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World Cup Day 14: U.S. - Germany Tactical Analysis

A 1-0 loss to Germany was enough to see the United States finish second in Group G, the group that Landon Donovan once aptly noted, “is the Group of Death because we’re in it.” And as Syrio Forel once wisely told Arya Stark, “What do we say to [the Group of] Death: not today.”

Kevin C. Cox

Space on the left

Through fifteen minutes, the Germans looked to be turning the gears of a machine that might well overrun the US. With Brad Davis starting on the left side of midfield (presumably tasked with tracking the run of Germany’s centre-back turned right-back, Jerome Boateng), the US looked ill-equipped to deal with the width that Germany created and had Lahm been on the right instead of in the center of midfield, the US might well have conceded early.

The fifteen minute mark brought a midfield change as Graham Zusi switched from the right wing to left, and almost immediately, the space which so many had already identified as a danger area, became significantly better defended. The shift wasn’t permanent, but it did provide the U.S. with the fifteen to twenty minutes it needed to grow into the game – which it did quite well.

Through the first ten minutes, the U.S. had 31 touches to Germany’s 147 – an absurd discrepancy that obviously required a tactical tweak to address. Zusi’s switch – coupled with a more composed foundation to build the play from – did exactly that as the final thirty-five minutes saw the U.S. touches count climb to 256 vs the Germans 301.

4-1-4-1 nearly pays off

Without the ball, the U.S. defended in a 4-1-4-1, with Kyle Beckerman playing between the lines. In front of him (from left to right) were Davis (until the switch Zusi), Bradley,  Jones, and Zusi (and later Davis). Against a midfield composed of a handful of the world’s best – namely, Schweinsteiger, Kroos, and Lahm – the midfield more than held its own.

Possession is only as dangerous as the penetration it creates, and for the most part, the U.S. denied the Germans any important penetration (aside from one wonderful through ball to Mueller that forced Omar Gonzalez into a last ditch tackle).

While the U.S. struggled going forward – Dempsey as the #9 was far less impactful than previously against Portugal – it defended very well. Well enough in fact, that had Mueller’s brilliant goal been saved and a clean sheet preserved, many would likely have been lauding it as a “defensive masterclass” or perhaps, “a performance the 2006 Italians could be proud of.”

Klinsmann’s decision to drop Geoff Cameron in favor of Omar Gonzalez (further making John Brooks’ winner against Ghana that much more magical – why was he subbed in front of Gonzalez?) very nearly came off, as he and Besler marshaled the center of defence quite well. Aerially superior and adept to the dangerous off the ball runs of Mueller, Oezil, and Goetze, they did well enough for Klinsmann to reconsider the two starting CBs against whoever the U.S. plays in the Round of 16.

Bradley’s new(est) role in midfield

We’ve previously seen Bradley positioned as the deepest point and highest point of Klinsmann’s diamond – with many of Bradley’s best performances coming from defensive midfield – but against Germany it was neither. Instead, he was position off to the left of that diamond, above Beckerman and beneath Jones. And while he was still a ways from his best, it was Bradley’s best performance of the World Cup, coping well with the targeted press from the German midfield. He’s had (justifiably) his detractors in this World Cup, but his performances have dipped because he’s clearly the player most specifically defended.

Against Germany, regardless of where or when he picked up the ball, he was allowed only two or three touches before being forced into a decision – which, more often than not, proved to be the correct decision. If he dropped deeper, he was pressed from one of the forward players (often Mueller); when he picked up possession closer to midfield he was pressed by Schweinsteiger or Kroos; and on the occasion he found himself on the ball in the final third, he was instantly confronted by Phillip Lahm.

If you’re one of the Bradley criticizers (of which I am), at least understand this: he’s specifically pinpointed as the U.S. player that must be addressed and pressed (pardon the rhyming) – and that alone makes him worthy of his newfound role of U.S. lynchpin.