How Bob Bradley Could Learn from Chelsea

Mar. 13, 2010 - London, UNITED KINGDOM - epa02078068 Chelsea's Didier Drogba during the English Premiership soccer match between Chelsea FC and West Ham United at Stamford Bridge Stadium, west London, Britain, 13 March 2010. Chelsea won 4-1.

For the better part of a decade, London club Arsenal have been the English Premier League’s most enjoyable squad to watch. Their intricate passing and clever build-up play is equaled only by world-champions Spain (and Spain’s ‘other’ club Barcelona, as 7 of Spain’s starters suit up for Barca). Unfortunately, a lack of defensive muscle and clinical finishing, the latter due partially to the absence of injured strikers, have led to Arsenal being trophyless for 5 years. On Sunday, facing defending league champions Chelsea, manager Arsene Wenger fielded extra defensive midfielders, hoping to add an extra bit of muscle to his talented squad.

Chelsea still won.

Their 2-0 victory should give US manager Bob Bradley a clue as to how he could incorporate Jermaine Jones into the National Team. A year ago, the German-American Jones announced his desire to play for the United States. Some American fans, after an initial euphoric period of learning someone wanted to switch allegiance to the USA instead of away from it, were undoubtedly disheartened to learn that Jones is a defensive midfielder. The Schalke 04 standout would only be able to play if Bradley were to drop another defensive midfielder, already the United States’ deepest position. But as Chelsea showed against Arsenal, it is possible to field three defensive midfielders at once.

Chelsea’s Formation

Chelsea's formation against Arsenal

When in attack, Chelsea’s shape resembles nothing more than a simple 4-3-3, but in defense, wingers Flourent Malouda and Nikolas Anelka drop into the midfield to join defensive midfielders Michael Essien, John Mikel Obi, and Ramires, turning the formation into a 4-5-1.

What makes the formation tick is the capability of Essien and Ramires to switch from burly defender to silky attacker as soon as their team receives the ball. Additionally, the attacking talents of fullbacks Ashley Cole and Branislav Ivanovic allow Malouda and Anelka to stay quite high, confident in the fullbacks’ ability to participate in build-up play.

And the presence of the incomparable Didier Drogba doesn’t hurt. Check out his goal from Sunday for a demonstration of how to make the most out of a fleeting scoring opportunity.

USA using Chelsea's formation

United States Version

While Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Maurice Edu are perfectly capable of impersonating Essien/Ramires/Mikel, Bob Bradley could employ Chelsea’s formation only if he made a few adjustments:

  • Lacking fullbacks as attack-minded as Cole and Ivanovic, the United States would not be able to get away with the high starting position of wingers Anelka and Malouda. Clint Dempsey and Landon Donovan would need to drop deeper to participate in build-up, since only Steve Cherundolo has proven to be an adequate attacking fullback at the international level.
  • Even though Jozy Altidore is the only American who can come close to replicating Drogba’s combination of power and grace, he has nowhere near the golden touch of Ivory Coast’s captain. Consequently, this formation might be a bit more successful were Dempsey to start at striker, with Benny Feilhaber or Stuart Holden filling-in along the wing. Of course, with a bit more seasoning, Jozy might yet become the Drogba of the west.
  • The aforementioned fullbacks would be the biggest drawback to experimenting with this 4-5-1. Cherundolo had an outstanding World Cup, but Bradley’s preferred left backs, Carlos Bocanegra and Jonathan Bornstein, either aren’t fast enough to blow by defenders (Bocanegra) or lack that extra bit of quality necessary to cause damage in the final third (Bornstein). The solution is to find another left back and shift Bocanegra to center back or have Captain America advance just far enough to be an outlet pass if the attack gets stymied (as pictured).

Since Edu, Jones, and Bradley are all on the roster for the two upcoming friendlies (October 9th against Poland and the 12th against Colombia), it’s very likely that US fans will get their first shot at seeing all three midfielders play together. Here’s hoping Bob’s been watching Chelsea.

One Comments Post a Comment
  1. bensten says:

    Well thought out. If Heath Pearce is able to impress Bradley this time around as an attacking fullback he would be a nice fit for this formation.

    Can’t wait to see Jones in action wearing the Team USA jersey.

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