Stat attack: Klinsmann benched Beckerman against Belgium for a reason, and it backfired

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A massive thanks to FourFourTwo’s amazing stat app StatsZone for the dashboards in this article.

Jurgen Klinsmann had a pretty clear game plan going into the game with Belgium.

His megaphone was the lineup card, and the message was “Your creativity won’t beat us through the middle.”

By starting Geoff Cameron as midfield cover instead of Kyle Beckerman, Klinsmann surprised many around the country, but it’s not hard to figure out why he did it.

One name quite literally rises above all others in the Belgian midfield: Marouane Fellaini.

With the aerial presence of the Belgian afro roaming the pitch, Klinsmann made a very significant change to the lineup in an attempt to box in the big Manchester United midfielder and keep him at bay.

Beckerman isn’t very good in the air, and this is made abundantly clear in the first few USA matches.  Throughout their first three World Cup games, Beckerman had a total of one headed clearance and was 1/2 in aerial duels. It’s not that he failed miserably at it, but he’s flat out not a jumper, much preferring to have his feet on the ground. To compare, Cameron by far out-jumped Beckerman’s entire tournament against Belgium alone, with five headed clearances and 4/5 in aerial duels.

Knowing the threat Fellaini – and even Axel Witsel, to an extent – poses in the air, Klinsmann chose instead to slot Geoff Cameron into defensive midfield. Essentially a third central defender who has ability on the ball, Cameron was a valid choice to not only lock down Fellaini but also relieve Michael Bradley up front somewhat in the creativity department.

Except, with the added aerial coverage came a massive drop-off in distributive ability, and that was a lethal omission in the US midfield. More on that in a bit.

First, let’s first overview how Cameron’s presence actually worked quite well in both holding Fellaini down in the air and clogging the passing lanes in the middle.

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As you can see, there’s a  nice gap in front of the 18-yard box where Cameron patrolled. Fellaini only received five passes in that area all match (the red circle) a positive for the United States.

Witsel had more service in that area, but the US were still successful in scattering him around the pitch, something Russia failed to do during their group-stage match.  As a result, against Russia, Witsel completed all 34 passes he attempted and was an engine against that stout Russian back line.  Against the US, he made a few mistakes in the midfield and overall had less of an influence.

Also interesting, against Russia Fellaini was a favorite target of goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois on goal kicks, with the midfielder able to get to the long balls at will.  Courtois hooked up with Fellaini eight times in that match, a staggering amount and major part of his service. Against the United States with Cameron often man-marking Fellaini, he latched onto just twice.

The presence of Cameron did a good job of spreading out the Belgian players, as you can see here on the player influence chart (essentially an overlay of each player’s heatmap).  Against Russia, the Belgian midfielders were clogging the middle and producing centrally, whereas against the United States they themselves were forced spread out, thus decreasing their ability to penetrate.

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In addition, Cameron beat Fellaini one-on-one in the air in two of their three recorded midfield duels, which was a positive considering that was the main purpose for his inclusion.

So in this way, Geoff Cameron’s presence was a positive. But there was a downside that proved deadly to the United States.

Without Beckerman’s superior distribution skills, Cameron and others made countless mistakes in the midfield and gave away precious possession much too often.

The most surprising number to come out of this match is the possession split.  Through regulation, the US maintained a 50-50 split of possession with Belgium, despite their ability to pepper Tim Howard’s goal compared to precious few opportunities for the Americans.  That surprising amount of possession for the US mostly came while attempting to build from the back, which often led to giveaways in the midfield.

A look at Cameron’s passing chart compared with Beckerman’s control of build-up play against Portugal and it’s easy to see how much the Real Salt Lake man was missed.

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While Beckerman’s passing doesn’t appear to be all that creative on the chart, there’s one thing that stands out: it’s mistake-free. Pair that with the 42-of-45 performance he put out against Germany, and it’s clear why the US failed to maintain possession against Belgium without him.

66-of-81 is below what the US would like from that position, and you can see countless giveaways in the middle third.

