United States national team depth chart: It’s Michael Bradley and then everyone else at linking midfield

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Five U.S. matches over the last month has generated significant movement on the U.S. depth chart – perhaps more shuffling than in any month-long stretch in Jurgen Klinsmann’s time in charge, which is now approaching two years.

Over A few days we’ll continue to examine the U.S. depth chart, making our best educated guesses at how things stack up on Jurgen Klinsmann’s big board inside the manager’s Southern California offices.

Next up: LINKING MIDFIEDLERS

Two critical things to know before we even begin a conversation about the U.S. “linking” midfield position. It gets a bit involved, but follow along:

First, Jurgen Klinsmann has consistently maintained that he does not have a preferred formation. Rather, what the U.S. manager carries is a bag full of stylistic tenets that he wants observed: high pressure up the field, playing thoughtfully out of the back rather than hoofing balls blindly, defensive funneling toward trapping spots on the wings, etc.

All that can be accomplished in varying tactical arrangements, a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 and so on.

So it bears mentioning that the tactical formation into which his U.S. teams have settled recently is largely based on making best use from a couple of his personnel centerpieces. Foremost is Michael Bradley (pictured above).

Bradley’s role has been defined as the “No. 8” in Klinsmann’s vernacular. That means he plays ahead of a primary holding midfielder while simultaneously tasked with sliding in alongside Jermaine Jones (or whoever occupies the holding spot) as opposition possession proceeds closer to U.S. goal. On the attack Bradley becomes the primary link between U.S. defenders and Jones, and into the attacking specialists such as Clint Dempsey or Graham Zusi or whomever.

Bradley is like an Andrea Pirlo starter kit this way. (And Italy’s gifted offensive maestro is so wonderfully influential that “starter kit” status should in no way be seen as an insult to the most important man in U.S. uniform these days, Bradley.)

The other thing to know about Bradley as it relates to this position: The United States is seriously hosed if something happens to the man. Truly, they lose their midfield controlling arm, their tempo setter, their top passer, their calming and assuring voice. More to the point here, the formation might well change dramatically if Roma’s ever-rising midfielder were to fall, injured.

So there may not be much point in going any further down the depth chart at the “No. 8” spot … but let’s make a little go, anyway.

Sacha Kljestan hardly received swell reviews recently during his turn in the Bradley role; but, truly, what did anyone expect? Kljestan can be a solid, versatile midfield man, but he’s not Bradley. No one in the U.S. player pool is.

Zusi has the technical ability to play inside, where he often patrols for Sporting Kansas City. But he certainly lacks Bradley’s high-level experience, his worldliness. Besides, this would mean finding more answers along the outside, and that means … yes, potentially bringing Landon Donovan into conversation. So, let’s not even go there for now.

Geoff Cameron and Stuart Holden are the intriguing possibilities. Cameron spent time in the attacking midfield role with Houston in MLS, with a mixed bag of results. Holden would look different than Bradley in the role but – assuming he rediscovers his pre-injury self – could potentially provide some attacking muscle, even if his contributions did not resemble Bradley’s.

Check back after the Gold Cup to see how far Holden’s efforts at recovery, steady and diligent, have allowed him to progress up the ordering.

Cameron’s emergence as a holding midfield contingency also means that Jermaine Jones could possibly scoot further ahead in the formation.

Past all that, there’s really no way of ordering a collection of semi-possibilities, the likes of Brad Evans, Jose Torres and even potentially emerging voices in the conversation like Mix Diskerud or Joe Corona. (Or even Donovan … but, again, let’s not go there for now.)

U.S. LINKING MIDFIELD ordering

  • 1. Michael Bradley
  • 2. Sacha Kljestan
  • 3. Graham Zusi
  • 4. Geoff Cameron
  • 5. Jermaine Jones
  • 6. Stuart Holden

In review:

U.S. goalkeepers

U.S. right backs

U.S. left backs

U.S. center backs

U.S. holding midfielders

Coming up tomorrow: right-sided attackers and left-sided attackers

 

Mourinho: Mkhitaryan “disappeared” during games, got dropped

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It would appear that Henrikh Mkhitaryan has become the new Luke Shaw, who not so long ago became the new Juan Mata, who had become the new Iker Casillas, Sergio Ramos and Pepe, who all previously become the new Kaka and Mesut Ozil — players previously perceived to be undroppable, only to fall out of favor and be dropped from Mourinho’s side.

[ MORE: Carrick back in training after operation to fix irregular heartbeat ]

Similarly to many of the aforementioned stars of Manchester United, Chelsea and Real Madrid sides of the not-so-distant past, Mourinho recently singled out Mkhitaryan for not working hard enough for the team and failing to meet expectations with his performances.

Mkhitaryan last featured in Man United’s 1-0 loss to Chelsea on Nov. 5, prior to the most recent international break. He played just 62 minutes, to follow an UEFA Champions League appearance of just 45 minutes against Benfica. Mkhitaryan was then absent from the substitute’s bench for a victory over Newcastle United and a defeat to Basel.

[ MORE: Pochettino sees Sanchez as one of world’s best defenders already ]

In Mourinho’s mind, Mkhitaryan hasn’t merited a place in the team — quotes from the Guardian:

“I was not happy with his last performances. I’m not speaking about one or two, I’m speaking about three, four or five. He started the season very well and after that, step by step, he was disappearing. His performance levels in terms of goalscoring and assists, pressing, recovering the ball high up the pitch, bringing the team with him as a no. 10, were decreasing.

