Jurgen Klinsmann hears your talk of formations, and wants none of it

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Much has been made of how the United States is going to line up in Brazil with the players Jurgen Klinsmann has selected.

Will they play a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-4-2? Will he use a diamond or a flat midfield? How far will the outside backs venture? Will there be cover?

Jurgen hears plenty of this noise in the background, and to him, it’s all just that – noise.

“All these discussions about the systems are actually not up to speed anymore,” Klinsmann told reporters at a press conference at EverBank Field Friday. “The systems are not the key like they were 10 or 15 years ago.”

Parading Spain’s charge to Euro success two years ago as an example, Klinsmann argued that every system on the field now-a-days is meant not only to have strengths and weaknesses, but to cover up said weaknesses by being flexible enough to adapt minute by minute during a match, and the players must now have the ability to play in multiple areas.

“It changed with the best teams in the world, led by Spain,” Klinsmann said. “They made every system look stupid because they came up with a 4-6-0 and everybody said ‘how can you do that? Not even Torres is out there!’ Well, they beat everybody because three or four midfielders became strikers, and then they go back and the other ones became strikers, and it confused everybody.  So I think the trend is definitely going to go away from the system discussion, and you have a whole team that knows how to support each other and how to create going forward.”

Focusing back on the United States, there has been plenty of speculation about which players will start in Brazil, and much of the discussion for or against individuals has been backed by how well they play in certain formations.  But as Klinsmann puts it, the formation isn’t as important as the teamwork the players display.

“There are pro and cons [to the diamond midfield] like with every system.  It doesn’t really matter what shape we have or what system we have, it matters how we connect with each other on the field.”

And in that department, the team has a long way to go, despite how close we’ve come to the start of the World Cup.

“We’re still in the building phase.  We still have 10 days to go [until the US opens with Ghana], so we’re not done now with all the work we have to put into their legs, and into their minds…and it will still go on until after our little Belgium scrimmage in São Paolo.  And the players know that, and they know we still have to work work work until they are ready to go.”

source: AP
Jurgen Klinsmann would rather have his United States squad play well together than fit into a particular formation.

Part of that teamwork Klinsmann wants to see involves defending.  The back line was suspect against Turkey a week ago, and had the Turks taken advantage (which they didn’t), the scoreline could have been a lot worse.

But instead of saying the defensive unit must improve, or the center backs need to communicate more, he pointed the finger at everyone – literally – saying the communication and the coordination must be there, not just on the attacking end.

“We are still in the middle of the process to defend as a whole team. That’s the whole team, starting with Jozy up front, and then the next one in line, and that’s what we’re trying to do tomorrow.”

Midfielder Kyle Beckerman echoed that sentiment without being prompted, saying a formation is more for what happens at the back than working forward.

“When you’re in a formation, it’s mainly a defensive starting point,” Beckerman said. “It’s just a point of reference for when you need to get back into a shape and back on the ball.  But obviously you have to be able to adapt on the field.”

So whether you prefer Beckerman or Jermaine Jones in the midfield, whether you prefer Alejandro Bedoya or Brad Davis on the wing, whether you prefer Fabian Johnson in the midfield or defense…all of these are based on formation. And if you take what the US coach said to heart, throw all that out the window, because he’ll take on-the-field chemistry over a good formation any day.

And while that’s definitely an over-simplification of the journey the US faces in Brazil, there’s certainly something to be made of that. With a mountain ahead of the Stars and Stripes, a mountain fraught with danger in the shape of Ghana, Portugal, and Germany, chemistry is something we’ve seen over the last two weeks as something that without a doubt needs improvement.

Let’s hope all the tinkering Klinsmann has done with the squad just weeks ahead of the big dance won’t prove him a hypocrite.

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Arsenal sends Gabriel Paulista to Valencia

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Arsenal has a thin defense, but that hasn’t stopped Arsene Wenger from thinning the squad even further.

Gabriel Paulista is headed back to the Spanish top flight after the completion of his transfer to Valencia. The Brazilian was sold for a reported $12.8 million, just below the $14 million price tag Arsenal coughed up to Villareal back in January, 2015. He will partner with Manchester City loanee Eliaquim Mangala at Valencia.

The 26-year-old made 64 appearances for the Gunners across all competitions, including 46 in the Premier League. His only goal for the club was Arsenal’s first of a 2-0 win over Bournemouth in December, 2015. His high-water mark with the club was a 120-minute performance against Manchester City in the FA Cup semifinals where Arsenal came back to win 2-1 on an Alexis Sanchez goal in extra time.

“We would like to thank Gabriel for his contribution to the club and to wish him well for his return to La Liga with Valencia,” Arsenal said in its confirmation of the deal.

Paulista was utilized more than expected last season thanks to an injury crisis at the back, and still the Arsenal squad doesn’t seem fat enough to offload defenders, but Gabriel’s over-aggressive nature and tackling inaccuracy led him to an early exit.

With Arsene Wenger now deploying a back-three, the only natural central defenders currently on the roster are Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Shkodran Mustafi, and Rob Holding. Koscielny is suspended from a red card at the end of last season, and Mertesacker is battling a head injury. Sead Kolasinac, Nacho Monreal, and Calum Chambers have played CB for the Gunners in the recent past, but it is not their natural position.

