giovedì 10 luglio 2014

Argentina v Holland talking point

Louis Van Gaal’s aurea was diluted but not trashed by the 2-4 penalty loss against Argentina. One of the game’s talking points was the way Van Gaal utilized his subs. They didn’t paid off had Holland failed to score in 120 minutes of football. The Holland manager has been forced regarding substitutions. Defender Bruno Martins Indi earned a yellow card just before halftime and that lead Van Gaal to think it was worth to spend the first one sub. Holland’s head coach didn’t change team’s formation as he did against  Mexico. Instead, Van Gaal went put on a wing-back, Daryl Janmaat, for Martins Indi. This resulted in a series of positions changes with Dirk Kuyt switching to the opposite flank to play as a left wing-back while Janmaat played on the right and Daley Blind moved at centre-back. Then, Nigel de Jong was forced to leave the game due to a groin injury and Van Gaal went for his second compelled sub. This time, he didn’t change anything as he opted to insert Jordy Clasie in the place of de Jong. Van Gaal’s thought  on keeping a spare man in front of the backline was useful as Clasie closed all the channels preventing Argentina’s possible through balls toward Lionel Messi at the back of the midfield. The Feyenoord’s holding midfielder also continued de Jong’s job, taking care of Argentina’s No. 10. It was a Van Gaal’s trademark during this World Cup as Holland’s players was usual to play a man-to-man marking in the middle of the pitch. So Javier Mascherano was mainly tracked by Georginio Wijnaldum while Lucas Biglia was marked by Wesley Sneijder. This man-marking was so intense that Mascherano had sit deep, in the middle between his centre-backs, in the way to find some spaces. The third substitution came when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar took over for Robin Van Persie in extra time. Van Persie didn’t make any impact in the game. The centre forward’s performances have been quite poor after his initial display against Spain. True to be said, Van Persie didn’t receive a single, decent, pass throughout the latest two games. With all the three substitutes utilized before the 120 minutes were up, Van Gaal didn’t have the chance to replace starting netminder Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul before the penalty shoot-out as he did against Costa Rica in the quarter-finals. Cillessen helped to shut out the Argentinians through the game but he didn’t come up with a single save during the penalties. "If I'd had the opportunity to substitute Jasper, I would have done it," Van Gaal honestly admitted. Van Gaal summarize the reasons behind his decision after the game: "I substituted Janmaat for Indi because Martins Indi already had a yellow card. I didn't want to take a risk with De Jong because he would be injured. I substituted Van Persie because he was exhausted," he said. Van Gaal was also questioned about the choice of centre-back Ron Vlaar as Holland’s first penalty taker. If Vlaar was Van Gaal's first pick or coach’s first choice declined to take their responsabilities remains unclear. That which is clear is the Argentina’s No. 1 Sergio Romero stopped both Vlaar and Sneijder, while Cillessen was just able to deflect Maxi Rodriguez’s penalty kick but not enough to avoid him to send the Albiceleste to this World Cup’s final.

