Belgium v USA: Round of 16 - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

Analyzing Jurgen Klinsmann’s work at the World Cup: Job well done?

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For a moment, let’s not discuss the roster selection. The last thing we need when assessing Jurgen Klinsmann’s work inside the World Cup is to pretend Landon Donovan would’ve been in Chris Wondolowski’s cleats on top of goal, during a free kick Landon Donovan would’ve been standing over if Landon Donovan were in the lineup and Julian Green were not (the latter scored, you know, and is now a vested American player forever).

But how did Klinsmann fare in selecting his Starting XI and subs? He certainly wasn’t perfect, but there’s enough evidence to indicate the future is bright for the German as a match day manager.

source: Getty Images

Match 1: Ghana, W 2-1
Who knows how the States would’ve performed under Klinsmann’s original plan, as the manager was forced to take off his best striker after 23 minutes and his most consistent center back after 45. Klinsmann had to use two subs before the second half began, and went with Aron Johannsson for Jozy Altidore and John Anthony Brooks for Matt Besler.

In the latter case, there were questions as to why Klinsmann didn’t turn to Omar Gonzalez in place of Brooks (more on him later). The coach’s final move was to pull of Ale Bedoya for Graham Zusi. Hindsight is always 20/20, but Zusi sent in the ball in that Brooks headed home for the game-winner. Poor marking or not, that’s what we can a ‘feather in the cap’ of Klinsmann.

Match 2: Portugal, D 2-2
Forced to reconsider his striker usage, Klinsmann surprised by using Clint Dempsey alone up-top. This allowed him to move Zusi and Bedoya out wide, while changing his midfield four to a tight triangle with Kyle Beckerman lending some safety for Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley to each probe forward.

source: APHe keeps his defense in tact, and Geoff Cameron rewards him with an all-time US flub to set-up Nani for the first goal. But the Dempsey move pays off, as the Texan is a major source of pressure on the beleaguered Portuguese back line.

Klinsmann’s sub of DeAndre Yedlin for Bedoya pays off within nine minutes, as the Seattle Sounders youngster kickstarts the play that led to Dempsey’s equalizer. Cristiano Ronaldo works a bit of individual magic to find Portugal a point late, but most people would’ve accepted any result if it means Ronaldo would’ve only bested the US once over 90 minutes. The Cameron flub is ultimately what cost the three points, and ultimately it’s hard to fault the coach for starting a man who played in more Premier League games than all but nine players in 2013/14 (three of whom were goalkeepers).

Match 3: Germany, L 0-1
“Why is he starting Gonzalez?” was the cry from many, as Cameron exited the lineup after a tough run against Portugal. Klinsmann also plugged in Brad Davis for Bedoya, the latter of whom was ineffective overall despite many chances (see Belgium analysis).

Davis would end up leaving after 59 minutes in favor of a return from Bedoya. This is where those who believe Donovan would’ve made a big difference — I don’t — have a big argument. Clearly, Klinsmann wanted to use this formation with a two men out very wide but could not find an option he loved. We knew this was a problem when Brek Shea continued to get mentions despite doing very little in club ball. Flat out: Klinsmann could not find the man he needed for this position, but is it fair to say it’s because that man was unavailable to his nation?

Whatever the case, the States needed to limit German goals in order to advance. They did that, and Gonzalez was strong. It’s hard not to call this a success.

source: Getty Images

Match 4: Belgium, L 1-2 (et)
The formation went bonkers, as Klinsmann went a little ‘mad scientist’ with his set-up. It’s clear he wanted to get Cameron back on the pitch without sacrificing what he saw as an in-form Gonzalez (and let’s face it: when Omar’s been good, he’s been very good).

Cameron on the outside would allow the dangerous Fabian Johnson to take more chances, while Klinsmann hoped Graham Zusi could handle more central responsibilities in the process (that didn’t work so well). But in doing so, Klinsmann had to pull Kyle Beckerman from the lineup, removing a player who had done yeoman’s work in the tournament. It was a questionable button to push.

It’s clear Altidore was a smokescreen, though he’s also not the sort of player I personally fancy as a sub. You want him out there wearing defenses down for the second striker or swift little attackers.

And here’s the biggest problem I had with Klinsmann the whole tournament: it’s clear Green, while green, has a skill set others on the roster do not have. There’s a little bit of early-Donovan to his game, with the cool to collect that late goal. At age 19, perhaps he would’ve been roasted on the defensive responsibilities that Klinsmann gave Bedoya and other wide players… but maybe not? That position was a big problem for the U.S., and Green slotted home on his first touch (which may be a World Cup record).

For the record, Klinsmann was right about stoppage time. There were a sub and a goal in the second period. That’s rarely, if ever, one minute.

Conclusion: All-in-all, the States were outclassed by Belgium. In fact, they didn’t hold much of the play at all until Eden Hazard subbed out of the match. Frankly, the US may have had the least talented roster of any team that played in the group, but whether it was their mettle, how Klinsmann organized them or, likely, a combination of both factors, the States progressed out of an incredibly-tough group and are a stoppage time finish away from moving on to Argentina.

