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.

Allardyce resigns, opening up intriguing vacancy at Palace

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Sam Allardyce is walking away on top outside the relegation zone.

The veteran Premier League manager, 62, resigned his post as Crystal Palace on Tuesday, weeks after leading another team to safety.

The move ends a tumultuous eight months for Allardyce, who was fired as England manager after an undercover sting exposed unethical dealings with agents.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

It also comes about an hour after somebody wrote that Crystal Palace should move on from Allardyce. What a jerk, that somebody.

Rarely at a loss for words, here’s Big Sam from cpfc.co.uk:

I want to be able to savour life while I’m still relatively young and when I’m still relatively healthy enough to do all the things I want to do, like travel, spend more time with my family and grandchildren without the huge pressure that comes with being a football manager.

This is the right time for me. I have no ambitions to take another job, I simply want to be able to enjoy all the things you cannot really enjoy with the 24/7 demands of managing any football club, let alone one in the Premier League.”

All kidding aside — and I’m far from a Big Sam fan — congrats to the man on walking away to enjoy the finer things in life. He had a heck of a run, and we’ll see how long he can resist being away from the fray. Cheers, Sam.

Coach Valverde leaves Athletic, will reportedly join Barca

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MADRID (AP) Athletic Bilbao says Ernesto Valverde will not remain as the team’s coach next season, clearing the way for his expected move to Barcelona.

Athletic said Tuesday that the coach will give more details about his departure in a news conference on Wednesday.

The Mundo Deportivo newspaper reported that Valverde has already reached a deal with Barcelona to replace Luis Enrique, who announced earlier this year that he would not continue with the Catalan club.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Barcelona ends its season after the Copa del Rey final against Alaves on Saturday.

The 53-year-old Valverde reportedly will sign a two-year contract with Barcelona, with an option for a third season. The announcement is expected next week.

A former forward, Valverde played two seasons with Barcelona in the late 1980s.

He previously coached Espanyol, Olympiakos, Villarreal and Valencia.

A burning question for each Premier League team (and the relegated)

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We continue our postseason review of the Premier League with the big questions bearing down on 22 (soon to be 23) teams.

Twenty Premier League sides (and two already-promoted Championship clubs) have work to do in order to achieve their aims.

Chelsea, Liverpool, Spurs, and Man City want to a UEFA Champions League title. Manchester United, too, but the Red Devils join Arsenal as sides aiming to compete for titles.

[ MORE: Full 2016-17 season reviews

Others, like West Ham, Everton, and Southampton, are prepared to grow toward top-end competitions, while Stoke City and Leicester City hope to take the next step after relatively disappointing campaigns.

What’s the top question for each team? Read on…

Arsenal  – This one’s easy: Forget will Arsene Wenger stay on (He will) — Will the Gunners name a sporting director and spend, spend, spend to rejoin the elite?

Bournemouth – Manager Eddie Howe and chairman Jeff Mostyn have steadily built the South coast team into a stylish threat that it isn’t afraid to spend, but can they build on their Top Half finish. More importantly, can they hang onto 16-goal man Joshua King, who scored more goals than anyone not on a European-qualifying team?

Brighton and Hove Albion – Chris Hughton is now thrice the Championship manager of the season, now can he identify which players can help him stay in the Premier League?

Burnley – Sean Dyche and the Clarets dug deep into their pocket books to stay in the Premier League for another season, now can the tiny club make the astute moves to do it again?

Chelsea – How will Antonio Conte organize his squad for his first season in the UEFA Champions League with Chelsea is a good one, but what will he do with older stars Diego Costa, Willian, and Cesc Fabregas?

Crystal Palace – Sam Allardyce may want to leave, which is fine, so who’s the right man to keep a very talented XI from underachieving? And will they be able to hang onto Wilfried Zaha?

Everton – This is less about squad than schedule: Assuming the Toffees dust their summer qualifier, how will Ronald Koeman negotiate both the Europa League and the Premier League?

Hull City – With Marco Silva reportedly off to Porto, there are two main questions for Hull: Can they find a new boss capable of keeping them near the top of the Championship, and able to convince ownership to keep spending?

Leicester City – Will Riyad Mahrez and Jamie Vardy still be there come August?

Liverpool – Can Jurgen Klopp straighten out his defending and motivate a squad even when big names aren’t on the other side of the field?

Manchester City – Will another year of additions allow Pep Guardiola to assert his genius in a third major European league?

Manchester United – Is there a good replacement for Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the top of Jose Mourinho’s XI?

Middlesbrough – If the major pieces stick around, Boro has the tools to compete for the Championship title… but will the major pieces stick around?

Newcastle United – Rafa Benitez will again flip the roster at St. James Park, but can he bring the new boys together fast enough to avoid a relegation race?

