Decrypting Slovenia’s Defense

(This is Part III of IV of our USA vs. Slovenia Preview) (Part I) (Part II)

Tuesday’s here. (Pun intended) with a follow-up on how Bob Bradley should play the Slovenia affair.

Keys to breaking down Slovenia:

Findley needs to expand his mind off the ball.

1. Mobility in and around the box. Our strikers cannot be static in the box, simply standing on the shoulders of the defenders waiting for a cross. Against a defense that drops deep quickly, sometimes the striker’s best run is to create space by standing still as the defense drops before attacking the aggressively ball as it arrives.

At times they will need to come deep and wide to link up play in the hopes of pulling defenders out of shape and creating gaps for late-arriving players to run into. With Donovan and Dempsey narrow positions discomforting the English fullbacks, a similar approach will compress the Slovenian back 4. It’ll be important to get runner’s into the outside channels to exploit the space they create.
2. Get behind the opposition. This is key to getting quality balls into the box but can be a real challenge against a defense like Slovenia’s. Once the defense has dropped deep, our wide players must play the ball back out to a supporting player and make a run along the offside line hoping to curl onto a one-touch return ball behind the defensive line.

Alternatively a striker can make a run coming to the outside along the line and cut the ball back to the wide player slashing into the center after playing the ball. Runs along the lines will open gaps to exploit and the speed of one-touch football denies the defense time to adjust. (I originally wrote this about a month ago, but Gerrard provided a good demonstration for me this type of running on Saturday.)

Holy Smokes! A smile...but will Junior continue his phenomenal, and in-control, play?

3. Dictating the attack. One of the CMs Bob normally deploys at the base of midfield in front of the back four will need to dictate play and vary the point of attack with accurate passing. This player must quickly switch play from flank to flank with interplay through the center of midfield. The midfield will also be counted on heavily to finish the chances created by good movement up top and in the wide areas.

The Slovenia match will be young Mike Bradley’s chance to channel his inner Xavi on the biggest stage or Torres could be given the opportunity to announce himself as the true heir to Claudio Reyna. It’s break or break-out time for Jr. It should also be an opportunity for our attacking midfielders to show the extra class they enjoy over their opponents.

The key is to bring the effort and intensity we showed against England to a lessor opponent.

Pressing Issues

Bob realizes that there’s no better way to create chances against a well-organized defense than to win the ball back in their defensive third. We don’t use our pressing strength as effectively as we should against more defensively inclined teams. Too often we press really well against teams who have more possession but we aren’t set up to do the same after losing possession when we are dictating the play. Strangely we choose to sit off and let them organize their attack. Given Slovenia’s toothlessness in attack this might be tempting, but is the wrong way to go.

Pressing can be more challenging against the deliberate sides that tend to keep a fairly well-organized in shape and spacing even in possession. The US must remember that pressing is not only about closing down space but also limiting passing options. The goal is to force a player to panic in possession or play a risky ball that could be cut out without having to go to ground.

How proficient will Slovenia be at building through the midfield?

Slovenia play very deliberately out of the back and could make mistakes if pressed effectively. In 4-4-2 vs 4-4-2, the fullback is so often accustomed to having time and space to play the ball. If this is taken away, they can be pressed into giving the ball away in dangerous areas. Since their fullbacks don’t push on, things are slightly different against Slovenia – the key passing lane to disrupt is the diagonal balls from LCB to RCM and RCB to LCM mentioned above as well as the RB-RCB-RCM triangle.

No team can press effectively for 90 minutes. Barca’s amazing onslaught of pressing away to Arsenal in the Champion’s League lasted only 30 minutes. Too often we seem to wear out after pressing with too much effort and not enough intelligence. True-pressing is best done in short spurts (15 minutes to begin a match, 5 and 10 minutes on either side of the half), followed by half-pressing (conceding possession in the opponents half, before pressing just inside your own) or false pressing (pressing with one player). If your striker is always cutting off the pass between the fullback and center-back he doesn’t have to expend much energy to put the fullback under far more pressure. This means other players efforts aren’t wasted with an easy “out” ball. No lunging tackles though, boys.

Preparation For The Whistle
With friendlies against Slovakia, Czech Republic and Turkey in the bag, it seems clear that our preparations were very focused around the Slovenia match. The Czechs were in the same group as Slovenia, Slovakia and Poland. While on a downward trend, the Czechs remain a capable defensive side, conceding just 6 goals in their qualifying group. Their attack is now somewhat less potent than the one that dismantled Bruce Arena’s side in 2006 but our young side successfully broke them down only to concede goals on the counter. This is a good reminder of what a team like Slovenia can do if you get caught up the pitch. They don’t expect many chances so they expect to make them count.

Our defensive concentration seems to be best when we spend the majority of our time defending. Bob will need prepare the side to deal with the transition from attack to defense and to keep defensive concentration in more even matches. It is as often our defensive frailty that hurts us in matches against other counter-attacking sides rather than a real lack of quality in our own attack. A good balance between our commitment to attack and need to defend must be struck.