As an aside on all the Wondolowski-miss hullaballoo, I was around a group of pretty respected coaches for the game and — after an initial cursing bout — most agreed that Thibaut Courtois played the chance very well and probably could’ve stopped an on-target chance. Don’t know if I agree, but…

Rafa Benitez to have total control at Newcastle, including player sales

NEWCASTLE, ENGLAND - MAY 15:  Rafa Benitez Newcastle United manager reacts during the Barclays Premier League match between Newcastle United and Tottenham at St James Park on May 15, 2016 in Newcastle, England. (Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty images)
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Usually, when teams are relegated to the Championship, squad salaries must be reevaluated to make ends meet, often meaning the axe for players who are deemed too costly.

That won’t be the case with Newcastle next season.

With manager Rafa Benitez back on board with the hopes of navigating the Magpies back to the Premier League as quickly as possible, owner Mike Ashley has handed Benitez the reigns.

Benitez confirmed he will have complete, unmitigated control of the squad roster in exchange for his services.

“What I have is the assurance that if I don’t want to sell any players I don’t have to,” Benitez said in his second unveiling as Newcastle manager. “We can keep all the players who we want to.”

But that’s not all. “For football business I will have responsibility. But the main thing is that I have had assurances we will have a strong team. We will have a winning team and the fans have to be sure I will try to build a strong squad. If I am sat here it is because I am sure we can do it. To clarify I am a person who likes to talk. But if I have to take responsibility I will, no problem.”

This is not only big news for anyone relegated to the Championship, but especially big news for a Mike Ashley club. Not even Sam Allardyce or Alan Pardew were given this type of total control of the club. Ashley knew he had little leverage with such a big name having fallen out of the Premier League, and he needed to make concessions to get his man.

Fernando Torres, back from the depths, can become a Champions League leader

VALENCIA, SPAIN - MAY 08:  Fernando Torres of Atletico de Madrid looks on during the La Liga match between Levante UD and Atletico de Madrid at Ciutat de Valencia on May 8, 2016 in Valencia, Spain.  (Photo by Manuel Queimadelos Alonso/Getty Images)
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His days in England are well past him. From Liverpool superstar to Chelsea flop, the unconventional route the 32-year-old’s career has taken has all led to this.

Yes, Fernando Torres has a Champions League winners’ medal, but it did not come in the fashion many believed he was destined for when he peaked at Anfield. A shell of his former self at Stamford Bridge, he was second-fiddle to fan-favorite Didier Drogba during the 2011/12 run Chelsea made through the competition. Ridiculed by plenty all across England for his YouTube-worthy misses and sleepy performances, Torres was run out of Stamford Bridge with just his medal to accompany him.

“This is the most important game of my life,” Torres emphatically claimed Wednesday morning ahead of Saturday’s final against Real Madrid in Milan. “A chance to write a page that has never been written in 113 years of Atlético’s history. I have the chance to make my dream come true, a dream I had as a kid, to win this cup with this club”.

Torres does not speak as if this is his team, because it is not his team. Despite his dominance at Liverpool, Torres will never be a standout player on a Champions League final caliber squad. Those days are well in the past. Now, Torres knows his place in the squad, an important cog in an engine with no one part more valuable than the other. Such is the way of Diego Simeone.

“I knew I was risking everything by coming back here to Atletico Madrid,” Torres said. “A lot of people thought it couldn’t get better for me here, but I knew the group I was coming into. I knew this group was destined for something big and I wanted to be part of it.”

For all the praises Simeone gets for his teams’ fitness, grit, and defensive prowess, bringing Torres back from the depths of obscurity might be one of his most underrated achievements. The ridicule Torres was forced to endure towards the end of his time in England can break a person. But Torres somehow managed to stay afloat despite the demons lapping at his ankles, and Simeone pulled him ashore. Now, reborn, Torres has finally shown flashes of his former self that only Anfield remembers. Across April and May, Torres bagged six goals and two assists in eight appearances – all starts – to close out the La Liga season. The Spaniard also fed the ball that sprung Antoine Griezmann free for the goal that won the semifinal against Bayern Munich.

No longer a star but still a valuable piece of the puzzle, Torres is right where he belongs. While his time with Chelsea brought him that medal so many legends in the game fail to achieve, he knows now is where his legacy will truly be judged. “The past can only help you get better,” Torres said. “We only think about Milan, which is the present.”

The key word being “we.” For his entire club career, the narrative surrounding Torres had always been about himself, from superstardom at Liverpool to the abuse he suffered after. Now with a “we” to fall back on, it’s time for Torres to play the most important game of his life.

Copa America 2016 preview, Group B: Brazil, Ecuador, Peru, Haiti

Brazil's Willian, left, and United States’ Alejandro Bedoya contend for the ball during the first half of an international friendly soccer match Tuesday, Sept. 8, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Stephan Savoia)
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Brazil

They’ve won five Copa America titles with the last in 2007, but in their previous two Copa campaigns Brazil hasn’t made it past the quarterfinal stage. Despite not having captain and talisman Neymar around they’ll be one of the favorites this summer.

