Tactical Bradley

WORLD CUP: Give Michael Bradley room to create vs. Ghana | Tactical Preview

In what many consider to be the “Group of Death”, the U.S. need to get a result against their first opponents, arch nemesis Ghana who have knocked the Americans out of the last two World Cups (Monday 5pm CT on ESPN). Ghana will be coming into this game thinking the exact same thing – a loss would essentially kill their hopes of getting out of the group stage with Germany and Portugal to come. Here are some things to look out for from a tactical perspective.

Combating Ghana’s strong attacking midfield trio – deploying a narrow two holding midfielder formation

Ghana’s attacking midfield trio of Kevin Prince Boateng (right) and brothers Jordan and Andre Ayew play behind their talismanic striker Asahmoah Gyan and are set up to try and win the ball back off their opponents high up the field and break quickly. 

The attacking midfield trio is able to concentrate quite heavily on their attacking duties thanks to the work of holding midfielders Michael Essien and Sully Muntari who cover a lot of ground and try to stamp out opposition attacks before they formalize.

With that in mind, U.S. Coach Jurgen Klinsmann used a two holding midfielder formation in the last warm-up game against Nigeria, with Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman playing in the engine room.

Because the formation is fluid, at times it looked more like a diamond, with Beckerman at the bottom, Jones and Alejandro Bedoya slightly to the left and right and Michael Bradley at the top.

Defensively, this formation makes sense due to the work rate of Jones and Beckerman, as well as Bedoya who excels at tracking back. In the attack however, I would like to see Klinsmann be a bit more positive, with Zusi starting in place of Beckerman.

While Jermaine Jones is great defensively, he will provide little support attacking to DaMarcus Beasley on the left. For me, this formation is specifically designed to clog the midfield and stop the opposing team from creating attacks there. The formation also demands a lot from Michael Bradley, which I will discuss next.

Giving Michael Bradley the room to create – getting him the ball in space so he can dictate the play

In the first half against Nigeria, Michael Bradley was the best player on the pitch. With Beckerman and Jones playing deeper, Bradley no longer needed to drop back and help defensively. Instead, he was dropping back and demanding the ball, in order to lead the US attacks.

There is no better passer of the ball on the U.S. team, especially with through balls, and if Bradley can get into positions where he has time to look up and pick a pass, it could unlock Ghana. Unfortunately for Bradley, Coach Kwesi Appiah has both Sully Muntari and Michael Essien to rely on to stop the American from getting on the ball and creating.

Ideally, Bradley and Clint Dempsey will be looking to pick up the ball in the space between the holding mids and the back four, because this is where they can do the most damage.

In Ghana’s recent loss to Holland, Arjen Robben and Wesley Sneijder saw a lot of the ball in this space and it caused Ghana all sorts of problems. What’s worrying for me is that if Bradley is indeed stifled by the Ghana midfield, will Jurgen Klinsmann have a plan B to deal with this?

With no Landon Donovan in the squad, Mix Diskerud and Graham Zusi are the two most creative players off the bench, if the U.S. wants to continue with a similar formation. Aron Jóhannsson could also play a role if Klinsmann wants to go with two out and out strikers but at least initially, finding space for Bradley vital is to the US’s chances.

The outside back positions – high risk but also high reward

Coming into the World Cup, almost every position on the U.S. starting eleven seemed to be set, except for the question of who will occupy the outside back positions.

It now appears that former Chicago Fire player DaMarcus Beasley will play at left back and Fabian Johnson will play on the right.

While nobody doubts the attacking ability this brings to the U.S. team, the players’ defensive ability is what will really be tested, especially in such a tough group.

I am much more comfortable with what I see on the right for the US, where Johnson and Bedoya have started to form a strong partnership in both attack and defense. 

The first goal in the last warm-up game against Nigeria exemplified both players’ attacking abilities, with Bedoya finding Johnson with a brilliant reverse ball before the Hoffenheim player cut it back perfectly for Altidore to tap in.

The battle on that side between Bedoya/Johnson and Ayew/Asamoah will be fascinating to watch. The other side of the pitch, where 32-year-old DaMarcus Beasley will be playing in his fourth World Cup in a relatively new role of left-back is what worries me more than any other position in the U.S. starting eleven.

With the pace of the Ayew brothers to contend with, Beasley could be in for a long night on Monday. Jermaine Jones must not get too caught up with helping out in the middle and leave Beasley on his own out on the left, especially when Ghana counter attack.

Beasley has looked good in the warm-up games and played in that position during key qualifiers but in the group of death, the opposition is world class and will certainly be looking to get in 1v1 situations with the former Fire player.

Prediction: The US know they must get a positive result here – 1-1 with a goal from Clint Dempsey.