Not only that, but Cameron is scattered across the pitch as he looked to roam further up field. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, considering it allows Michael Bradley – playing out of position farther forward than he is used to – to ease back a bit and cover.

Unfortunately, none of that worked. Cameron didn’t have a single chance created despite relatively positive passing in the final third, and Bradley’s defensive presence was non-existent (0 clearances, 0 interceptions, 2/5 tackling).

This is somewhat harsh on Cameron. Jermaine Jones had a very poor passing performance with plenty of giveaways in the midfield as well, and Graham Zusi was a mess down the right.  But things seemed like they were missing an anchor, and that’s because it was on the bench.

The result of all these giveaways? 39 shots by Belgium, 18 of them on target. Tim Howard got to a record 16 of them, but the onslaught was too much.

Its nearly impossible to fully blame Klinsmann for this outcome; hindsight is 20/20, and his priority on aerial coverage over that of a conservative passing approach is something many would prefer. But in this case, after the match, we see the decision was incorrect.

Ex-Liverpool CEO shares biting story of Suarez transfer

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Ian Ayre’s got jokes.

The former Liverpool CEO lifted the lid on some transfer stories during a Merseyside lecture this week.

Of note, Ayre admitted that the club thought Dele Alli demanded too much given what he had produced when the Reds has the chance to sign him as a 16-year-old, and said that Liverpool could’ve landed Alexis Sanchez but the player wanted to live in London (“We couldn’t move the football club to London, unfortunately,” he quipped).

The best part relayed by Sky Sports had to do with Luis Suarez, and shows the relentless nature of the transfer market. Clearly Barcelona had interest in Suarez before the fiery striker bit Giorgio Chiellini at the World Cup, because, well…

“I remember the sporting director of Barcelona calling me during that game, immediately as Suarez bit the player, and he said to me ‘my friend, he’s bitten somebody, how can this be the price?’ I said ‘he’d already bitten somebody when you first bid!'”

We’re sure there’s a certain amount of storytelling in there, but undoubtedly some truth.

Given Barca paid a reported $84 million for the striker, the asking price couldn’t have started that much higher.

De Rossi admits desire to beat young teammates with bat

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Daniele De Rossi doesn’t like the modern world.

Okay, okay, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but the Roma legend dropped a funny quote when discussing the differences between young players these days and those when he began his career.

A one-club man, the 33-year-old De Rossi has played in 556 matches for i Lupi and admits that he probably flummoxed veterans when he began his career because that’s the cyclical nature of adulthood.

From Italia Football:

“When we started out, it was all different, that was 20 years ago. Now a 20-year-old will get into the first team and have more Instagram followers than Messi. When I was young, the older players would say ‘it wasn’t like in my day’ – that’s life and it always will be.

“Mind you, some of them irritate me too. When I see them do live Instagram videos from inside the locker room before a game, I’d like to take a baseball bat to their teeth… But they’re 18 years old and in 20 years’ time they will find themselves complaining about the youth of today.”

Mmmm, tastes like ash and hickory.

It’s a safe bet that De Rossi isn’t wild about Stephan El Shaarawy’s hair, we imagine, but living legends generally get a little leeway with their comments in the media.

Plus, it sounds like he has the wisdom to understand the “why” and at least channel his angry into tackles.

Rooney ready to use experience to “get Man Utd over the line”

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An injury to Zlatan Ibrahimovic has opened the door for one of England’s all-time greatest scorers, and Wayne Rooney is ready to seize it.

Manchester United and England’s living legend could play a key role in United’s run-in toward a Europa League title and a Top Four place in the Premier League.

Rooney has six goals and 10 assists in 32 matches this season, and his 1,937 minutes under Jose Mourinho are a product of both injury and the manager’s preferences.

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

But Mourinho has claimed there’s a place for Rooney all year, and now the opportunity is here just in time for the Manchester Derby.

