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Cox: Window pain

Tactics & Analysis 5 days ago
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Tactics: U.S. defend deep

Tactics Board Jul 1, 2014
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Richard Jolly profile picture Posted by Richard Jolly
Jun 26, 2014

Organisation key for Klinsmann's U.S.

The guys in Brazil discuss how the perception of U.S. soccer will change after Klinsmann's squad advanced from the group of death.

Americans show defensive discipline

The United States' tactics were dictated by both the situation and the opposition. The reality was that a draw would guarantee the progress they eventually secured and that, if Portugal beat Ghana, a narrow defeat would almost certainly do likewise. That was reflected in Jurgen Klinsmann's approach.

It was a safety-first, professional effort. Klinsmann's players had the fitness, determination and organisation to carry out his plans, and they contained a subtle tweak. The USA manager has used three formations in three games. He began with what was in effect 4-4-2 against Ghana, played 4-2-3-1 in the draw with Portugal, and this was more 4-1-4-1 with Kyle Beckerman operating just behind Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones. The effect was to create two banks of four but with Beckerman between the lines, an area where the current generation of Germans are particularly strong.

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Match 45
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Perhaps the logic was that Germany would field a No. 10, but Toni Kroos, who had operated in that position in their previous two games, actually played deeper as part of a midfield three with Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm, while Mario Gotze, who can cut in from the flanks to act as a pseudo No. 10, spent most of the match on the bench. Germany, who had three No. 10s in friendlies before the World Cup, didn't have one for much of the match.

Nevertheless, the holding midfielder represented an insurance policy in case Germany broke the line of four -- Graham Zusi, Jones, Bradley and Brad Jones -- and is also integral in a system were both full-backs go forward. Beckerman wasn't always disciplined -- he committed four fouls, got away with a couple of more, got booked and risked a second yellow card -- but he did show positional discipline. As his touch map highlights, he was only on the ball in the final third twice.

Touch map showing where Kyle Beckerman operated for USA against Germany.
Touch map showing where Kyle Beckerman operated for USA against Germany.

Indeed, the rest of the midfield held their defensive shape, too. The downside was that Clint Dempsey was left isolated in attack until injury time. Indeed, when the United States did look to involve their captain, it was with balls over the German defence, who often adopt a high line and have the slow Per Mertesacker at the heart of their back four.

But the five midfielders had a solitary touch in the German penalty area -- from Michael Bradley -- and one shot, from Zusi. It explains why they failed to record an effort on target and only had four shots in total. The entire team's heat map highlights how little threat they posed to the German goal and how rarely they were in central attacking positions outside Manuel Neuer's box. They were rarely within shooting range or in the No. 10 position.

Heat map showing the USA team's touches during their 1-0 loss to Germany.
Heat map showing the USA team's touches during their 1-0 loss to Germany.

What it also shows, too, is the pressure the Americans were put under. That made the performance of Omar Gonzalez vital. The L.A. Galaxy centre-back was brought in for Geoff Cameron, whose error led to Nani's opening goal for Portugal. The replacement was more reliable, and it is notable how many of his clearances came from deep in his own box.

Heat map showing Omar Gonzalez's defensive touches against the Germans.
Heat map showing Omar Gonzalez's defensive touches against the Germans.

Schweinsteiger's stylish return

Bastian Schweinsteiger had begun Germany's first two games of this World Cup on the bench. The vice-captain was belatedly brought back into the starting lineup and exerted an influence. Schweinsteiger was only on the pitch for 76 minutes but still had 102 touches -- no American had had more than Beckerman's 62 -- and attempted 85 passes, behind only Kroos, Lahm and Mertesacker, and his recall helped Germany control the game. As the diagram shows, he operated on the left of the central trio in midfield, putting him up against Jones in a sometimes fractious contest.

Heat map showing Bastian Schweinsteiger's touches against USA.
Heat map showing Bastian Schweinsteiger's touches against USA.

As the number of passes indicate, Germany dominated possession. They had 68 percent, meaning it was a clash of the technical and the physical, with the United States having the running power to ensure they were rarely dragged out of position. What Klinsmann's team didn't do so well was retain the ball. Some of the passing percentages -- 72 percent completion rate for Jones and 76 percent for Zusi, for example -- were low for midfielders.

Muller the master

Thomas Muller is a fantastic finisher. It is a logical assumption, given his record of scoring nine times in World Cups at the comparatively tender age of 24. Perhaps the more remarkable statistic, however, is that he has done so from just 11 shots on target. Tim Howard's 20th-minute save was the first time a goalkeeper had repelled a goal-bound effort from the German, but the American had no chance with Muller's precise winner. The only other red dot in the goalmouth is a block from Uruguay's Diego Godin in 2010.

Diagram showing Thomas Muller's shots on goal at the 2010 and 2014 World Cups.
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