Portugal’s last gasp goal in Manaus meant Sunday’s 2-2 draw felt like a loss, but with one game left, everything is to play for. A win, draw or even a loss against Germany could see the U.S. advance to the Round of 16 but the Germans will certainly be taking nothing for granted and will not want to finish in the runner up position.
Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective in the group decider.
Attacking down the right and targeting Benedikt Howedes
For the second game in a row, most of the attacking threats for the U.S. came from right-back Fabian Johnson. Against Portugal last week, Johnson came up against a second choice left-back Andre Almeida who also got injured, much to the delight of the Hoffenheim wing-back.
Johnson took advantage of this weakness down the Portuguese left and I fully expect Coach Jurgen Klinsmann to target the same side on Thursday afternoon against the Germans.
Benedikt Howedes has benefited from injuries to other German defenders coupled with Coach Jogi Low’s refusal to play Philipp Lahm in his natural full back position. Howedes is not what you would call a “modern” outside back and is clearly more comfortable playing in the middle as he does for his club, Schalke.
It remains to be seen whether Klinsmann will start Graham Zusi or Alejandro Bedoya on the right side of midfield but either player is capable of linking well with Johnson in the attack.
While I would like to see more diversity in the U.S. attacks by using both flanks, the first two matches for both teams indicate a clear strength in attacking wide right for the U.S., and a clear weakness on the left hand side of the German defense.
It’s worked in the past and there’s no need to change that tactic for this match.
Dealing with a possible change in German tactics
Germany only brought one true striker to this World Cup: Miroslav Klose. This is because Die Mannschaft like to deploy a “false nine:” a striker who drops deep into midfield.
For Germany in this World Cup, Thomas Muller has started in the false nine spot. The problem for the U.S. will be dealing with the wealth of attack-minded midfielders the Germans possess: Muller, Mesut Ozil, Mario Gotze and Toni Kroos.
Playing without a recognized forward allows for a lot of freedom of movement in the attack, something that is very difficult for defenses to pick up. The U.S. already has experience dealing with strong and fluid attacks in this World Cup and Thursday will be no different.
Against Ghana, we saw Michael Bradley dropping a lot deeper than expected to help out against Ghana’s rampant attacking threats from the middle. Against Portugal, the U.S. started with Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman in the holding roles and though they didn’t have to face many threats from the Portuguese midfield, I expect Klinsmann to keep this starting eleven against Germany.
This is because the combo of Jones and Beckerman are better suited to dealing with attacks starting from midfield that were expected but never materialized but will certainly come into play on Thursday.
Germany have the luxury of bringing Klose off the bench, and if they do, they will start to play more direct. Just as Algeria did from the start with devastating effect against South Korea, a change of tactics to a more direct style of play can really hurt the opposition if they are not ready for it.
Klose will probably only come on if Germany are in need of a goal, but adjusting to having a target striker on the field, no matter how late in the game this may occur, is crucial.
Dempsey, Bradley and Jones yet to all play well in the same match
Many fans before the World Cup argued that the performances of Michael Bradley would be crucial for the team’s success in Brazil. While Bradley had a much improved game against Portugal, the U.S. is still in a very strong position despite their big three players (Bradley, Dempsey and Jones) all not having one match yet where they put in standout performances.
Jones has been the best U.S. player throughout the first two matches, with Dempsey and Bradley putting in solid efforts in the draw with Portugal last Sunday. Against Germany however, we will need all three players to have strong games if the U.S. is to advance.
Many people point towards the mistake made by Bradley in the Portugal game which led to their late equalizer, but against Germany, Bradley (or one of his teammates) could redeem himself by pressuring Philipp Lahm into doing the same thing.
Many German observers have noted that Lahm is not as comfortable playing the holding role for his country as he is for his club, Bayern Munich. There have been numerous occasions in the first two Germany games where he has given the ball up or misplaced a pass when pressured.
If players like Bradley and Dempsey can cause something similar on Thursday, it could lead to the breakthrough the US is looking for.
Prediction: A result which will advance the US into the Round of 16: 1-1 with goals from Mario Gotze and Clint Dempsey.