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.

League Cup: How to watch, start times, as Premier League powers enter

League Cup how to watch
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Fifteen Premier League teams eye dates in the fourth round when the League Cup returns for another September midweek.

The congested nature of the season will see some PL sides play three matches in as many weeks, though the European qualifying teams are just entering the fray this week.

[ LIVE: Follow League Cup scores ]

That includes Europa League sides Arsenal and Leicester City, who will stage the lone all-PL scrap of the round come Wednesday at the King Power Stadium.

Tuesday was going to see Tottenham Hotspur visit a club sponsored by Spurs striker Harry Kane, but Leyton Orient is in the news after positive COVID-19 tests have threatened to forfeit Spurs into the next round.

VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Manchester United will hope to snap out of its season-opening funk when it begins its tourney Tuesday at Luton Town, while Chelsea hosts Barnsley on Wednesday.

Liverpool is off to Lincoln City on Thursday, kicking off its League Cup at the same time Manchester City welcomes Bournemouth.

Because of the aforementioned congested September in the tournament, the fourth round draw has already been held and those fixtures are at bottom of the page.


League Cup third round draw

All times ET

Tuesday
Leyton Orient v Tottenham Hotspur — 1 pm ET
West Brom v Brentford — 2 pm ET
Newport County v Watford — 2pm ET
West Ham United v Hull City — 2:30 pm ET
Luton Town v Manchester United — 3:15 pm ET

Wednesday
Preston North End v Brighton — 2 pm
Millwall v Burnley — 2 pm
Fulham v Sheffield Wednesday — 2 pm
Stoke City v Gillingham — 2 pm
Chelsea v Barnsley — 2:45 pm
Leicester City v Arsenal — 2:45 pm
Fleetwood Town v Everton — 2:45 pm
Morecambe v Newcastle United — 2:45 pm

Thursday
Bristol City v Aston Villa — 2 pm
Lincoln City v Liverpool — 2:45 pm
Manchester City v Bournemouth — 2:45 pm


League Cup fourth round draw

Lincoln City/Liverpool v Leicester City/Arsenal
Millwall/Burnley v Manchester City/Bournemouth
West Brom/Brentford v Fulham/Sheffield Wednesday
Fleetwood Town/Everton v West Ham United/Hull City
Bristol City/Aston Villa v Stoke City/Gillingham
Leyton Orient/Tottenham v Chelsea/Barnsley
Newport County/Watford v Morecambe/Newcastle United
Preston North End/Brighton v Luton Town/Manchester United


How to watch League Cup third round streams and start time

Kickoff: Tuesday through Thursday
Online: Select games on ESPN+
Updates: Follow League Cup scores via NBCSports.com

Aston Villa edge past 10-man Sheffield United

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Aston Villa – Sheffield United: The Blades battled hard after going down to 10 men just 12 minutes in, but Villa secured the win thanks to a header from Ezri Konsa.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ] 

Dean Smith’s side huffed and puffed but Sheffield United will be ruing their luck as John Lundstram saw his penalty kick saved by Villa’s debutant goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez in the first half.

The Blades have now lost their opening two games of the season without scoring, while Villa have one win from one game.


3 things we learned: Aston Villa – Sheffield United

1. Debutants impress for Villa: Martinez saved a penalty kick on his debut. Matty Cash was solid at right back and whipped in some lovely crosses. Ollie Watkins forced the red card which swung the game in Villa’s favor and came close to a debut goal. Before this game Dean Smith said he was focused on bringing in quality over quantity. It looks like he’s done that. With Bertrand Traore watching on from the stands, he gives them another attacking option too and with Grealish signed up to a new deal, perhaps Villa could steer themselves well clear of relegation trouble this season.

2. Blades blunt: Sheffield United played really well. They battled hard after going down to 10 men and kept playing the same way, with center backs popping up in attack and every single player ran themselves into the ground. Chris Wilder can’t complain with this display. That said, the Blades have now lost six games in a row in all competitions if you stretch that run back to last season and they seem to have just lost that cutting edge which propelled them towards the top six for most of last season. After two defeats from two to start this PL season, it doesn’t get any easier for the Blades. They have Leeds, Arsenal, Fulham, Liverpool, Man City and Chelsea in their next six games. Sheffield United have made a habit of proving people wrong since they returned to the top-flight but regaining momentum will be tough.

3. Solid defense the way forward for Villa: Mings and Konsa combined for the goal but it was their work at the other end of the pitch which has impressed more. At the end of last season Villa looked much better at the back and that is what saved them from relegation. Konsa and Mings at center back and Cash and Targett at full back is solid and with Martinez behind them, they now have a reliable goalkeeper to back them up. Defense is key for Villa, because with Grealish, Watkins, Trezeguet and McGinn going forward, they have always looked like they can create and score goals.

Man of the Match: John McGinn – Worked so hard in midfield and did all he could to help Villa get on the front foot.


Aston Villa put Sheffield United under pressure early on as the hosts whipped in plenty of crosses from wide areas. Grealish was a threat as Villa’s new boys settled into their Premier League debuts pretty well and they received a massive boost as John Egan was sent off just 12 minutes in.

The Sheffield United skipper pulled back Ollie Watkins after one long ball over the top and was adjudged to have denied a goalscoring opportunity, as VAR checked the decision but Egan was off and the Blades had to play close to 80 minutes down a man.

Despite having the man advantage Villa struggled to carve out any clear-cut chances in the first half and Sheffield United instead came the closest to opening the scoring.

Ollie Burke did brilliantly to run at goal and pass for Chris Basham, who was taken down by Matt Targett and a penalty was given. However, debutant Emiliano Martinez saved John Lundstram’s penalty kick superbly to keep the score level.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

In the second half Watkins was off target with a header as Villa dominated possession but the Blades remained resolute and a threat on the counter.

