Midway through the first half of yesterday's 2-1 win for the USMNT over Turkey I posted my concerns about what I see as the defensive frailties of playing with a diamond 4-4-2 formation. The post is short but to review my main points were:
- Michael Bradley was staying high up the pitch when Turkey was in possession so the US was defending with a midfield of only 3- Jermaine Jones, Graham Zusi and Brad Davis.
- Davis and Zusi tucked inside to offer Jones assistance against Turkey's 3 central midfielders.
- By forcing Zusi and Davis to tuck inside we were conceding space in the channels to Turkey's fullbacks.
- When Turkey got the ball wide into these areas it forced the US's fullbacks to step out of their defensive line and press the ball.
- With the fullbacks stepping higher up the pitch to press the ball, large gaps formed between the fullbacks and center backs for Turkey to run into.
The screen shot below shows an example of the US's first half defensive shape. Michael Bradley is out of the picture while Zusi and Davis are relatively narrow to provide extra bodies in important central areas. There's space on the opposite channel for Turkey's right back to gallop into and attack. The play ultimately does end with the right back Gokhan Gonul getting the ball in the channel and playing a dangerous pass into the box for Mevlut Erdinc. The striker's effort at Tim Howard was tame but it was the type of build up you'd expect the likes of Germany, Portugal and Ghana to take advantage of.
The big issue with defending with just a midfield bank of 3 is that you have no wide midfielders/forwards tasked with marking the opposition fullbacks. If your opponent can switch the point of attack from one side of the field to the other quickly, they can cause real problems.
To his credit, Jurgen Klinsmann addressed the problem in his halftime interview. In the seond half when Turkey were in possession Michael Bradley dropped in alongside Kyle Beckerman (who had come on to replace Jones at the base of midfield) and the US defended in banks of four in more of a traditional flat 4-4-2 with the wider midfielders picking up Turkey's fullbacks.
I remain unconvinced Klinsmann will actually continue to play the diamond given the caliber of opposition in Group G but I've struggled to decide what I think the best shape for this team is against top opponents. I've been leaning towards a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 with a midfield three of Beckerman sitting just in front of the back four, Jones shuttling forward into the attack from deeper areas and Bradley operating as the #10. I think this midfield gives you a nice midfield balance of positional intelligence in Beckerman, athleticism and energy in Jones and creativity and technique in Bradley. The problem with this shape however is that it doesn't leave room for Clint Dempsey to play in his natural second striker position. He could be used as the lone striker but then you're forced to bench Jozy Altidore, a player more suited to playing as a lone forward with his size. Alternatively you could play Altidore as the #9 with Dempsey tucking in from the left wing. The problem with Dempsey on the left however is that he's unlikely to provide his left back the type of protection you'd get from Alejandro Bedoya or Davis which could be crucial.
Another possibly suitable formation could be a 4-4-1-1 with Dempsey as the second striker behind Altidore and a center midfield pairing of Jones and Bradley- something we've seen plenty of before. The main problem here is that Jones and Bradley have never seemed to know their roles when playing together in a double pivot. Both tended to push forward at the same time, leaving the back four exposed on the break. Germany and Portugal are both sides that are capable of picking apart their opponents on the counter (see Portugal's 3-2 playoff win over Sweden or Germany's 4-0 dismantling of Argentina in the 2010 World Cup).
What are your thoughts on the best formation and personnel for the US in Brazil?