3-5-2 system shows life, but plenty of work is needed

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Jurgen Klinsmann said before the match against Chile that if he hadn’t had DeAndre Yedlin at his disposal, he wouldn’t have tried a three-at-the-back system.

Take that as you will, but with the Spurs purchase released for international duty, the German manager decided to try his hand at a new system. There were rumblings that he had been toying with soccer’s current fad during January camp, and today we saw the fruits of his labor.

For as bad as I thought it would turn out, it wasn’t as horrible as originally anticipated. However, there’s still a ton of work that needs to be done if Klinsmann decided he wants to go this route long-term, and a few essential pieces are needed.

The first half against showed the creativity the lineup can provide. Matt Besler pumped the ball forward for Brek Shea, who used his pace to cut inside the right side of Chile’s defense and fire home the opening goal. The width the 3-5-2 formation provides showed its value on multiple occasions.

Yedlin himself played very well, and there’s no question a three-at-the-back system was made for players like him. The 21-year-old has the pace necessary to push forward, but has also developed an uncanny sense of what’s around him (yes, I say this even though he lost Mark Gonzalez on Chile’s 2nd goal), a rare combination for defenders these days.

Unfortunately, there’s still plenty to work on, and a few pieces needed that currently don’t exist.

Jermaine Jones is solid on the ball, a requirement for CB’s in this system, but he is totally unaware of his surroundings on set pieces, a key drawback in a formation with few true defenders. This reared its ugly head on numerous occasions, and Chile should have had a couple of goals in the first half as a result, but failed to punish the United States.

There was acres of space between the central defenders, particularly between Jones in the middle and Matt Besler on the left because Brek Shea flat out can’t defend. Which is a problem in this system. Someone like Fabian Johnson would be much more suited to that side, and that could be something we see when Klinsmann has his full arsenal of players available to him.

The pairing of Mix Diskerud and Michael Bradley is great for a midfield pivot, but not for a system that relies on holding possession and covering the back line. This formation is not built to withstand heavy pressure, and yet the United States allowed Chile to hold the majority of the possession with 55%, and should have been more had they not looked truly awful wasteful at times. Klinsmann recognized this, and knew it wouldn’t last, hence the introduction of both Lee Nguyen and Perry Kitchen, and eventually discarding the 3-5-2 altogether.

And finally, related to that, the elephant in the room is the lack of a true defensive midfielder. The United States has long relied on Jermaine Jones to cover the back line, but with him now in a center-back position to save his 33-year-old legs, there’s nobody truly suited for that spot. It’s a position that the formation desperately needs, especially with Jones still learning how to man-mark and follow runs.

Ultimately, while it performed better than expected for 45 minutes, the 3 CB formation seems to be a serious reach for Jurgen Klinsmann, and had Chile not played its B, we may have seen that come to fruition.

Also, if Jurgen Klinsmann feels the need to build a formation entirely around a wing-back (Yedlin), then he seriously needs to rethink his priorities, because while Yedlin surely fits the system, it’s still an asinine suggestion to structure a serious formational change simply to fit a young, pacey full-back.

If this is truly his plan, he should stick to it. But Jurgen Klinsmann has plenty of work to do if he continues along this path.

Club World Cup: Kashima beat Chivas 3-2, will meet Real Madrid

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AL AIN, United Arab Emirates (AP) Japanese side Kashima Antlers beat Chivas of Mexico 3-2 on Saturday, advancing to a semifinal against Real Madrid at the Club World Cup.

Ryota Nagaki canceled out Angel Zaldivar’s early goal for Chivas and Kashima took the lead when Serginho converted a penalty in the 69th minute.

Hiroki Abe assured the win with a goal in the 84th before Hugo Leonardo scored an own goal in stoppage time.

Kashima will play Madrid on Wednesday.

Madrid needed extra time to beat Kashima 4-2 in the 2016 final of the Club World Cup.

Also, Al Ain FC beat Esperance Sportive de Tunis 3-0, setting up the other semifinal with South American champion River Plate on Tuesday.

La Liga: Atleti pull level with Barcelona; Real two points back

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Spain’s top flight…

[ SERIE A: Cristiano Ronaldo scores winner in his first Turin derby ]

Real Valladolid 2-3 Atletico Madrid

Despite a largely indifferent run of form from superstar Antoine Griezmann (just four goals in the first 15 games) to start the season, Atleti managed to hang around in the title race thanks to their league-best 12 goals conceded. Griezmann was always likely to experience something of a World Cup hangover before eventually breaking out and resuming regular service as one of La Liga’s most prolific goalscorers.