Just as Villa looked to be running out of ideas, they took the lead. Tyrone Mings flicked the ball on and Konsa finished with a header as he popped up with yet another important goal.

Watkins curled just over late on, and Grealish had a shot deflected over, as Villa pushed to seal the win but they didn’t need a second as they started off the campaign with three points on the board.

Wolves – Man City: How to watch, team news, prediction, odds

Wolves - Man City
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Wolves – Man City: Pep Guardiola and Manchester City hope to find their feet quickly as they kickstart their Premier League campaign with a visit to Wolves at the Molineux Stadium (Watch live at 3:15 pm ET Monday, online via Peacock).

Wolves are coming for a third-straight win in all competitions after beating Sheffield United last weekend in their Premier League opener before beating Stoke City at midweek in the League Cup.

WOLVES – MAN CITY STREAM LIVE

City is ready for its first competitive match since losing 3-1 to Lyon in the UCL quarterfinal.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA ]  

Here is everything you need to know ahead of Wolves – Man City this Saturday with team news, odds, stream link and more.


Team news: Wolves – Man City (INJURY REPORT)

For Wolves, Jonny Otto remains out with a knee injury. The club signed Ki-Jana Hoever from Liverpool after selling Diogo Jota to the Anfield set this week. New signing Marcal starts on the left, with Adama Traore as a right wing-back.

Sergio Aguero is out for a while still, as Guardiola revealed that the Argentine is not back training yet after a summer knee injury cost him the final stage of the Champions League.

Ilkay Gundogan is missing after testing positive for COVID-19. Aymeric Laporte is not yet ready after a positive COVID-19 test, but Riyad Mahrez is back and on the bench. Bernardo Silva and Oleksandar Zinchenko are out with small injuries.


What they’re saying

Nuno Espirito Santo on Diogo Jota being sold to Liverpool: “Jota is a player who has been with us for three seasons with such high performances.We’re not a stepping stone. Players that join us really want to play and progress with us, not looking for the next move. That is definitely not our idea, definitely not.”

Guardiola is ready for the new season: “The feeling is good as always. I see the team as always in an incredible mood. It’s a joy to work with them. We have good expectations to play good football and get the results this club deserves.”


Odds and ends (full odds provided by our partner, PointsBet)

Even playing a first competitive match in ages against a Wolves team which has played twice in the last week, Man City pulls -200 odds to win. Wolves are +525 to win and +340 to draw.

PointsBet is our Official Sports Betting Partner and we may receive compensation if you place a bet on PointsBet for the first time after clicking our links


Wolves – Man City prediction

This should be a treat but perhaps absence is making us see more cracks in City’s foundation than exist in reality. City won its last five PL matches of last season by a combined 21-1 score line. Wolves are very good and have done well versus City but we’ll project 2-1 for the visitors.


How to watch Wolves – Man City stream and start time

Kickoff: 3:15 pm ET Monday
Online: Stream via Peacock

Arsenal sign goalkeeper Runarsson

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Runarsson to Arsenal is complete.

[ MORE: How to watch PL in the USA

Icelandic international goalkeeper Alex Runarsson has finally sealed his move to the Gunners, as the 25-year-old has joined Arsenal from Ligue 1 side Dijon.

Let’s hope he cuts the mustard for the north London club… (sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.

Runarsson arrives to provide competition for Bernd Leno following the departure of Emiliano Martinez to Aston Villa.

Speaking about his arrival at the Emirates Stadium, Runarsson wants to push for as many minutes as possible as Arsenal will be in Premier League, League Cup, Europa League and FA Cup action this season.

“I’m just extremely happy, extremely proud, it is a big day for me and my family. I can’t wait to get started!” Runarsson said. “It is one of the biggest clubs in the world – they’ve won the Premier League 13 times, the FA Cup 14 times, it is a huge club and obviously playing in the Premier League as well, it is a win-win situation. I know it is going to be a lot of hard work, but I am ready to do everything I can to get the most amount of minutes as possible.”

“I would say I’m a modern goalkeeper. It is one of my best attributes that I’m comfortable with my feet, I can play with my right and left foot, I am not afraid to play as a sweeper and I am good one against one. For goalkeepers, because we play a position where if we make a mistake, most of the time it will lead to [a goal] so you need to have a strong mindset. You need to have a mindset where you demand the best so you don’t make those mistakes too often. That’s why you need to work hard, you need to train hard to be able to perform in the matches.”

Being good with your feet is clearly something Arteta wants from his goalkeepers and it is something that Leno can improve on.

Runarsson worked with Arsenal’s current goalkeeping coach, Inaki Cana, when they were both in Denmark at FC Nordsjaelland, so he should settle in very well in England. Arteta is eager for Runarsson to push Leno all the way for the starting spot.

“We want to create healthy competition for places and we look forward to seeing Alex bring further depth to the goalkeeping position,” Arteta said.

This is the perfect back-up goalkeeper situation.

Martinez leaving seemed harsh but after proving himself during ‘Project Restart’ after replacing the injured Leno, then being key in Arsenal winning the FA Cup after so many years on the periphery, it was clear that Martinez would play second fiddle behind Leno this season.

Runarsson will now be the back-up to Leno and the German goalkeeper has been very consistent since arriving at Arsenal in the summer of 2018. That said, many Arsenal fans weren’t sure about him coming straight back in for Martinez and if Runarsson performs well in some of the cup competitions, who knows? Playing out from the back is key to Arteta’s philosophy and Runarsson slots in nicely in that regard.