Was that England-Mexico or USA-Mexico? One of the main differences was actually that the US usually has a bit more of the ball against the Mexicans than England did. In fact, the totality of Mexico’s domination in the first half was rather striking. Yet England’s 3-1 victory also had all the hallmarks of a US victory over Mexico. In watching this lackluster game from England US fans should gain some belief – yes we can beat England – however there were also moments to give US fans some pause.
Mexican football specializes in controlling possession, making your opponent chase, and then finding gaps through quick through balls. They often resemble Arsenal or Spanish side in their ability to control the ball. Yet too often Mexico struggles either to create many clear cut chances from their possession and when they do they squander the chances that they create. Against England, Mexico had countless chances, but squandered chance after chance.
England looked genuinely shocked by Mexico’s pace and control. England’s high upfield defensive pressure proved little trouble for the technically gifted Mexicans. And worrisome for England there midfield was frequently cut open and exposed. As the half went on England soon realized that they had little chance of winning back the ball up field and they dropped deeper, putting at times nine players behind the ball. More worrying for England, and something I pointed to the other day, England had tremendous trouble winning the ball back. They lack that natural ball winning midfielder and while Michael Carrick and James Milner – the two who started in the central midfield – can get stuck in, they were frequently overrun.
England’s two goals in the first half both came against the run of play and both came of set pieces – two facts that are familiar to American fans. Yet it is the third goal that should give Americans some pause. Glenn Johnson, England’s right back virtually out of nothing cut inside was not closed out fast enough and sent an off-footed short into the far corner. While I think Tim Howard might have gotten a finger tip to it, this goal demonstrated a disturbing fact that despite not looking particularly good, England scored three times and often looked particularly dangerous whenever they actually got a hold of the ball.
This tells me that tactically, the US game plan for June 12th, can’t be just to sit back and let England possess the ball and get set. They have too many players that are capable of shooting from distance, or getting on the end of a cross, or putting through a deft pass that puts in Rooney. Instead, of sitting back and absorbing pressure, US midfielders and strikers should pressure up the field and make England work to get into the final offensive third of the field.
The US should also seek to get forward and put England under pressure. Once the US gains possession, as we have seen against other sides, England have trouble easily winning back the ball. But as we have also seen with the US is that we also have trouble keeping possession and stringing passes together. This I think will be one of the crucial factors in the US-England game – will the US be able and confident enough to possess the ball.