Defining and explaining the successful – and new – US formation against Nigeria

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla — Before kickoff against Nigeria, Jurgen Klinsmann made three changes to the side that played decent against Turkey, and the country tried to figure out exactly how the players fit together.

90 minutes later, after a 2-1 win over Nigeria that felt a bit more complete than the scoreline showed, there was a shower of praise for how the players fit together tactically.

Except still, nobody could figure out exactly what to call it or how to define it.

On the heels of Klinsmann’s rant slamming the discussion of formations altogether, there was a guilty feeling that accompanied any attempts to label how the individual US players pieced together on the pitch.

It was like a piece of IKEA furniture – confusing at first, requiring a lot of work to put together, and without a comprehensive set of instructions, but once it does come together right, it serves its purpose well.

“We started off a little bit lethargic,” said Alejandro Bedoya. “It took a little bit of getting used to, but we did what was asked of us.”

It took time to sink in because the tactic was brand new to the entire squad, implemented by Klinsmann just in the past few days.

“We felt in the Turkey game that they were able to get into some dangerous spots on us,” Beckerman said. “We worked on it this week, it was new to us, but we felt like if we’re all working for each other and backing each other up, that we can be successful.”

Bedoya labeled the formation a 4-3-2-1.  Beckerman anchored the epicenter of the midfield, with Jones to his left and Bedoya on his right.  There was an expectation for both Bedoya and Jones that they would advance further outside on attacks to expand the advance, and pinch in when the team moved back towards their own goal.

“Our focus this week was to get everybody behind the ball, because we’re playing against good teams and they’re going to have possession,” Beckerman said. “But if we can keep them from being dangerous then their possession doesn’t mean anything. We felt if we could win the ball then we could expose them with some numbers, so we defended together, we had each other’s backs, and when we won the ball we got into some dangerous spots.”

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Jurgen Klinsmann taught the team a brand new formation just a week before the World Cup, but it worked to perfection against Nigeria, and could be used in Brazil.

With the midfield secure, the two above them in Dempsey and Bradley also weren’t defined into any particular locations, but flowed freely between the central midfield and the front line.

It fit perfectly with how Klinsmann described Spain’s 4-6-0 in Euro 2012, using random midfielders pushing forward to throw off the opposition. While it wasn’t nearly that radical, it employed the same general concept.

It wasn’t always Altidore up top who was the most dangerous man.  Dempsey and Bradley flowed freely and made runs, leaving Nigeria guessing as to who would come at them next.

The catch with this build is that it involves lots of running, but the US proved they were in excellent physical condition, and had the stamina to make it happen.

“In this position, you have to run more,” said Jermaine Jones. “Kyle played the “six” with Bedoya on the right and me on the left. In front was Michael and Clint, and Jozy on top. But the game shows there are differences, I have to be more inside with Kyle or out on the left side.  This is why I say I have to run a lot.”

The 32-year-old then said with a chuckle, “sometimes for the old guys that is not so good.”  It drew a laugh from the scrum of reporters, but the point was there – if the US is to deploy this tactic against Ghana, they will need to be at full fitness levels to run the formation to completion.

All that running comes from the polarizing difference in the formation between the compact defense and wide-open offense, like a hollow-point bullet expanding on impact for maximum damage.  With the tactic so new to just about everyone, it took some time in the beginning to settle in, but once they figured it out, the team became deadly.

“It took us a while to get into the game because we couldn’t keep the ball the first 20-25 minutes long enough to play out of the situation and switch sides and make it open,” Klinsmann said. “Once we understood to make the field more wide, to stretch it – almost cost me my voice – we looked better, and we started to have more flow and better combinations.  We started to play more simple, one-two touches from the back into the midfield, and finding Jozy.”

And ultimately, that’s the key – finding Jozy. With the service he got from this wide-open attack, he flourished, bagging first a sitter and then a ripper, the perfect combination for him going into Brazil.