USMNT World Cup 2014 review

It was a good World Cup for the USA. Although they was forced to book their return flights after they was beaten 2-1 by Belgium, USA were able to get out from a group including Germany, Portugal and Ghana. Jurgen Klinsmann gone right on his decision. He took some risks, but they paid. Klinsmann was bright to leave 32-year-old Landon Donovan at home and to include so many German-Americans into his final 23-man roster. But Klinsmann’s work went much more deep. He re-shuffled USMNT, changing the way in which players are trained and prepared. He brought on nutritionists and sports psychologists for the players. He changed team’s attitude. Not all of those thoughts worked as questions have been raised about USA’s physical condition after USMNT was affected by a lot of muscular injuries. But, in general, Klinsmann’s methods well worked. On the field, fans have seen a lot for which to be encouraged. Although Americans were often outplayed by better teams, they even tried to run the game the way they can. They embraced a new attitude. USA goes home with heads held high. Now, is time to look forward. Next summer there will be the CONCACAF Gold Cup, which guarantees a place at the 2017 Confederations Cup , then the Olympics and, above all, the 2016 Copa América held in USA,  the first country from outside South America to host the tournament. And Klinsmann’s contract run through 2018 Russian World Cup. So the German head coach has time to get his project working. As time goes on, though, USA’s road to Russia will begin. Who will stay and how will change USA’s roster? Some of current roster’s players have probably played against Belgium their last game with USMNT. "The players that are beyond 30, this might be their last moment in the World Cup," Klinsmann told before the game. DaMarcus Beasley, Tim Howard and Jermaine Jones seem gone. Looking to Russia, the same can be said for DaMarcus Beasley, Kyle Beckerman, Jermaine Jones, and Brad Davis due to their age. By the way, they all could still make an impact in the short-period. But with Klinsmann signed through Russia 2018, other players from the2014 World Cup roster are expected to be still around. The main question will be on the net, with netminder Brad Guzan the runner up to get Howard’s heritage next four-year term. On defence, both John Brooks and Omar Gonzalez are young enough to be able to solidify their spot. The same could happen with Matt Besler. Geoff Cameron too had some chances to be part of the squad. Fabian Johnson was a key man during this campaign and DeAndre Yedlin showed against Belgium that he can help the cause. Troubles could face the midfielders. Going through 2015-2018 dates, it’s clear that some youngsters could come out of nowhere to claim a spot into Klinsmann’s roster, the same way Brooks and Julian Green recently did. The 19-year-old Bayern Munich attacking midfielder already surprised getting the call to be there this time. There's no reason to think that he will be a key part of Klinsmann’s plan going through. Things are different for guys such as Alejandro Bedoya, who underperformed this World Cup, or Mix Diskerud, who didn’t play, things could go south. A highly touted talent as Graham Zusi had up and downs in Brazil so Kansas City’s midfielders will have to improve over the next seasons to conserve his place into Klinsmann’s thoughts. Highly valued prospects expected to rise up next season to become a component of USMNT’s future squad are Gedion Zalelem and Gil. The 17-year-old Arsenal reserve player in on the verge of get a U.S. citizenship while RLS’s midfielder is one of the best footballer produced by USA soccer over the last years. Other players as Gale Agbossoumonde, Amobi Okugo or Ike Opara, former prospects that didn’t live to their hype, still have a chance to make a comeback. The way is marked. Obviously, as Michael Cox rightly pointed out [] USA need to see American players more involved into top-level European football. It means Americans need to play in the best European championships and in Champions League games. The lack on some key spots as forward. Barring Landon Donovan and Clint Dempsey, USA didn’t produce suitable strikers. Jozy Altidore, Aron Johannsson and Chris Wondolowski showed to be ineffective at this level. The expansion of MLS also will help. MLS have to find the way to attract better athletes and footballers. The key is made a soccer career attractive for young Americans in a similar way to basketball, baseball or American football. Making a pay rise for MLS players and put emphasis on the chances soccer players have to be part of the sport biggest tournament like the World Cup is, could represent a first step on that direction.

domenica 6 luglio 2014

Van Gaal's gamble worked

That which Dutch manager Louis van Gaal did after 120 minutes into the quarter-final against Costa Rica, i.e. replacing No. 1 Jepser Cillessen with presumed penalty specialist Tim Krul, has been well highlighted by Rapahel Honigstein on Sitting the whole game on the bench then go in and save the penalties it’s no normal, as the same Krul pointed out. A previous experiment happened in Italy’s third tier in 1996, when Castel di Sangro’s head coach (maybe you heard it taking a look to The Miracle of Castel di Sangro book, written by Joe McGinniss) made a similar move to get a win that send his team into Serie B. Iran’s boss Amir Ghalenoei did the same a higher level when, during 2007 Asian Cup quarter finals against South Korea, he switched goalkeepers with Vahid Talebloo replacing starter Hassan Rodbarian. But that penalty shoot-out strategy didn’t work despite Talebloo saved one kick, as Iran missed two and went out. As noted earlier Krul is a presumed penalty kicks expert as he had stopped just two of 20 PKs for Newcastle United in the Premier League. By the way, one can argue that Cillesen had a worst record as he stopped 0 PKs in 16 attempts. Van Gaal and goalkeeping coach Frans Hoek rejected the idea this move was a bravado, insisting that Krul was always part of shootout plan and that he was better suited to handle this task both for his skills and for being taller than Cillesen. “Every player has certain skills and qualities and they don’t always coincide. We felt Tim would be the most appropriate keeper to save penalties,” Van Gaal told reporters after the game, “Tim has a longer reach and a better track record with penalties than Cillessen.” Honestly the height is not this big factor as Edwin Van der Saar is over again more tall than Cillessen and Krul but he still managed to save just 8 PKs during his whole career. Van Gaal looked like a genius as it paid off. But he was also smart enough fielding up a 3-4-3 formation that nullify Costa Rica 5-4-1. On the other side, Holland underperformed and Van Gaal has to be worried about the regression Dutch showed in their play. Is true that Dutch had some good scoring chances but they was modest against a weak Costa Rica team. This poor performance almost cost the Dutch a place in the semi-final. That said, putting a 6ft 4in new goalkeeper in front of Costaricans proved to be a smart move. Has he been really studied is hard to tell. Surely, Krul took the edge to be a netminder against some shooters in a penalty shout-out. Every penalty kick, especially after 120 minutes of play, is a battle of nerves. Goalkeeper got the edge as there is little pressure on his shoulder. Should the penalty taker score, it would have been not considered a goalkeeper’s mistake. It doesn’t means he’s even save from  criticism. Sometime goalkeepers get the blame for underperforming during those situations. Walter Zenga was highly scrutinized and criticized after for failing to save a single penalty kick during 1990 World Cup semi-final against Argentina. That’s happened when unknown Argentinian goalie Sergio Goycochea went out from nowhere, replacing injured starter Nery Pumpido, to stop two spotkicks against Yugoslavia and Italy.