The whole point of football tactics are to set up individual battles that your players have the best chance of winning given their best qualities. Bob Bradley knows this: “And so again, with everything that we look at, it still does come down to these moments in the game, these plays, an individual making a special play at a moment when it really counts, a team that doesn’t give up.” When you’re faced with 9 players behind the ball, so often it’s that little bit of quality that tells.

With a draw against England in the bag, we should believe in our attacking players. They have enough quality to win Group C.

Up Next: TSG’s Official USA vs. SVN preview….

30 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Randy on 2010/06/15 at 2:20 PM

    Question is which forwards would be best at getting behind the opposition. Buddle? Gomez? Altidore?


  2. Posted by s44 on 2010/06/15 at 2:26 PM

    “This is a good reminder of what a team like Slovenia can do if”

    …you have Jonathan Bornstein or Heath Pearce on the field. 😉

    Not saying it won’t happen with Boca, just glad he’s out there instead of the New Agoos.


  3. Posted by kaya on 2010/06/15 at 6:20 PM

    I’m sorry to bring up a discussion that seems to have been quietly dropped in light of the complete lack of agreement it produced, but I’m beginning to feel nickname envy. 3 Lions, Green Dragons and Desert Foxes all sound pretty badass (actually, almost everyone has a great nickname besides us.) Yank just sounds more and more like a verb to me, and not a glamorous one.
    Can’t we all just agree on [insert badass adjective here] Buffalo?


    • Posted by Brad on 2010/06/15 at 9:36 PM

      Exactly, can’t we all agree on the Rattlesnakes?

      Have you seen the Puma kits for the African teams that have the lions/elephants kind of watermarked in the shoulder area? I want us to switch to Puma so we can have a striking rattlesnake on ours.


    • Posted by Gino on 2010/06/15 at 11:18 PM

      What about The Bright Stars? A small homage to Francis Scott Key with obvious imagery of our Grand Ole Flag. That goes in hand with my idea for what to call US soccer viewing parties—Stars in Bars. Feel free to copyright these…or tell me I’m full of crap!


    • The YOOO-SA-YANKS is pretty awesome.


      • Posted by kaya on 2010/06/16 at 2:17 PM

        Ugh. whatever. No effin rattlesnakes.
        Bright stars are kinda reminiscent of rainbow brite.
        I don’t care if some NFL teams use buffalo, they’re big, emblematic of the US to a lot of people, and say “don’t mess with me”. Rattlesnakes scream AYSO 9-10 yo boys…
        Maybe Swissland and Denmark should change their names to the Candy Canes since I wore the same colors when I was 9 years old and the Candy Canes rocked the Orange County champhionship.


  4. May I venture a scenario? Thanks.

    Round 2:
    USA, with the tactical mind (genius?) of Bob Bradley eeks out a 1-0 win vs. SLV. England beats Algeria 3-1.

    ENG 4pts +2
    USA 4pts +1
    SLV 3pts +0
    ALG 0pts -4

    Round 3:

    USA beats ALG 2-0 in a thorough drubbing of an already defeated side. ENG draws a stubborn SLV who fights the best way they can to beat a superior ENG side..but can’t score, 0-0.

    USA 7pts +3
    ENG 5pts +3
    SLV 4pts +0
    ALG 0pts +0

    This is entirely possible. Moral of the story:



    • Posted by s44 on 2010/06/15 at 7:20 PM

      Honestly, since Germany plays after us I’m not sure if winning the group would get us much. Wouldn’t they choose us over England, or does Beckenbauer’s rip on Capello’s team mean they want that match?


      • Posted by Brad on 2010/06/15 at 9:39 PM

        You can’t win the World Cup without beating the best. If Germany pulls a duck move, we would beat them with heavenly justice on our side.


      • Posted by Gino on 2010/06/15 at 10:44 PM

        Not to disrespect Germany, but they’re likely not the world beaters that their drubbing of Australia would seem to suggest. The Socceroos were horrid. They continuously allowed the Germans to play wide balls deep in their defensive zone then applied little pressure on the ensuing crosses. Furthermore, their backline played too deep in the box thus keeping German attackers onside all day long. The Aussies aren’t as bad as they looked that day and the Germans aren’t as fearsome either. I’m still of the belief that Ghana and Serbia make it out of Group D.


        • I was with you up until you said “Ghana and Serbia make it out of Group D.” One of them definitely will, but we would only be kidding ourselves to think Germany won’t be there. They would basically need to lose to both Ghana and Serbia to be kept out, and I really don’t see that happening.


        • Posted by Gino on 2010/06/16 at 9:48 AM

          Hey, my work bracket is depending on a German flameout. A guy can dream can’t he? Besides, Ghana and Serbia are both very good teams. It’s about as crazy as Spain losing to Switzerland. Oops!