But the formation is built on compact defense first, and from the get-go that was never an issue for the players.  “It involves a lot of running between me, Kyle, and Jermaine,” said Bedoya. “We shift into one side, making sure to stay compact, and then if they switch it to get back over.  With the connections between me and Fabian, and Jermaine, and Beasley at left-back, it’s a work in progress but defensively I think we did well.”

The dichotomy of the new 4-3-2-1 worked, throwing Nigeria not only into confusion at the back but a spider web at the front, entangling their link-up play in the US midfield thicket.

Whether you agree with teaching the team a brand new formation a week before the World Cup or not, the results on the pitch in Jacksonville are undeniable. If Klinsmann can teach a completely new tactic in just a few days, then it seems logical he could work the kinks out between now and June 16 when the US opens with Ghana.

Who knows if Klinsmann will choose to build upon this for the World Cup, but he would be wise to give it serious consideration, because he seems to have found the launch button that could potentially bring this United States squad success at Brazil that seemed out of reach just two matches ago.

New Zealand 0-4 Portugal: Ronaldo, Portugal win Group A

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New Zealand gave the 2017 Confederations Cup all they had, but they go home empty-handed as Portugal won the Group A finale 3-0 to advance to the knockout round.

Portugal held much of the possession as expected, but they found little at the end early on. The first true chance fell to Cristiano Ronaldo in the 24th minute, who latched onto a Ricardo Quaresma cross from wide right and produced a powerful header, but it was poorly directed straight to New Zealand goalkeeper Stefan Marinovic for the easy save.

[ RECAP: Mexico eliminates Russia with 2-1 comeback ]

Ronaldo had another headed chance minutes later, but he rocketed the attempt back off the post. Portugal would eventually find the opener just past the half-hour mark via the penalty spot. Danilo was clearly shoved by a pair of defenders on a set-piece, and Ronaldo easily dispatched the spot-kick for a 1-0 lead.

The favorites would double their lead just a few minutes later as Eliseu on the overlap came down the left flank and cut horizontally into the box. He fed a charging Bernardo Silva, and the in-demand Monaco attacker jumped to meet it and poked home. Silva was unable to celebrate after turning his ankle heavily on the landing, but he would come back onto the field.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

Portugal finished things off with 10 minutes to go in the game as Andre Silva burst through the midfielder, shucked his defender, and fired past Marinovic to seal the game for good. Nani added a fourth The win means Portugal finishes level on points with Mexico at the top of Group A, winning the group on goal differential thanks to Silva’s final goal.

Mexico 2-1 Russia: Comeback seals semifinal place

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Mexico again produced a poor first half, but were saved in the final 45 minutes as Juan Carlos Osorio led the CONCACAF squad to the semifinals of the 2017 Confederations Cup.

Right off the bat, there was a controversial moment. Just five minutes into the game, Yuri Zhirkov burst into the Mexico box and went to ground under a challenge from Hector Moreno. The referee waved play on, but it appeared on replay that Moreno tripped Zhirkov. Nevertheless, no call was made and no word came from the video assistant referee.

[ RECAP: Portugal eases by New Zealand 4-0 ]

The hosts had another huge penalty shout, but the referee again waved play on as Fedor Smolov was sent flying to ground as Nestor Araujo contacted his leg from behind in the 17th minute. After about a minute of play, the VAR called for a review, but even after a look at the monitor, the referee decided there was not obvious reason to reverse the call.

With Russia applying all the pressure, they would find the breakthrough in the 25th minute. A pair of fantastic saves from Memo Ochoa went for naught as Alexandr Erokhin whiffed, but he was able to find Aleksandr Samedov who struck low past Ochoa for the opener.

[ MORE: Latest 2017 Confederations Cup news

The lead wouldn’t last long. Mexico didn’t exactly seem sparked by the deficit, but they would draw back level against the run of play just past the half-hour mark. It appeared that Nestor Araujo’s looping header was meant to set up a teammate at the far post, but it ended up chipping Igor Akinfeev and tucking inside the woodwork for the equalizer.