Fabian Johnson misses Gladbach training with injury

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With John Brooks already out long-term due to a thigh injury, the United States may have another key injury to work around.

According to Borussia Monchengladbach manager Dieter Hecking, full-back/winger Fabian Johnson missed training on Friday due to an unspecified injury, and is now a question mark for Gladbach’s home match on Sunday against FC Koln. It could be nothing, but even the scare is cause for concern among U.S. fans.

Johnson has battled a few injuries the past couple of seasons, including a hamstring problem last spring that kept him out for nearly two months, including a pair of World Cup qualifiers in March.

Johnson’s absence would leave a hole at right-back for the United States. The 29-year-old has been deployed some at right wing for the USMNT, but he has been relatively poor at that position in the national setup, looking better when pushed further back where he is given more defensive duties, roaming forward with less frequency but more intent.

In place of Johnson, another converted winger in Graham Zusi has been seeing more time at right-back, but he offers less in the attack and lacks Johnson’s recovery speed, meaning mistakes by the Sporting KC veteran are punished more often.

Falcao scores again to extend red hot start

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Monaco is hoping to ride out the final two weeks of the transfer window with 18-year-old wonderkid Kylian Mbappe still in tow.

While they wait, they aren’t missing a beat.

With Mbappe out of the squad, Radamel Falcao has begun the 2017/18 Ligue 1 season as Europe’s hottest goalscorer. He bagged a hat-trick last weekend with Mbappe on the bench to give him four goals in the first two league matches. Then, with Mbappe out of the squad entirely, Falcao netted the winner in a 1-0 road win over FC Metz.

Falcao has scored five goals so far this year, and his club has a +5 goal differential. In a way, Falcao has already been worth six points thus far.

Thanks in part to Ligue 1’s early start, Falcao’s five league goals are by far more than anyone else in the major European leagues. Four players have scored a pair of Premier League goals, nobody in La Liga or the Bundesliga have scored more than one, and the Serie A season has yet to start.

The Colombian did the same thing last season. After eventually coming off the shelf from to hamstring and concussion problems to start the season, Falcao scored 10 goals in 10 Ligue 1 matches leading up to the new calendar year.

At 31 years old, Falcao isn’t a long-term solution and the club will clearly look to retain Mbappe despite Falcao’s hot start, but should they lose the young Frenchman, the club will be in good hands while they search for a replacement over the next year.

Arena should give Ream a look in Brooks’ absence

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With John Brooks out three months thanks to a horribly timed thigh injury, the United States yet again has to scramble to fill a void at the back. It’s not the first time an injury to Brooks has left the USMNT scrambling for cover at a thin position.

In the successful Gold Cup this past summer, with a largely domestic squad in place, Omar Gonzalez saw the bulk of the time at central defender, with Matt Besler his partner through the final two matches. However, with European-based players now in contention for spots with the early September international break, those two are unlikely to continue, at least not together.

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The most obvious choice to start September 1st against Costa Rica and likely shoo-in should he remain healthy for the next two weeks is Geoff Cameron. The 32-year-old has been back and forth between defense and midfield with club and country, and although he has publicly acknowledged his preference for a spot higher up the pitch, he was used in a back-three in Stoke City’s Premier League opener last weekend and is steadiest at the back.

But with a spot next to Cameron up for grabs in Brooks’ absence, a player who should get serious consideration is United States fill-in extraordinaire Tim Ream.

Ream has had to work hard to earn his place with the U.S., and while he’s seen time of late, he’s not been a first-choice pick. The 29-year-old has four caps so far in 2017, with two of those starts, including one in the impressive 1-1 draw against Mexico at the Azteca with the US still clawing its way back up the Hex standings. Even then, Ream would likely not have earned that spot had Arena not chosen to rotate nearly the entire squad between the pair of qualifiers in that window. His other start this year, the 1-1 draw at Panama, only came after Cameron pulled out of the squad the day of the game with a late injury. The last time Ream started back-to-back matches for the U.S. came back in 2015 when he was somewhat of a regular through the second half of the calendar year.

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But now, with Brooks out, Ream looks like the perfect man to fill in again. The 29-year-old defender finished last season in top form as Fulham narrowly missed out on promotion, earning the official website’s Man of the Match award in a May 2nd draw with Brentford, and won it again in the club’s final match of the season.

Without missing a beat, Ream has picked up where he left off last campaign in the first few matches this month. Last weekend against Reading at the Madjeski Stadium, Ream’s center-back partner Tomas Kalas was sent off 36 seconds into the match, forcing Fulham to play a man down for 89 minutes. Ream and company solidified the back, conceding just once in the 61st minute en route to a 1-1 draw.

The club still likely requires reinforcements at the CB position – Ream was forced to partner with right-back Denis Odoi against Reading with Kalas suspended and Michael Madl injured – meaning Ream could see an influx of competition in the coming weeks. However, as it stands, the American is far and away the best (and most improved) central defender on a club favored for promotion.

Gonzalez performed well in the Gold Cup, and Matt Besler was serviceable, but with few other options in the heart of defense to take Brooks’ place, Bruce Arena could yet again look to Ream for an in-form replacement.