    • Actually if we beat Slovenia by more than England defeats Algeria, we’ll *almost* automatically qualify for the next round as long as we don’t lose by multiple goals.

      Say we dispose of Slovenia 2-0 and England beats Algeria 1-0, the group will look like this:
      USA 4Pts +2
      ENG 4Pts +1
      SLV 3Pts -1
      ALG 0Pts -2


      • Premature Submitulation…

        With the group looking like that and assuming we let our guard down against Algeria (God, I hope not):
        – England win guarantees us a place in the second round
        – ENG – SLV draw and we’re still alright as long as we don’t completely shit the bed
        – Slovenia winning and we’re still alright as long as we don’t completely shit the bed

        Hopefully Bobbo will take this into account and go for a couple goal victory, within typical measured Bobbo reason, of course.


      • Posted by cosmosredux on 2010/06/16 at 8:56 AM

        ARticle forthcoming here by Brian.


  5. Posted by JohnnyF on 2010/06/15 at 8:31 PM

    wonderful analysis boys! this is why I come to shinguardian.


  6. Posted by Gino on 2010/06/15 at 11:00 PM

    The article’s first two points seem to point towards Buddle or maybe even Gomez starting alongside Jozy. Findley’s strengths aren’t suited to this type of opponent. Plus, he still goes down or gets jostled off the ball too easily.

    The article’s third point is convincing and it’s conclusion inevitable. I just wonder whether Bob has something else up his sleeve. His game plan for England wasn’t exactly what we all expected, especially Capello. This aritcle is logical and appears obvious, therefore I suspect Bob might have a curveball or two in his glove. That isn’t to say I don’t agree with cosmosredux’ strategy.


    • Did you read our previews? I thought we generally nailed Bob’s tactics.


      • Posted by Gino on 2010/06/16 at 7:29 AM

        To be honest, I worked a sh*tload of 16 hour days last week so I didn’t get to visit the site much in the run up to the Cup. I guess what I shoud’ve said was that aside from TSG, Bradley’s tactics surprised most, particularly Capello.


        • I wasn’t calling you out Gino…. None of us are making money doing this so we’ve all got a life outside the World Cup too.

          We did discuss many scenarios about what Capello would do but our consensus here in shinguardian towers was that Findley should start up front so we had a threat to get behind England which along with Donovan pinning back A Cole was the key to the match, Clark and Bradley needed to close down Lampard and Gerrard to deny Rooney service in front of our back four while Boca needed to hold his own 1 v 1 against Lennon.

          The takeaway is that Bob has a good tactic to mitigate the danger of attacking full-backs. As the player providing width and generally in the most space, attacking full-backs are key to most of the top sides. Given it’s success, look for us to continue to do well against top sides that use this tactic.


  7. Posted by s44 on 2010/06/16 at 7:16 AM

    Jonathan Wilson seems to agree with Tuesday’s mirror-image theory, though he does miss the likely lineup reshuffle on our side (among other things, I’m pretty sure Donovan and Dempsey switch back to left and right respectively).


    • He also glosses the distinction you made in your comments on the other piece, but I think that’s important. He does point out that Slovenia tend to have more success against technical teams.

      Curious – why do you think Donovan and Dempsey will switch sides?


      • Posted by s44 on 2010/06/16 at 12:43 PM

        They’ve always at least started out with Donovan on the left (and Dempsey right) before the Australia and England games. The switch vs. the Aussies (which, as I predicted, was a preview of the England tactic) seemed to me a one-time adjustment specifically for Ashley Cole. Donovan back left gives us speed options on both sides instead of packed up on the right. Torres must do well switching the point of attack to make this an asset.

        I didn’t see the Turkey game but did Donovan go back left for the second half when the second forward came on with Torres? I’d guess this to be the blueprint for our next two matchups, with perhaps some special attention on the one dangerous Algerian wing player.


        • Against Turkey it was as it was against England – Dempsey left, Donovan right. Frankly, whatever their individual preferences, I think that suits both player and the team best. Donovan is better on the right where he can go outside or inside, rather than just inside. Since Dempsey is coming inside from a wide position on either flank, when he’s on the right we’re far too narrow because we no longer have dynamic width (ie. players that will run into wide areas vs “static width” players that are positioned in wide areas).

          The speed on our left flank comes from a forward making diagonal runs into the outside channel. This creates enough space for Dempsey who does better in tighter spaces. Donovan prefers to have more space and time to pick a pass he gets more of this with the threat of Dolo’s overlap on the right. I don’t expect any change to our 4 attacking players beyond possibly what Matt’s about to take a flyer on in his preview.


        • Posted by kaya on 2010/06/16 at 2:32 PM

          Donovan started right and Dempsey left for both games. And in both games they switched 2/3 of the way through the first half or so. Against England they swtiched back to the starting sides. I thought this was in hopes that Donovan and Dolo would link back up again.


  8. […] (Part I) (Part II) (Part III) […]


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