“That was enough [to drop him] because the others worked to have a chance. Everybody works to have a chance. It’s as simple as that.”

“I don’t know if Mkhitaryan will start but, for sure, he will be back in the group. For him to be back to the group, it means that somebody is going to leave the group.”

Davinson delights Pochettino, who predicts “massive” strides

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It’s still very early days for Davinson Sanchez as a Tottenham Hotspur player, but the early returns are extremely positive as the Colombian center back has featured in 14 of the club’s 17 games in the Premier League and UEFA Champions League this season.

[ MORE: Spurs beat Dortmund again to win group with Real Madrid ]

What’s more encouraging than Sanchez’s initial performances? The 21-year-old’s “massive” room for improvement and the expectation he’ll one day soon be one of the world’s best defenders, according to manager Mauricio Pochettino.

After signing for Spurs in August, Sanchez went straight into Pochettino’s starting lineup, slotted in between stalwarts Toby Aldeweireld and Jan Vertonghen, who together last season led the defense with the PL’s best record (26 goals conceded in 38 games), as part of a back-three. Sanchez has taken to Tottenham like a duck to water, in Pochettino’s estimation — quotes from ESPN FC:

“You saw against against Dortmund how many times he was with [Pierre-Emerick] Aubameyang one-versus-one. How many central defenders can play one-versus-one and escape and go, be tight and press? If you run, I run because I am so confident when running. I think not many center backs in the world can do this.

“Or against Swansea against Tammy Abraham: how many times he was one vs. one and the ball was behind him, he was on the halfway line and running was not a problem? And against Cristiano Ronaldo, too?”

“We expect more from him, but I am so happy with him. He is doing well, very well. He’s only 21 years old, but he shows more maturity [than that], and he’s so aggressive when he’s marking, his concentration [is good] and then with the ball he’s good, but I think he can improve.

“There is massive scope to improve potentially, it’s massive for him. In only a few months, he’s showing he’s doing a fantastic job for us. [He can improve in] every single aspect, tactic, physical condition, technique.

“We need with him one and a half months or two months preseason every day, and then I’m sure he’s going to show a different level. I think he’s one of the best today, but has potential to improve a lot more.

“Because he’s so clever, and he’s very humble, and he’s very open to learn, he’s a player when you tell something his reaction is to be open, and be critical with himself, and that is a massive skill from a player, when he’s so open to improve, and then the conditions he has are amazing to be one of the best center halves in the world.”

To state the completely obvious, Pochettino was wise to utilize Aldeweireld and Vertonghen as training wheels for Sanchez, if you will, upon his arrival. His athleticism and pace make him 1) the ideal complement to a pair of players who read the game so well; and, 2) perfectly positioned to operate as the last-man, emergency defender on the rare occasion either Belgian is breached.

[ MORE: Liverpool host Chelsea in massive top-four clash ]

For the first time all season, Sanchez started out wide in Alderweireld’s absence (hamstring) against Arsenal last weekend, and for the first time since his arrival, he appeared a flawed — which is to say, human — defender. To his credit, Sanchez gave a quality account of himself on the whole, and finished the game much stronger than he’d started.

No one was more aware of this than Pochettino, though, as he slid Eric Dier into Aldeweireld’s spot for Tuesday’s Champions League triumph over Borusia Dortmund, again deploying Sanchez in the middle. With Aldeweireld expected to miss a couple more weeks at minimum, the Tottenham teamsheet should routinely read Vertonghen-Sanchez-Dier from left to right until he returns.

Lille appoint four interim managers to replace Bielsa

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LILLE, France (AP) A four-man coaching team will take provisional charge of French soccer club Lille in the wake of Marcelo Bielsa’s dismissal.

Lille says Fernando Da Cruz, Joao Sacramento, Benoit Delaval and Franck Mantaux will be in charge of the team until further notice.

Lille announced earlier this week that Bielsa had been suspended “as part of a procedure started by the club” following a 3-0 loss at Amiens.

The northern side is in 19th place and next travels Saturday to Montpellier, which has the best defense in the league.

Bielsa joined Lille this season but failed to make the club competitive. After finishing a disappointing 11th last season, Lille hired the coach – affectionately known as El Loco Bielsa (Crazy Bielsa) – with the aim of returning to the Champions League.

Irregular heartbeat the cause of Carrick’s recent absence

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Manchester United captain Michael Carrick hasn’t played for his club since Sept. 20, a confounding period of more than two months now, and the reason for the 36-year-old midfielder’s absence has finally come to light: an irregular heartbeat.

[ MORE: Mourinho slams critics (again), gives injury updates ]

The condition, which Carrick announced himself on Friday, was first detected after Man United’s League Cup victory over Burton Albion. He has since undergone a cardiac ablation, a procedure to scar or destroy tissue in your heart that’s allowing incorrect electrical signals to cause an abnormal heart rhythm, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Carrick was named the new United captain this summer following the departure of Wayne Rooney. As told in the above statement, he is working toward full fitness and once again being available for selection in Jose Mourinho’s side.

Hooray for modern technology and medicine, which allow otherwise baffling medical conditions to be diagnosed, treated and recovered from in a matter of weeks or months.