USA – England Tactical Analysis

England's Wayne Rooney gestures towards referee Carlos Simon of Brazil during the 2010 World Cup Group C soccer match against the US at Royal Bafokeng stadium in Rustenburg June 12, 2010.    REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi (SOUTH AFRICA - Tags: SPORT SOCCER WORLD CUP)

In our match preview, we covered the strategies for both squads, and saving a few unforeseen starters (James Milner for Joe Cole, Emile Heskey for Jermain Defoe, and Robbie Findley for Edson Buddle), the match played out as expected. Milner may have been seen as a better defensive option than England’s other left wingers, but he proved to be such a liability that manager Fabio Capello brought on ‘Smurf’ Wright-Philllips in the 31st (Milner may have been suffering from an illness he had last week). Bob Bradley decided for speed over experience, and Robbie Findley’s pace was worrisome for England’s aging center backs.

But the real tactical surprise was the invisibility of Wayne Rooney. But for a few possessions in either half, Rooney was not an integral part of England’s attack. Believe it or not, USA did not do anything unique to shut down the feared striker. When Rooney played in a deep position, Jay DeMerit closely marked the forward, and as Rooney drifted towards midfield, either Michael Bradley or Ricardo Clark would keep an eye on him, jumping into his path if it looked like he would become involved in the build-up. DeMerit may have been giving Rooney more attention than is normally granted one player, but defenders and midfielders routinely hand off defensive responsibilities, depending on where an opposing striker is positioned.

USA’s greatest tactical advantage actually came from the opposing bench, as Fabio Capello played right into Bob Bradley’s hands. DeMerit and Onyewu are both excellent man-markers, with the former capable of hounding skillful players through intense pressure and the latter strong enough to trouble target forwards. And what does Capello do? Play a target forward and a small (relatively speaking), skilled forward.

England’s successful World Cup qualifying campaign did rely on two strikers, but during those matches Steven Gerrard was playing from a narrow left midfield position instead of center midfield, as he was today. When deployed on the left, Gerrard’s inward movement pushes Rooney to the wing, allowing both ample time in space. Today, Milner and Wright-Phillips, each traditional wingers, stayed close to the touchline. Rooney was then forced to drop deep into the middle of the pitch, coming up against Bradley or Clark, or simply wait to receive a teammate’s service. English speedsters Wright-Phillips and Aaron Lennon did trouble US fullbacks now and again, but they did not prove adequate to the task of providing regular service. Plus, as we also noted in our preview, Landon Donovan’s attacking runs hindered Ashley Cole’s ability to get forward, further limiting the ways Rooney could receive the ball.

Moving Forward

A simple solution to England’s anemic offense would be to change formations (a 4-3-3 would seem to suit England’s players), but Capello may be unwilling to change his formation due to Gareth Barry’s impending return. The presence of Lampard’s normal midfield cohort would push Gerrard to left midfield and, hopefully, turn England into a much more efficient attacking side.

The Americans will also look to play a bit more offensively over their next two matches. Ricardo Clark, who had a nice showing after a few dicey moments in the early going (including failing to mark Gerrard on England’s goal), could find himself on the bench, with Bradley starting José Torres, a better offensive option. Even if Clark gets another start, the US will be more assertive against Slovenia and Algeria, and if they can couple increased aggressiveness with another fine defensive display, they should win both games.

Final Tactical Thought

That Tim Howard is pretty good, too.

4 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Rupert J Pelfrey says:

    If both England and US win the next 2 games, what is the tie breaker to see who gets the better seed?

  2. AG says:

    From the highlights I saw on ESPN, I was pretty impressed with Josey’s ability to use his size muscle himself into position to get a shot off late in the game.. Unfortunately, he couldn’t sneak it in. A win against England really would have added a punch to their drive. But I suppose coming away with a tie pleases them just fine.

    Yes, that Tim Howard is pretty damned good!

  3. AG says:

    You know, as I look back at the Dempsey goal, I notice that the shot was slighty re-directed by a small knick off someone’s leg. This slight redirection can cause havoc for even the best of goalies. And it makes sense seeing that Green’s miscue was a slight one.

    So I cannot make him the absolute villain that his British fans are making him. As a matter of fact, as one of the announcers said, “if you don’t shoot, you’ll always miss.” So props to Dempsey for getting a shot off with enough ‘English’ to cause trouble.

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