martedì 1 luglio 2014

Deschamps' tactics change worked

For Didier Deschamps, the turning point happened when French coach decided to pick Antoine Griezmann in the place of Olivier Giroud to join Karim Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena as third forward. Deschamps’ first choice was to start striker Olivier Giroud up front, switching Benzema in a left-winger position. With Benzema coming back into his favoured spot as centre-forward, French 4-3- 3 made much more sense and France looked as a totally different team. Deschamps took the risk by selecting a three forward system featuring two pure strikers. There was a sense of balance through this decision, a will to don’t displease neither Benzema or Arsenal’s forward. Benzema’s uneffectivess on the left was clearly showed, especially with the team out of possession. Honestly, this kind of 4-3-3 can be still working should the left interior midfielder be able to slide laterally in the way to provide the needed defensive support. It wasn’t the case as Blaise Matuidi didn’t provide effectively this kind of work. Nigeria’s right-back Efe Ambrose got a lot of space to exploit going forward down the line, providing a numerical edge on French’s left flank when paired to Peter Odemwingie against the lone Patrice Evra. France could have been introduce a holding midfielder in the zone of Matuidi or switch the PSG’s midfielder with Paul Pogba, being the Juventus’ football more a ball hunter than Matuidi. Also, against Stephen Keshi’s 4-2-3-1, the defending 4-4-2 French utilized without the ball was outnumbered in the middle of the pitch. Keshi’s approach was particularly interesting. Nigeria’s manager didn’t ask to his side to sit deep. Instead, Keshi wanted Nigeria press the op position high up the pitch, then play quick transitions. He fielded a very offensive oriented team featuring Mikel John Obi and Ogenyi Onazi in front of the back line with Ahmed Musa and Odemwingie operating in wider areas with Victor Moses just behind centre-forward Emannuel Emenike. Nigeria started well, had their chances, often attacking France’s full-backs, and were impressive in the first half. Generally speaking, Deschamps’ side showed a lack of width in the first half, as the pic clearly point out. Both Benzema and Mathieu Valbuena didn’t provide this width, playing narrowed. That was expected from Valbuena who is usual to drift inside with cutting movements that lead him into a ‘number ten’ spot behind the forwards. By the way, with both Benzema and Valbuena moving into a into clever position, the spaces for Pogba and Matuidi’s runs through the channels were reduced.  Things improved when Deschamps inserted Griezmann withdrawing a vacuous Giroud. The Real Sociedad winger provided the needed width. The World Cup rookie, 49 goals out from 179 appearances with his club, was positioned on the left side. He changed Deschamps’ gameplan, allowing Valbuena more freedom and giving Benzema the opportunity to exploit his favourite run through the middle of the defence. Also helped the fact that Nigeria lost Onazi, an influential presence in the middle of the field, who was forced to leave due to an injury. All those things combined helped France to take the control of the game and to dominate the final part of the game. That said, the game changed when Deschamps reshaped his initial formation. French coach is expected to take note from it and this game could have ended his experiment with a narrowed 4-3-3 featuring one pure striker out wide.