Rooney is buzzing, from Sky Sports:

“I feel I can contribute quality, composure, experience, and know-how, how to get over the line, whether it’s to win the league or finish top four or get to the final. That’s a lot of experience I can contribute to the team.”

Five Premier League titles and a Champions League medal certainly count for a lot, and the 31-year-old striker is still a productive PL player. The question, assuming Mourinho calls his number, is whether Rooney can roll back the years to be an out-and-out finisher for at least a few more weeks.

The inactivity could be a blessing for Rooney, he says:

“Everyone mentions that age, I’m 31, not an old person. Of course, I’ve played a lot of games. … Who knows, not playing so many games this season might benefit me.”

Totti out to ‘destroy’ Lazio in what could be his last derby

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MILAN (AP) Roma great Francesco Totti is out to “destroy” Lazio in what could be his last derby.

Totti’s contract runs out at the end of the season and the 40-year-old forward is likely to retire and move upstairs into a director’s role at the club where he has spent his entire career.

“It’s a different match to all the others,” Totti said. “It’s a team you always try to destroy on the field but with the maximum respect.

“For the city, for the curva, for the fans, you always try to give 101 percent. It’s a match you always want to win.”

[ PL PREVIEW: Manchester Derby ]

Roma won the last derby 3-2 last month but still lost to Lazio in the two-legged Italian Cup semifinals. Totti played less than 10 minutes in each match.

That semifinal defeat still hurts Roma and its fans, which are likely to fill the Stadio Olimpico again after ending a 14-month protest following the removal of deeply unpopular security barriers.

“It will be like all the other derbies, a must-win match,” Totti said. “It’s important because we all remember how the last one finished. We have to get our revenge.”

Sunday’s match is also crucial for the battle for second place in Serie A and automatic entry into the group stage of the Champions League.

Roma is currently second, four points ahead of Napoli, which visits Inter Milan on Sunday. The team which finishes third has to go into a playoff for Europe’s premier club competition.

Roma has a more difficult run-in than Napoli. After the derby, it next faces AC Milan and Juventus before ending its season against Chievo Verona and Genoa. Napoli plays Cagliari, Torino, Fiorentina and Sampdoria.

[ MORE: Henry, Aguero on playing for Pep ]

“It will be a very important derby for the standings and we will try everything to have a great game to bring home the three points,” Totti said. “We are going through this battle for second serenely and calmly, also because now we have a four-point advantage on them.

“There are only a few matches left until the end of the season, even if three out of five are very difficult on paper. We will try everything to finish second.”

Lazio is fourth, seven points behind Napoli.

Totti has been playing for Roma for 25 years – remarkably more than 28 percent of the club’s existence – since making his debut in the final stages of a 2-0 win at Brescia on March 28, 1993.

Totti, who also won the World Cup with Italy in 2006, could have won more than the solitary Serie A title, two Italian Cups and two national Super Cups he claimed with Roma, but he rejected offers of more money and glory to remain with his childhood club.

His face adorns murals and posters across Italy’s capital, where he is loved by Roma fans and respected by supporters of Lazio, despite his antics against them.

Totti has scored 11 times against Lazio and often celebrates these extra-special goals with T-shirts made for the occasion. One famously said, “I have purged you again,” while he revealed another reading simply “Game Over” after a victory in May 2015.

He hit the headlines in January of that year when he scored the second of two goals against Lazio and, in a pre-planned celebration for becoming the all-time leading scorer in the derby, grabbed his phone off Roma’s goalkeeping coach and took a selfie under the Curva Sud with thousands of adoring fans in the background.

In the Eternal City, Totti is Roma’s eternal leader – first made captain in 1998 when he was only 22.

Nike alluded to his “King of Rome” nickname at a promotional event on Wednesday to unveil new gold-colored boots to mark the Roma captain’s 25 years at the club.

Totti, who was greeted by about 200 chanting fans, was instructed to sit on a throne with the steps leading up to it bearing the names of the seven kings of ancient Rome, with his name placed on the final step.

“I have nothing to do with these kings,” Totti said. “I prefer to be judged than to judge.”