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


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.

FOLLOW LIVE: Two hours to decide it all on Decision Day

Toronto FC's Sebastian Giovinco celebrates after scoring his team's second goal against Colorado Rapids during the first half of the MLS soccer game in Toronto on Saturday, Sept. 19, 2015. (Chris Young/The Associated Press via AP)
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231 days after First Kick, the 2016 MLS regular season is a mere three hours from its conclusion. Decision Day — 10 games, all kicking off at 4 p.m. ET.

[ FOLLOW LIVE: MLS scoreboard for Decision Day updates ]

Back on March 6, 20 teams dreamt of lifting MLS Cup in December. Nearly eight months later, eight playoff places have been clinched, with another four on the line on Sunday — one in the Eastern Conference, three in the Western Conference.

Also still up for grabs: the Supporters’ Shield. FC Dallas have the inside track on the regular-season “title” and home-field advantage for as long as they may compete in the postseason. Bradley Wright-Phillips (23 goals) and David Villa (22) are neck-and-neck for the Golden Boot, with BWP currently holding the tiebreaker (assists — 5 to 3) in the event of a tie.

[ MORE: Playoff Picture — All the Decision Day scenarios ]

For a full list of scenarios in the East, the West — to clinch berths and seeding implications — as well as the Shield race, hit this link and this link. Hit the link toward the top of this post, or right here, to keep up with all the action across the league over a frantic two-hour period (for yours truly, mostly). And, of course, check back on PST for full coverage of the afternoon and the setting of the stage for the playoffs, which begin Wednesday night with the knockout round.

Full schedule of games — all kickoffs at 4 p.m. ET

Eastern Conference

Philadelphia Union vs. New York Red Bulls
New York City FC vs. Columbus Crew SC
Toronto FC vs. Chicago Fire
Orlando City SC vs. D.C. United
New England Revolution vs. Montreal Impact

Western Conference

LA Galaxy vs. FC Dallas
Colorado Rapids vs. Houston Dynamo
Seattle Sounders vs. Real Salt Lake
Sporting Kansas City vs. San Jose Earthquakes
Vancouver Whitecaps vs. Portland Timbers

Antonio Conte is becoming what Jose Mourinho was

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LONDON – At the full time whistle Jose Mourinho pulled Antonio Conte close and didn’t let go.

It was not a loving embrace.

[ MORE: 3 things learned ]

With his team 4-0 up towards the end of the game, Conte turned to Chelsea’s fans and gestured for them to raise the decibel levels. Manchester United’s fans were the only supporters who could be heard inside a very happy, yet quiet, Stamford Bridge.

On his incredibly embarrassing return to the Bridge — first half goals from Pedro (after just 30 seconds) and Gary Cahill, plus clinchers from Eden Hazard and N'Golo Kante did the damage — Mourinho apparently took exception to Conte’s actions.

Speaking after the game United’s manager refused to reveal what he said to Conte but with TV cameras all over the world were fixed on him a the final whistle.

It was clear something along the lines of: “You don’t wind up the crowd at 4-0. You do it at 1-0. It’s humiliating” was said.

It was a far from magnanimous end to an utterly humiliating return to Stamford Bridge for Mourinho as he suffered his worst-ever defeat as a Premier League manager and United’s worst away defeat in the PL since 1999.

Asked in his post-game press conference about what was said, both Mourinho and Conte declined to comment.

“You know me. I speak to Conte. I don’t speak to you. You know me that I am not this kind of guy to come here and share with you things I don’t want to share,” Mourinho said. “It was with me and Antonio and stays with me and him. Unless he wants to share with you if he wants. That is Antonio’s problem.”

What is clear is that Mourinho’s problems are much worse than Conte’s.

Only once had a team he’s managed conceded four or more goals in a Premier League game and on his first visit back to west London since he was fired as Chelsea’s boss last December, Mourinho’s defense were all over the place as they couldn’t cope with Chelsea’s wide men set up in a 3-4-3 system. Conte’s side were well balanced and had learned from their early season defeats to Liverpool and Arsenal.

Chelsea’s Italian manager laughed a little when asked about Mourinho’s comments — something which will have likely incensed his opponent — then explained why he turned to Chelsea’s fans and gestured for them to sing loudly towards the end of the game.

“I think that the private conversation must remain private. Then if someone discover something, okay. For me a private conversation remains private,” Conte said, smiling. “I think that today it was right to call our fans in a moment I was listening to only the supporters of Manchester United after 4-0. I called the fans to do a great clap to the players after this type of performance. I think that the players after a 4-0 win, they deserved it. It is very normal.”

Did Conte regret his passion on the sidelines? His constant jumping around? His whipping the home fans at Stamford Bridge into a frenzy for the final moments of the game?

“Me? No. I think we live with emotion,” Conte said. “If we want to cut the emotion we can go home, stay at home and change my job.”

This was all about much more than Conte whipping up the crowd late on. Mourinho’s back was up. He was hurting and he lashed out.

