World Cup 2010: How to beat England

Eight things Bob Bradley can do to outsmart this guy; Photo by Paul Blank

While there are no easy games in the World Cup, unquestionably the most difficult game for the US in Group C will be the opener against England. As I said yesterday, points earned in this game are mostly a bonus as the US has a quite manageable path to the second round even if it gets blown out by the English.

But that said, of all the top level teams, England is a pretty good match up for the United States; a lot of Americans are familiar with the English game because they play in the Premier League, the English are not the most technically gifted teams who would never let the US have a kick, and while they have a few quick players, they are lacking in overall team speed. Below, I break down four defensive, and four offensive tactical options the US team could deploy to beat England.

On defense, getting England puts an additional premium on the speedy and healthy return of Oguchi Onyewu. His size and strength are going to be vital against a physical England team, especially at set pieces. In fact, our entire back line is essential in any successful tactical strategy against England.

Nullify the fullbacks. England’s current top two full backs, Ashley Cole and Glen Johnson, are among the best attacking full backs in the world. They are extremely dangerous going forward, with Cole more threatening on the flank beating his man and putting in a cross, while Johnson is more of a threat to score a spectacular goal himself. The American wide midfielders and full backs must be prepared to defend the forward runs from these two.

Defend the set pieces. Even without David Beckham from the start, England are incredibly dangerous from dead balls. The first objective is to avoid giving away silly free kicks within 35 yards of the goal. John Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Johnson, Steven Gerrard, and Emile Heskey are all genuine threats in the air and must be accounted for. Frank Lampard is very skilled at the curling, back-post free kick that is very difficult to defend. England are more capable of scoring from open play than they were a few years ago, but set pieces are still an area of strength and can be game changers in international competition.

Pressure England when they have possession. England are not Brazil or Spain or the Netherlands. Even though Fabio Capello has instilled respect for possession, Lampard, Gerrard, and Garreth Barry are not ball possessing midfielders in the mould of a Xavi. Ferdinand is good with the ball, but John Terry is prone to a misplaced pass or two when pressured. The lack of overall team speed or England should encourage the US players to pressure them high up the pitch to try and force turnovers.

Watch deep runners from midfield. England’s midfielders score a lot of goals – more so probably for their clubs than for country, but Gerrard and Lampard are particularly deadly when running into the box from deep to pick up a pass or a rebound. Wayne Rooney also often drops deep when he finds the defense is marking him too tightly. This responsibility will primarily fall to one or both of the central midfield players, who will have to be acutely aware of their defensive responsibilities.

On offense, the car accident to Charlie Davies is a serious blow under any circumstances, but especially in a matchup against England, when his blistering pace on the flanks would have been especially dangerous. But the overall philosophy needs to be to take it to England and try and use our pace to make them uncomfortable.

Force defenders to face their own goal. Jozy Altidore has been getting valuable lessons in playing as the target striker for Hull this season, but as promising as he is, the US is not going to threaten the England defense too much if it is going to rely on Jozy to hold up play. If Terry and Ferdinand are able to keep the play in front of them all game, its going to be a long day for the US. What we do have is players who can get run at the defense with pace or get in behind the English and force them to defend while facing their own goal – the worst feeling for any defender.

Expose the space vacated by attacking full backs. The flip side to having attacking full backs is that if the ball is turned over, they can be caught out of position. I’ve seen this happen on more than one occasion with Glen Johnson and Liverpool. When we get a turnover, we should quickly look to see if there is space on the flanks and if so hit a pass into this area for one of our wide players to run onto. Even an unsuccessful attempt will cause the full backs to think twice about bombing forward. And if Donovan is on the left wing, he would be well placed to expose Johnson’s defensive liabilities.

Prioritize possession. England have not been playing with a true ball winning midfielder. They do have tall and strong defenders that will likely eat up long clearances. When we get a turnover, we should be looking for short, quick passes in the midfield, hold the ball and force England back into its own half. The longer we are able to hold the ball, the longer we can keep the score at 0-0 or better, the more anxious the English will get. Possession is the name of the game in international soccer and we can hold our own on the possession front against England.

Shoot. Whoever gets the nod in goal for England—and its still remarkably unclear—will be the weakest English player on the field. Goalkeeping mistakes are regular occurrences for English sides, but we can’t force them if we don’t shoot the ball. Tim Howard, Brad Friedel, and probably Brad Guzan would all start for England. We need to make them pay for their weakness in goal.

That’s my opening salvo in what I’m sure will be numerous posts about tactics and players the US could deploy to take the English scalp.

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2 Responses

  1. I agree with most of this. However, I would argue that Rio is much more prone to making mistakes in the back then Terry. Man City anyone?

  2. Frank Lampard fed substitute Michael Ballack on the right wing and the German crossed superbly for Malouda to sweep the ball home at the match.

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