After halftime, Mexico scored completely out of nowhere. A bombed clearance out of the back by Hector Herrera seemed an easy collect for Akinfeev, but as the ball bounced high up into the air, Hirving Lozano charged it down and headed the ball under feeble pressure from the Russian goalkeeper. The ball bounced unchallenged into the net, and Mexico took a shock 2-1 lead.

Mexico appeared to have a third to pad the lead, but VAR took 34 seconds to correctly reverse the call as replay spotted goalscorer Hector Moreno in an offside position on the delivery. Russia was doomed to defeat when Zhirkov was given a second yellow card for a clear elbow to the face of Miguel Layun. Somehow, the hosts still had one big chance in the 72nd minute despite the disadvantage, but Igor Smolinkov somehow missed the net on what should have been a tap-in.

The win for Mexico sees them into the knockout stage, but they fail to win the group, finishing level with Portugal on 7 points but coming up short on goal differential by one. Mexico will be without Andres Guardado in the semifinals, as he was shown his second yellow card of the tournament in the first half.

Report: Arsenal owner calls Bellerin to state intentions

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According to a report by Spanish radio station Cadena SER, Arsenal owner Stan Kroenke has personally called defender Hector Bellerin to tell the Spaniard he would not be sold.

The 22-year-old experienced a serious regression at the Emirates last season, and with media speculation surrounding his potential departure, Kroenke wanted to make sure his intentions were clear. Reports had linked Bellerin with a return to his home country, most notably to Barcelona.

With Bellerin under contract through 2021 having just signed his extension last summer, it’s clear the club has decided who they believe keeping should be a priority.

The defender lost his place briefly down the stretch run last season, finding himself on the bench in seven of the club’s final 17 Premier League matches. Despite that, Arsenal still clearly values Bellerin’s talent and durability and hope to ward Barcelona’s interest off. Bellerin didn’t help cool speculation when he bought a house in Barcelona just a short time ago.

Reports say that Arsenal would not take any less than $57 million for their right-back.

Watch Live: Mexico vs. Russia, NZ vs. Portugal

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Group A comes to a close on Saturday, with a pair of spots in the semifinals on the line. The group is jam-packed at the top, with nobody confirmed on to the next round and only New Zealand eliminated.

Russia meets group-leaders Mexico at 11:00 a.m. ET in Kazan, with the hosts needing a win to advance, while a draw would complicate things for Stanislav Cherchesov’s squad. Mexico needs just a draw to confirm advancement.

WATCH LIVE: Mexico vs. Russia live online at Telemundo Deportes

Mexico has brought back its first-choice lineup for the final group stage match, with a number of rotations made in the near-disaster against New Zealand. However, Carlos Salcedo is out with a dislocated shoulder, bringing Nestor Araujo into the starting lineup. Hector Moreno starts despite his injury concerns.

On the other side, Portugal takes on New Zealand with a chance to win the group still intact. Portugal sits in second position currently, level with Mexico on both points and goal difference, but behind by one on goals scored. Should Portugal win and earn a greater goal difference or outscore Mexico by more than one, they would win the group.

WATCH LIVE: Portugal vs. New Zealand live online at Telemundo Deportes

Cristiano Ronaldo starts for Portugal yet again, fresh off his match-winning goal against Russia. They see both full-backs rotated from that match, with Raphael Guerreiro and Cedric rotated for Eliseu and Nelson Semedo.

New Zealand has already been eliminated, without a point thus far in the competition despite a pair of spirited performances for the Group A underdogs.

LINEUPS

Mexico: Ochoa, Moreno, Reyes, Layun, Araujo, Herrera, Guardado, J dos Santos, Hernandez, Lozano, Vela.

Russia: Akinfeev, Jikia, Kudryashov, Vasin, Glushakov, Erokhin, Bukharov, Samedov, Smolov, Zhirkov, Golovin.


Portugal: Patricio, Alves, Pepe, Eliseu, Semedo, Moutinho, Pereira, B Silva, Quaresma, Ronaldo, A Silva.

New Zealand: Marinovic, Durante, Smith, Boxall, Doyle, Ingham, Rojas, Thomas, McGlinchey, Wood, Lewis.