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Tactical Analysis

Breaking Down the United States' Win Over Germany

Sunday’s 4-3 win over Germany was a good thing for the U.S., but its problems should not be overlooked. ASN tactician Liviu Bird takes a look at what went right and what went wrong in D.C.
BY Liviu Bird Posted
June 03, 2013
4:05 PM
If not for a couple of missed opportunities and an embarrassing bit of goalkeeping, the United States’ 4-3 win over Germany could have looked much different. The U.S. played better than it did against Belgium, but not that much better.

The U.S. moved to a 4-2-3-1 to start the match on Sunday, with Michael Bradley and Jermaine Jones partnering at holding midfield. Jozy Altidore reprised his familiar target role, but with an interesting shift in emphasis that resulted in two U.S. goals from the run of play.

Unlike in previous matches, the outside backs did not get forward as often as they could have. Both Brad Evans and DaMarcus Beasley ended up staying back, with Evans given the unenviable task of marking Lukas Podolski, which he did fairly effectively.

In the second half, Jurgen Klinsmann’s team shifted to a 4-4-2, with Altidore and Clint Dempsey as the forward pair. Bradley and Jones stayed fairly low, but Jones was a little quicker to advance into the gap underneath the forwards.

Altidore Finds Some Space
Instead of staying within the frame of the goal all game, Altidore drifted wide quite often against Germany. His movement vacated space for Dempsey, who likes to hang back under the target and make late runs forward. The first two goals off an American foot came directly from this movement.

On the first goal—the one Altidore finished—he checked back to lay a ball off on the left-hand channel. Instead of recovering directly to the middle, he stayed wide as Dempsey and Graham Zusi advanced on the opposite flank.

Slowly, Altidore starts to drift inside, as the ball gets closer to the German goal. He holds his run effectively, not wanting to get himself in a position where he will be standing still and easy to mark.

Dempsey holds the ball and waits for pressure, which is a key moment in the attack. He has to commit defenders to the ball to open up space for Zusi, otherwise left back Marcell Jansen can easily slide to him and apply pressure.

When Zusi gets the ball, Altidore is central. He is on Per Mertesacker’s back shoulder, which is the most difficult place for a defender to track a runner when he is also focused on cutting out an eventual cross. The threat here is two-fold: if Altidore gets in behind, he has an easy finish; but if Mertesacker doesn’t see the cross come in, somebody else could have an easy tap-in (such as Dempsey, who is cutting in toward goal).

By the time Altidore makes contact with the ball, he is right around the penalty spot—dead center on the pitch. However, the amount of horizontal movement he has made on the play makes the goal happen because it makes him harder to mark.

On the goal that Dempsey scored on the hour mark is another example of this type of horizontal movement, but in the opposite direction (from central to wide).

Altidore’s starting position is where you would expect a center forward to be in this case: on top of the center backs.

However, his first touch on the aerial through-ball takes Altidore wide, perhaps unintentionally, because it takes him out of goalscoring position. But the wide movement opens up a huge gap at the top of the penalty area. Eddie Johnson’s run from the wing exaggerates this effect by stretching the German back line as close to its goal as possible.

Bradley and Dempsey fill that space, and Dempsey hammers home a volley to put the U.S. up by two goals again. Altidore gets credit for the assist, but it was his movement rather than just his centering pass that created the goal.

Pendulum Midfielders
On Dempsey’s goal, Bradley pushed up to attack. In many cases on Sunday, it was Jones who stepped up from the holding spot. The two played a pendulum style, with one pressing and one holding either above or between the center backs.

In building up from the back, this allows the advancing player to provide better angles of support for whoever is on the ball. Here, Jones steps between Miroslav Klose and Julian Draxler instead of just providing an option for a square pass. If a square pass is picked off on that part of the field, Germany will go straight to goal and have little opposition.

Instead, Jones eventually gets the ball from Bradley and has space to attack. Bradley essentially beats three players (Klose, Draxler, and Andre Schurrle) with one pass. Jones pushes on, and Dempsey gets an opportunity to score out of it.

A little while later, we see another effect of a defensive midfielder dropping deep. Here, Bradley comes in to find the ball and distribute, also allowing the outside backs and center backs to open wider and provide width and depth. Bradley can now drop between Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler if he needs to, giving defensive cover in the event of a turnover, in which case the U.S. would still have three central defenders back.

Late Breakdowns Costly
For the U.S., it never seems to be as simple as getting a lead and holding it. That was the case again on Sunday, as Germany scored two late goals and nearly negated the American lead that existed since the first 10 minutes. In both cases, simple defensive errors led to the ball finding its way to the back of the net.

First, on Max Kruse’s strike, Jones slides in between the center backs to cover defensively, but he stays too far away to pressure Kruse when he gets free. He isn’t providing the right angle of cover for Gonzalez, who in turn is not goal-side of Kruse.

On Draxler’s goal, Edgar Castillo gets beat to the inside. As Jones was before, Besler is dropped off too far to provide the correct cover. And—again—Gonzalez is not goal-side of his mark. Meanwhile, Evans is ball-watching and does not see the eventual goalscorer start to make his run from a deep position.

The yellow oval is about where Besler should be to prevent Draxler’s shot. In his current position, he isn’t marking anybody. If Gonzalez slides in to get goal-side of Nicolai Muller, then Besler can easily step up and probably block Sam’s shot. Then, it wouldn’t matter if Evans had a read on Draxler’s run—but it would be nice if he did anyway.

On to Jamaica
The games against Belgium and Germany were billed as learning experiences. The true test comes on Friday, when the U.S. steps into The Office in Kingston, Jamaica. The improvement between the Belgium and Germany matches was visible, although the end product was less than convincing.

The biggest question marks still remain: Which U.S. team will show up? Will it be the shell-shocked, overly defensive Americans? Or will they play a positive, attacking formation and get after the game? And can the defense hold up under pressure, despite the gaffes it had this week? We will know the answers soon enough.

Liviu Bird is the Cascadia regional editor for SoccerWire.com and an ASN contributor. Follow him on Twitter.

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