Once upon a time he would be the man whipping up crowds and providing plenty of antics on the sidelines. Now he’s lost a large chunk of his sparkle. The 53-year-old is six years Conte’s senior and it shows.

Chants of “You’re not special anymore!” and “You’re getting sacked in the morning!” greeted him from some sections of Chelsea’s supporters as he returned to the club where he delivered three Premier League titles in five full seasons in charge over two spells. With United having just 14 points after nine PL games (the same record David Moyes had) Mourinho has been reduced to moaning and complaining while he watches on at others such as Jurgen Klopp and Conte succeeding.

His comments last Monday about Klopp’s Liverpool being the “last wonder of the world” in attack were telling. He is starting to look like he feels out of the loop, out of touch and some might even say yesterday’s news.

You could argue that Conte is what Mourinho was.

Sure, the Italian boss has never won the UEFA Champions League title and has only had success in Italy, but he is passionate, driven and lives and dies by his relationship with his players and the fans. Sat behind Chelsea’s bench on Sunday, or any gameday for that matter, it is exhausting to see Conte in action. Whether or not his constant gesticulation and shouting makes a difference remains to be seen but in stark contrast Mourinho stood on the sidelines with his hands in his pockets for most of the second half as he watched his team waved the white flag as Chelsea raced into a 4-0 lead.

Mourinho used to be the one running on the pitch and hugging his players at the final whistle and urging Chelsea’s supporters to create a cauldron of noise in the comfy surroundings of Stamford Bridge. Now, Conte is doing that.

Both managers have only been at their respective clubs since the summer but Conte is much further along in stamping his mark on his team.

And when it comes to Conte’s tactics, he’s been brave enough to change his system in recent weeks to great success.

Since Chelsea switched to a 3-4-3 formation, they’ve won all of their last three games, conceding zero goals. ProSoccerTalk asked Conte if the defensive improvement following the 3-0 shellacking at Arsenal, which made him livid, has been the most pleasing in recent weeks.

“After two defeats and conceding two or three goals in every game, it was important for us to change something and to find a new solution. I think this suit is very good for the team and our squad. Now we must continue,” Conte said. “I always thought that the system is not important. It is more important, the commitment to trust in the work and work very hard and also to follow the principles and my idea of football. That pleased me because when you see this in the game you go in your house and you are happy.”

Conte will go home happy on Sunday in west London. Mourinho often did. But not anymore.

Jose Mourinho believes Manchester United “played well” in 4-0 defeat

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Jose Mourinho, as he has so many times this season after slip-ups by Manchester United, has chosen to stay positive.

A monstrous 4-0 defeat at the hands of his former club Chelsea saw a calamatous number of defensive errors lead to goals for the opposition, but the new Manchester United manager is looking ahead already.

“The team played well,” Mourinho claimed after the match. “If we can delete the defensive mistakes we make…if we can delete that, the team played well. Courtois had more work than De Gea, their central defenders had more work than my central defenders, we were always in control, we played in their half for long periods, we put foot in their box many many times, we have what I call chances and half-chances, but they are very dangerous in counter-attack, we knew that.”

“I told the players that at halftime, that if we scored the 2-1 the game is different, but it was not for us to score the 2-1, it was for them to score the third and fourth in counter-attack.”

[ RECAP: Chelsea dismantles Manchester United 4-0 at Stamford Bridge ]

Mourinho believed that every time his team was close to scoring, they would concede on the other end, pegging them back even further.

“It’s one of these games where they scored the goal, then we are close to the 1-1, they scored the second goal, we are close to the 2-1, they score the third goal, we are close to the 3-1, they score the fourth goal, and then we are close to the 4-1, and probably a few more minutes they score the fifth goal.”

In the end, Mourinho chalked up his team’s defensive frailty to human error, backing his defenders despite the ugly performance.

“I think that mistake is crucial, it’s a mistake that is difficult to accept, but that’s football and human beings and you have to accept. And then the game was different.”

Mathieu Valbuena injures shoulder but won’t need surgery

GENT, BELGIUM - SEPTEMBER 16:  Mathieu Valbuena of Lyon runs with the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between KAA Gent and Olympique Lyonnais held at Ghelamco Arena on September 16, 2015 in Gent, Belgium.  (Photo by Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images)
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French midfielder Mathieu Valbuena will miss a month with a dislocated shoulder, but while initially it was feared he would need surgery, that is no longer an option, and four weeks should be an adequate recovery time according to reports in France.

The 32-year-old has struggled with injuries this year, missing a pair of matches with a hip problem, and now will be sidelined much longer after a hard landing in the 75th minute on Saturday in a loss to Guingamp.

After the match, president Jean-Michel Aulas told TV channel Canal+ that Valbuena would likely need surgery, but after further testing they will look to get him back by the start of December.

Lyon is struggling mightily, having lost three of four in Ligue 1 play and falling to 10th in the table.

Valbuena has been a regular for the French national team, missing just two matches since late 2012. With this injury, he will most certainly miss France’s World Cup qualifier against Sweden in early November, plus the following friendly against the Ivory Coast.