Saturday might have been Griezmann’s re-emergence, as the 2018 World Cup winner bagged a brace, including the game-winning goal in the 80th minute, to help Atleti to a 3-2 victory over Real Valladolid.

Nikola Kalinic put the visitors 1-0 ahead before halftime and Griezmann converted from the penalty spot to make it 2-0 as soon as the second half began, but a goal conceded followed by an own goal capped off a dreadful six-minute spell for Diego Simeone’s side. Griezmann was there to save the day, though, popping up at the right place at the right time when Valladolid failed to clear a corner kick and gave Los Rojiblancos three clear-cut chance from inside 10 yards.

Real Madrid 1-0 Rayo Vallecano

Real Madrid scored their game-winning goal nearly 70 minutes earlier than their capital rivals, but their victory wasn’t anymore comfortable as Santiago Solari’s side held on for dear life — and were out-shot 11-9 — by Rayo Vallecano.

Karim Benzema bagged the game’s only goal in the 13th minute before he was forced off with an ankle injury in the 77th minute. Madrid were without Gareth Bale due to an ankle injury of his own. Los Blancos will now depart for the United Arab Emirates where they’ll face Japanese side Kashima Antlers in the semifinals of the Club World Cup on Wednesday.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Getafe 1-0 Real Sociedad
Eibar 1-1 Valencia

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Sevilla v. Girona — 6 a.m. ET
Espanyol v. Real Betis — 10:15 a.m. ET
Huesca v. Villarreal — 12:30 p.m. ET
Levante v. Barcelona — 2:45 p.m. ET

Serie A: Ronaldo scores winner in his first Turin derby

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A roundup of all of Saturday’s action in Italy’s top flight…

[ PL PREVIEW: Liverpool v. Man United at Anfield; Chelsea, Arsenal in action ]

Torino 0-1 Juventus

Cristiano Ronaldo marked his Turin derby debut by scoring the game’s only goal, from the penalty spot, to extend Juventus’ winning streak to seven league games and open up an 11-point lead in the scudetto race.

Torino held strong for more than an hour, despite being forced to sub off starting goalkeeper Salvatore Sirigu in the 20th minute. It was Sirigu’s replacement, Salvador Ichazo, who gave away the penalty when he brought down Mario Mandzukic in the 70th minute. Ichazo nearly made the save to preserve the scoreless draw for the home side, but Ronaldo’s powerful strike got past the Uruguayan to take his season tally to 11 goals (to go with five assists) in 16 appearance in league play.

Inter Milan 1-0 Udinese

Inter ended a seven-game winless skid (all competitions) with a narrow home victory over Udinese. Luciano Spaletti’s side left it even later than Juve, waiting until the 76th minute before Mauro Icardi converted from the penalty spot.

Despite the prolonged period of poor results, Inter have a six-point lead on fourth-place AC Milan, who have yet to play this weekend, but have tumbled to 14 points back of the runaway leaders.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

SPAL v. Chievo — 6:30 a.m. ET
Fiorentina v. Empoli — 9 a.m. ET
Frosinone v. Sassuolo — 9 a.m. ET
Sampdoria v. Parma — 9 a.m. ET
Cagliari v. Napoli — 12 p.m. ET
Roma v. Genoa — 2:30 p.m. ET

The 2 Robbies: Gabriel Jesus puts Man City back on top of PL

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Robbie Earle braves it alone without Robbie Mustoe for this one, but is joined by members of NBC’s Premier League crew — Jen Calhoun, Mike Wolosz and Jorge Bustamante — to discuss Manchester City’s win over Everton (0:45), Tottenham’s last-gasp victory against Burnley (12:00) and hear from a true Bournemouth fan after their defeat to Wolves (19:15). Plus a look ahead to Liverpool v. Manchester United — can Jose Mourinho pull off one more special upset? (31:10)

Join Earle & Mustoe on The 2 Robbies Football Show, Saturdays at 5pm ET. Listen on the NBCSports Radio App and call 855-323-4622 in the U.S. for lively passionate debate.

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