Star player: Douglas Costa – The winger was in fine form for Bayern Munich this season and along with Willian he will be a real threat in support of Hulk.

They will sweep all before them because… They have a huge number of talented attacking midfielders who can rip teams apart on their own. Together it could get rather silly. Expect them to be in the final four.

Really, though, Dunga will be on the hot seat in July: The one thing that stands out about this team is the lack of goals. Only one player in the entire squad has double figures (Hulk, with 12) and anything less than winning a major title is always treated with despair by the Brazilian population. If they don’t win either Copa America Centenario or the gold medal at Rio 2016, Dunga will be under big pressure.


Ecuador

LOS ANGELES, UNITED STATES OF AMERICA - MARCH 28:  Miguel Layun of Mexico (L) fights for the ball with Antonio Valencia of Ecuador (R) during a friendly match between Mexico and Ecuador at Memorial Coliseum Stadium on March 28, 2015 in Los Angeles, United States. (Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)
(Photo by Omar Vega/LatinContent/Getty Images)

Man, Ecuador is due a good Copa America performance. They haven’t made it out of the group stage since 1997 and have finished in fourth place twice.

Star player: Enner Valencia – After returning from injury in the final 13weeks of the season we saw just how important he is for Manchester United. That was from right back. Valencia will play in a more advanced role for Ecuador and provides bags of experience.

La Tricolor will go far because of forwards: Goals. Goals. Goals. Ecuador has a ton of talented attackers in its squad. Enner Valencia and Jefferson Montero will be dangerous and through the first five 2018 World Cup qualifying games they’ve scored 12 times and sit second in the table.

Likely heartbreak warning: With top scorer from World Cup qualifying, Felipe Caceido, out injured, Ecuador has been dealt a huge blow. They seem to always be the nearly men.


Peru

Paolo Guerrero, Peru

They’ve won the tournament twice in their history and last summer they were the surprise semifinalists who finished in third place. Anchored by a strong defense, they’ll be hoping to cause another upset.

Star player: Paolo Guerrero – He is their main man up top with 26 goals in 67 appearances. If Peru has a chance in the box, they want it to fall to him.

They will be the darlings of the tournament: If they get off to a flying start against Haiti in Seattle then we can expect big things. Confidence will be key ahead of the final game against Brazil.

Goals will be the big problem: They scored just twice in three games during the group stage last summer and somehow made it through. They will have to do more than that this time out and if they don’t beat Haiti, it is curtains for their knockout stage hopes.


Haiti

Gyasi Zardes, Frantz Bertin
AP

This will be their first-ever appearance in the Copa America and after their successful Gold Cup campaign in 2015, who knows what’s possible? They will fancy their chances of advancing despite all the odds stacked against them.

Star player: Johnny Placide – He shone for Haiti during the Gold Cup last summer and their goalkeeper will be another busy man. A beast.

Beware of the underdogs, they’ll get you: As we saw last summer, we shouldn’t underestimate Haiti. They only lost to the USA 1-0 and beat Honduras on their way to a quarterfinal exit to eventual runners up Jamaica. They will keep it tight and try to grind out wins.

Tight isn’t good enough: As they’ve found out in World Cup qualifying, you have to do more than hang in there. They haven’t scored a goal through four games of 2018 World Cup qualifying in CONCACAF Group B and sit bottom of the table. Placide will have to come up big this summer if they’re going to produce something special.


Game schedule – Full schedule for Group B, here

Who’s going through, who’s going home: Brazil, Ecuador going through; Peru and Haiti going home

Marquee match: I’m going with Brazil vs. Ecuador on June 4 at the Rose Bowl. This two will go at it to try and take control of Group B. Should be a fun one. 

Top players to watch

1) Douglas Costa
2) Willian
3) Antonio Valencia
4) Paolo Guerrero
5) Johnny Placide

French security chief: Strikes won’t threaten sports events

MARSEILLE, FRANCE - OCTOBER 28:Tens of thousands of the French workers protest as the Unions in France launch new strikes against the pension reform plan on October 28, 2010 in Marseille, France. This is the seventh day of protest for French workers angry at the Government's proposed pension reforms. Nicolas Sarkozy, however, has not wavered in his plans to increase the state pension age from 60 to 62 and last night the National Assembly passed the bill.  (Photo by Patrick Aventurier/Getty Images)
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PARIS (AP) France’s interior minister says violent labor protests and strikes causing gas shortages won’t jeopardize the upcoming European Championship or other sporting events.

[ MORE: 5 things for Mourinho at United ]

About 1,500 people have been detained in recent weeks and hundreds of police officers have been injured in breaking up protests and dislodging protesters from fuel depots.

The tensions have added to concern about security for Euro 2016, already facing what Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve called the “double threat” of violent Islamic extremism and hooliganism.

[ MORE: What is USMNT’s best XI?

Cazeneuve told reporters Wednesday that the government respects the right to strike and does not see the labor movement as a “threat.”

He said it won’t disrupt protection of the June 10-July 10 championship, involving an unprecedented 90,000 people ensuring security.