The Americans used Italy’s tactical weakness, as well as Clint Dempsey’s excellent form, to gain the lead; Michael Bradley did his best Pirlo impression to corral his teammates; and outstanding defending saw out the victory.
Italy manager Cesare Prandelli outfitted his side in a 4-3-1-2, while Jurgen Klinsmann brought out a 4-4-1-1. The Italians used midfield metronome Andrea Pirlo to control the middle of the pitch, and the Americans countered on the wings in the space left open by Italy’s wingerless formation.
For no apparent reason, neither Clint Dempsey nor Jozy Altidore pressured Pirlo with much regularity. Dempsey was usually the player closest to the Milan/Juventus legend but rarely closed him down. Pirlo calmly threaded passes into the final third the entire match (completing 91 of 106 attempts). Pirlo’s control came to naught in the first half, as an organized backline (4 offside calls in their favor) and an excellent Tim Howard (5 first half saves) thwarted Italy time and again.
On the other half of the pitch, the Americans broke well into space on the flanks, particularly along the left. They essentially did what Slovenia did to Klinsmann’s 4-3-1-2 in November. If Italy’s center mids, Antonio Nocerino and Thiago Motta, didn’t drift wide, the gringos played one-twos on the wings; when Motta and Nocerino cheated toward the wingers, Michael Bradley or Maurice Edu charged into space at the top of the ‘D.’
Unfortunately, quality build-up on counters went unused as the Americans always fell to pieces in the final third. The second half, however, would see one sequence of brilliance in the Italian’s box.
Klinsmann didn’t make any changes at the break. Prandelli brought on two subs, Riccardo Montolivo and Giorgio Chiellini, but the formation remained unchanged. The Americans then continued to attempt to create offense from the wings. Eventually they found a breakthrough.
Bradley – who actually completed a higher percentage of his passes than Pirlo, 91% to 86% – swung the ball wide to Johnson, who found Altidore in the box. The Italians had three defenders around Altidore and Dempsey, but Claudio Marchisio inexplicably lost track of Dempsey, the American most likely to score. Altidore’s tidy layoff was all the in-form Dempsey needed to beat Buffon in the far corner.
Prandelli admirably solved his slight defensive problem by using his full 6 substitutes and changing to a 4-3-3. The US fullbacks were then pinned back, and the Italians began to go to the flanks more regularly. USA, now content to sit back for the rest of the match, coped with the changes without changing formations.
The Americans saw off the match by defending with two bands of four, along with a deeper Clint Dempsey. The team defended well as a whole, with Carlos Bocanegra, Bradley, and Jonathan Spector (a late substitute for Fabian Johnson) putting in some outstanding individual efforts. Perhaps the lone second half defensive letdown was Sacha Kljestan, who was beaten twice off the ball by substitute right back Ignazio Abate, deep in USA’s half.
Still, the Americans were remarkably composed and, though under heavy pressure, didn’t look likely to concede unless the Italians could string together a clever series of passes.
Klinsmann, Deuce, and Bradley all excellent
Klinsmann deserves heaps of credit for the organized defense: Johnson was making his American debut at left back; Shea wasn’t even with the squad three days ago; and Donovan and Jose Torres were likely starters up to Saturday evening (illness and injury forced their withdrawal). The manager also needs to be lauded for his offensive strategy, as he took advantage of the glaring weakness of the opposition’s formation.
But the victory wouldn’t have occurred without Michael Bradley and Clint Dempsey. Bradley was positively brilliant in attack and defense. He completed 43 of 49 passes, set up the goal scoring sequence, constantly relieved pressure with intelligent ball movement, and rescued his teammates on more than one occasion with savvy defending.
Gringos, what did you think of this win? Were you as impressed as FFG by Bradley, Deuce, and Klinsmann? Is Howard’s outstanding play so common now that you don’t even notice it?