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On the eighth day of World Cup, South Africa gave to me: Half-time system change & substitutes change the game for the USA.

June 21, 2010

There’s a definite theme appearing through some of these posts. This theme is that the movement from a 4-4-2 to a 4-2-3-1 again shows itself to have benefits. I promise you I’m not being employed from the ‘School of a 4-2-3-1 and I’ve been sent as a missionary to convert the internet’, even though if they do want to get in contact, please do.

This time it was the USA to show the benefits of changing systems. In the first half of the USA against Slovenia, both teams set up in a 4-4-2. Slovenia dominated and America found it very hard to control the match.

Slovenia were good in attack, with a striker (usually Novakovic) dropping deep and making themselves available for the ball.

Novakovic heatmap

Onyewu at fault

The USA defence were not drilled on what to do and in particular, Oguchi Onyewu was very afraid to follow Novakovic and stop him having time on the ball to decide what to do. What actually happened was that Onyewu’s reluctance to push forward created a very disorganised defence. An analysis of the second goal shows this to be correct.

Novakovic has dropped deep creating an extra man in midfield. The USA defence has no clue on who should be picking him up, de Merit attempts to close him down but is not quick enough. Ljubijankic is able to move behind de Merit into the space he has created and the seemingly immobile Oguchi Onyewu is far too deep, giving the Slovenian attack a lot of space to work with. Firstly, the defensive line should be pretty straight and compact and Oguchi Onyewu has dropped far too deep, making any possibility of offside to be small. The ball is a simple one and creates a goal-scoring opportunity.

Onyewu has tried to move up but the space between him and the rest of his defence was so large that Ljubijankic can just hold his run. A great finish accompanies this bit of poor defending to put Slovenia two nil up. Slovenia’s 4-4-2 shows that it’s very easy to quickly slip into a 4-4-1-1 and make changes in a game.

Slovenia’s flexible midfield unit

Slovenia’s midfield were clever in moving inside between the lines, making them able to keep possession well and not be tracked by the US midfield and defence. For the first goal, Valter Birsa drops into the space between the defence and the midfield, coming off his right sided midfield position and the full-back or Landon Donavon should pick him up. The defence has dropped very deep too offering an opportunity for Birsa to turn and present a pass to the strikers running behind the defence or have a shot.

It’s also a clever run from Novakovic who pushes wide who stops the closing down of Birsa from the left-back Bocanegra. It’s the failure of Onyewu who has no defensive responsibilities at that time to close Birsa down. It seems Onyewu has a shaky game against England too and can be seen as being responsible for these two goals in this game too.

Slovenia’s positioning when defending was based on two banks of four and against a 4-4-2, it’s possible for a team to double-up on wingers who are often the only people available for the central midfielders on the ball.

This caused the USA in the first-half to rely on direct balls from the defence and resulted in them losing possession far too easily. With Slovenia moving to a 4-4-1-1 they also got dominated in midfield and changes needed to take place for the USA to get back into the game. Bob Bradley was not afraid to make changes, bringing on two substitutes at the start of the second half.

The two substitutions pointed towards a new direction and a new system. Maurice Edu, a defensive midfielder came on for Francisco Torres and Benny Feilhaber came on for the striker Robbie Findley. This pointed towards a 4-2-3-1, clearly evident after looking at the average positions of all the US players in the second half.

The Importance of Edu

By having Maurice Edu sitting in-front of the back four, it allowed Michael Bradley to take control of the midfield and look to make forward runs. With Dempsey playing behind Altidore, he’s able to run from deep and attempt to make gaps in between the two centre-backs with more speed and more thought than when Findley was playing alongside Altidore.

This movement and combination from the central three in a 4-2-3-1 system is very prominent in the system Germany plays with Sami Khedira often pushing forward into the ‘hole’ when Mesut Özil pushes to make a front-two. When this happens, the two central defenders are occupied and cannot move forward to pick up the player who has moved into the space left by the attacking midfielder moving up.

From the flick-on from Altidore, it’s movement by Dempsey across the goal that creates the space for Bradley to push into. This shows the benefit of having an intelligent attacking midfielder playing behind a striker, they can create space where a normal striker would not be able to where on-rushing players, protected by playing a defensive midfield, to run onto.

USA’s display in the second-half drastically improved. There were many more options for players with Edu offering a safe platform to get forward to find space. Bob Bradley’s good tactical acumen alarmed him to the difficulty the USA had in keeping possession and the change worked wonders and let them dominate in the second-half and if it wasn’t for poor refereeing, the USA would have gone onto the win 3-2.

USA formation versus Slovenia: First Half

USA formation versus Slovenia: Second half

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