem with bad tackles. Not so much from Lampard but Terry, Gerrard and Rooney are always sending-offs waiting to happen since we should expect some fussy refereeing. That said, I think Mike Bradley has learned his lesson in that regard, Rico will struggle for playing time and Edu seems to be a bit better at reading the game.

      I think all this gets at the importance of not allowing too much space between our DMs and CBs, but at the same time not completely collapsing into one line of defenders when the ball is deep and wide. This is why in the next post I said I’d like to have a fit Holden who can tuck into the middle from the right when one of the DMs has to provide extra cover at the back, so there are always two players out in front of our back 4.


  8. Posted by danPA on 2010/04/13 at 7:26 AM

    I agree with, and emphasize that an equally important factor to the England right vs US left flank tactics is the central midfield: Edu/Bradley/Clark have to be positioned in a way that the space in front of Gooch is filled, and Boca isn’t forced to far inside to help with an attacking midfielder (referring to GeorgeCross’s graphic).

    If there is too much space in front of the US center backs, an England midfield or forward is going to exploit it. That will pull Boca inside to help close space in front of the centerbacks, leaving space for Walcott to receive the ball on the touchline and run at Boca. Or, if Boca keeps his positioning to deny Walcott much space, Rooney/Lampard will have space to receive the ball in front of the center backs or one of the center backs will have to step forward and create space behind the defense.

    The positioning of the central midfield and left back has been week in the past: I can specifically think of at least one goal by Costa Rica in the last qualifier and the 1st goal by Holland.

    …I love this kind of tactical discussion, and those graphics are awesome.


  9. […] Part II: The Key Tactical Battle […]


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