Jurgen Klinsmann and Tactics

Ben and I picked a helluva time to take a break. While we were chillin’ on the beach (Ben) and cycling around the Grand Canyon (me), Sunil Gulati up and fired Bob Bradley, replacing him with former Germany and Bayern Munich manager Jurgen Klinsmann.

Over the weekend, Ben will post a retrospective on FFG’s coverage of Bradley’s tenure. We feel he was good for the program and made excellent in-game adjustments, though he may have waited a year too long to incorporate the 4-2-3-1.

But more on Bradley this weekend. Today we turn our attention to Klinsmann. For those not familiar with his background, Sports Illustrated’s Bundesliga expert, Raphael Honigstein, wrote an outstanding breakdown of Klinsmann’s strengths and weaknesses as a coach. In short, Klinsmann is a great manager (of people and ideas) but not so hot a tactician.

If Klinsmann wants to refute the notion that he’s not tactically astute, he should begin his USA career by following FFG’s pair of suggestions.

1. Continue with the 4-2-3-1

FFG regulars are by now familiar with our constant harping about how the USA needs to use this formation. Really, there’s not much more to say about it. But if you missed our previous coverage, here are some links.

A 4-2-3-1 allows teams to easily incorporate intense pressing, seamlessly employ a false-nine, and effortlessly utilize either natural or inverted wingers.

And as long as the US has more quality midfielders than quality strikers, why wouldn’t Klinsmann want to use a formation that plays to this strength?

2. Settle on a deep-lying midfielder

The two international squads that have made the best use of the 4-2-3-1 are Spain and Germany. While Spain’s formation is very fluid and could almost-as-easily be classified a 4-3-3, Germany’s 4-2-3-1, initially installed under Klinsmann (astute reader Cris pointed out Klinsmann used a 4-4-2 with Germany), is not terribly different than the 4-2-3-1 Bradley employed at the end of his run.

Both Spain and Germany use deep-lying playmakers. In modern parlance, this midfielder is known as the ‘passer.’ For Germany, it’s Bastian Schweinsteiger. For Spain, Xabi Alonso and Sergio Busquets take it in turns to provide distribution from the back.

When Bradley made the switch to a 4-2-3-1, he decided to use two holding midfielders, normally some combination of Michael Bradley, Jermaine Jones, and Maurice Edu. Bradley the Younger is the player who most closely resembles the above Spanish and German trio, but he is also USA’s best box-to-box midfielder. The attack tends to stagnate when Bradley stays deep when partnered with Jones or Edu.

A potential solution is to bring José Torres back into the fold. Torres is the only holding midfielder who plays a possession-based game. Bradley and Stuart Holden are traditional box-to-box men and Jones and Edu are bruisers with a touch of class. Benny Feilhaber and Sacha Kljestan like to play higher up the pitch. And the less said of Ricardo Clark the better.

Torres is the only one who prefers to stay deep because of his passing ability. There will be matches when only one defense-first holder is required. When the US expects to dominate possession, Torres needs to be available.

Gringos, what do you think of our suggestions? Is the need for a deep-lying playmaker as pressing as that of finding a natural left back? Or should Klinsmann focus on finding replacements/understudies for Donovan, Dempsey, and Bocanegra?

5 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Cris says:

    Klinsmann used a 4-4-2 with a “double six” in midfield and two fairly traditional wide players. Löw switched to the 4-2-3-1 in 2008 out of necessity. :)

  2. Did I read this right? Someone actually suggested Paco Torres? Maybe there is hope.

    (Been a Torres fan for years and felt that BB never gave him the same opportunities he gave his Son. If he had, he would have been running our midfield instead of MB)

  3. Adam says:

    Great stuff once again, way to get beyond the standard reporting that encompasses American Soccer.

    I would love to see your idea for how the 4231 works out.

    I think there is space for both Edu/Jones lying deep, giving Bradley a more advanced role and then finding someone who can play in that advanced midfield role in the center of the 3/as an effective false 9. I think Holden could be it as he enjoys the ball, has a nose for goal, but also is excellent at finding the right path. If that kid can break the string of awful luck, I look forward to watching him in england this year.

    • Blake Owen says:

      I think either a Bradley/Jones or Edu/Bradley combination is great against a superior opponent, when we’re playing on the counter anyway. But, as I mentioned in the article, when the US is favored, I’d like to see Torres/Bradley. And over time perhaps Torres could become a consistent starter.

      In front of the holding duo, I’d prefer Holden, Feilhaber, or Adu. As for the false-nine, I think Dempsey is the best choice. In my opinion, he’s the only US player who fits the bill.

      Adam, if you’d like to read more about the USA 4-2-3-1, I wrote an analysis of the USA-Mexico Gold Cup final for the USA10Kit. There are a few chalkboards to peruse too.

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