Southampton – Is Claude Puel going to be the manager? If that one’s too easy, then will Virgil Van Dijk remain at St. Mary’s?

Stoke City – At what point does administration demand the Potters take the next step, or bounce Mark Hughes?

Sunderland – Will Ellis Short and company actually spend, or will Sunderland’s absence from the top flight be a long one?

Swansea City – Assuming Gylfi Sigurdsson leaves, how will Paul Clement address his attack while also fixing his back line and finding a metronome?

Tottenham Hotspur – Can Harry Kane, Dele Alli, and Mauricio Pochettino punch through the glass ceiling to claim a Premier League title or sustained Champions Leagur run?

Watford – How many managers will the Hornets employ in 2017-18?

West Bromwich Albion – Tony Pulis is asking to spend. If the Baggies back him, can he break free from his defensive shell and build a team that aims for more than 40 points and another season in the Premier League?

West Ham United – Both chairman David Gold and manager Slaven Bilic want to make West Ham a big, big club. Can they find the next Dimitri Payet and finally find the elite striker they’ve been chasing for years?

Palace and West Brom: Knowing when to cut ties

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This one’s for two chairmen, Steve Parish of Crystal Palace and John Williams of West Bromwich Albion, if anyone’s passing along advice from a writer with exactly zero Premier League experience.

There’s a temptation to leave well enough alone with managers, an allure made only more seductive by the fact that coaching stability is almost contrarian in the high-turnover world of the Premier League.

And if you’re goal is to just survive every year, then by all means, read no further. You have your men in Tony Pulis and Sam Allardyce.

Before we go any further, let’s admit to some prejudices. Pulis’ management preference to often bunker down and strip attacking talents of freedom, at least on the surface, is far from alluring and doesn’t quite fit the expectations of West Brom. And Allardyce is Allardyce, a blustery, credit-claiming boss who’s prime claim  is “I keep ’em up.”

But even beyond that, there’s a question whether either can change aims with so many years of the same anthems.

Pulis’ stingy teams have done relatively well, no doubt, and in no way is he a bad hire for a team with a vacant manager’s chair. But what happened for a second-straight season at the Hawthorns should be unacceptable, especially considering that this season saw a ship chartered toward high success.

When the Baggies clinched safety in 2015-16 only to fall flatter than Saido Berahino‘s West Brom career, it was forgivable. The Baggies hit the 39-point mark with a memorable win over Manchester United, then managed just four points over their last nine matches. That included home losses to Norwich City and Watford.

But critics — myself included — were eating their words when Pulis had West Brom dancing in the Top Ten deep into the 2016-17 season. These weren’t 1-0 counterattacking snoozefests, either, as Pulis was producing goals. Yet what happened when the Baggies hit their vaunted 40-point mark, this time on Feb. 25? One more win the rest of the way, to go with nine losses and two draws.

Here’s what Pulis said after a couple losses, “Complacency is the most annoying word in the dictionary. It is human nature to switch off a bit sometime.”

Sure, but how can it surprise when your mantra from August on is seemingly, “Get 40 points.” Staying switched on when you’ve targeted 40 like it’s the Champions League group stage is tough.

Still, that’s nothing compared to Allardyce, and Parish would be wise to leap at Big Sam’s latest big threats of quitting Palace. Forget that he was hired anywhere after his embarrassing ouster from the England job for a second, and focus on this:

Allardyce took over from Alan Pardew, and Palace slipped into the drop zone. Palace had done a woeful job of recruitment in the summer and Pardew overly complicated his problems by refusing to consistently plug service machines Andros Townsend and Wilfried Zaha into the mix with Christian Benteke.

Allardyce did fix that, but if he deserves anything it’s for striking it rich on three terrific transfer buys in Luka Milivojevic, Mamadou Sakho, and Patrick Van Aanholt. Spending in January is as important as it’s ever been, and Allardyce had more tools in his shed than Pardew or even Pulis beforehand.

Which is to say that if Palace likes Allardyce, fine, but to credit him for this turnaround is only partially worthwhile. To expect him to suddenly become or surprass the man who thrived at Bolton between 1999-2007 is foolish. Almost all of his career nods that don’t involve “avoided relegation” come at levels outside the Premier League, and Palace wants to keep growing.

Back to Pulis, he’s again highlighting the need for West Brom to spend, and perhaps that would allow him to adjust his mentality in the run-up to next season (You’d like to think he’d at least target a Cup run).

What’s worth saying is not that Palace and West Brom should fire their bosses. In Pulis’ case, let’s see if spending can change his stripes a bit (although it should be noted they’ve purchased Nacer Chadli, Matty Phillips, and Salomon Rondon). In Allardyce’s case, it’s a matter of employing a man who’s only out for his reputation and is either going to succeed and claim it was all his genius, or fail and put it on the players or board.

Aren’t there better options?