Diamond 4-4-2 not viable option for USMNT in Brazil

The United States controlled the battle in midfield and created meaningful scoring chances in the first half largely because of the partnership between Michael Bradley and Kyle Beckerman in the middle of midfield. The deep lying positions Beckerman takes up and his strong defensive positioning allow Bradley a platform to push into advanced areas in the final third where he offers an intelligence in possession and vision no other USMNT player has. The formation was labeled a diamond 4-4-2 with Bradley operating at the top of the diamond as a #10 off the two forwards Clint Dempsey and Chris Wondolowski. Playing a #10 off a front two is an incredibly attacking formation. Its positives are that it allows a side to get plenty of players forward, creating numerous passing options in the final third and getting players into the box to get on the end of crosses.

Against Mexico in the first half last night the Bradley-Beckerman midfield pairing created a nice balance. Mexico's defensive shape was far less compact than it needed to be and Bradley was easily able to move into dangerous pockets of space between the lines. Throughout the half he was given the space to comfortably receive possession in threatening areas in front of the Mexico defense and pick out penetrating passes forward. His delayed runs into the box were also a huge problem for Mexico. With the US playing two forwards, both Mexico center backs had a direct opponent to mark (ie Mexico didn't have a spare center back to sit in and offer cover). This meant that when Bradley burst in behind Mexico's midfielders, there was no spare center back to pick up his run. The US's second goal came from one of these runs. When the US conceded possession, Mexico wasn't able to transition forward quickly enough to
overwhelm the space in front of the US back 4 patrolled by Beckerman.

The negatives of a formation that employs a #10 behind two forwards is that it sacrafices a deep lying midfielder for the advanced #10. This can leave a team too thin in the middle of the pitch when they lose possession with only the single holding midfielder positioned to slow down counterattacks. This creates an open contest which against an effective counter attacking team will nearly always be costly. Mexico weren't able to transition from defense to offense quickly enough in the opening 45 minutes to exploit the space behind the US's advanced attackers but a strong counter attacking side like Germany or Portugal certainly would have. As impressive as the US looked in possession in the first half last night, the diamond 4-4-2 we saw is not a viable option for the team in Brazil. The US will have to play two holding midfielders in a double pivot. Playing a single holding midfielder in a diamond simply asks too much defensively of that player- most likely Beckerman- in slowing counter attacks. Germany is probably the strongest side in the world at transitioning rapidly from defense to offense. They showed in the 2010 World Cup against Argentina if given open space to break into on the counter they can be deadly. Since then their squad has gotten even more talented. Likewise, Cristian Ronaldo will destroy a defense if he's allowed to receive the ball in space and sprint at an opposition back four.

When the US has played a double pivot it has mostly consisted of Bradley and Jermaine Jones. This partnership has had its own problems. Too often the communication between the two players of who is staying deep and who is pushing forward hasn't been good enough. As a result at times they'll both get sucked high up the pitch, leaving no cover for the back four. For me, the solution is to employ a double pivot 4-2-3-1 but with Beckerman as one of the two holders alongside Jones with Bradley in a more advanced #10 role. Jones and Beckerman (two unfairly derided players) compliment each other well. Beckerman is positionally disciplined and reads the game intelligently. His weakness is a lack of pace and athleticism. Jones brings that pace, athleticism and bite in the tackle. His main weakness is his often suspect positioning which would become less of an issue with Beckerman providing cover alongside him. The big question of course is what do you do with Dempsey if Bradley is playing behind the main striker. Dempsey is capable of the spectacular and can turn a game on its head in an instant and therefore needs to be on the field. However, for me he's not a gifted enough distributor to play in the #10 role. Too often his passes force his intended target too far wide or force his target to slow their run up to receive an underhit ball. I'd prefer him starting in a wide position and tucking inside where he can run at the opposition fullback.

A three man midfield of Beckerman, Jones and Bradley gives the US a nice mix of positional discipline, energy and athleticism, and technique and vision. Playing with two up front and a #10 was certainly entertaining last night but not a realistic system to play in Brazil.