image of tactical starting line-up

2017 SheBelieves Cup: England – USA 1:0

Situation:
As mentioned in the preview it is always a question in all of these friendly tournaments of who takes what how serious and what are the teams aiming for. We have the same sentence here like in our first match report. In the second round the rust and jet lag should have come off. But the starting line ups were heavily altered compared to the first game. Different formations obviously should be tried by the coaches.

Headline: Suddenly more open

A football match is such a beautiful and complex thing. There are thousands of aspects deciding the outcome. But in the end its beautiful and simple. Goals decide. And that (mainly) means converting chances into goals. After both the first matches on day1 saw the teams putting a focus on preventing their opponents from getting into dangerous areas this was far far less so on day2. Compared to day1 there was more like an abundance of chances though we had more in the other game of the day. But even if the big chances werent also not coming thick here – there was much more play in and close to the opposite box than we saw on day 1.

The high intensity has kind of become standard in this tournament. And it was once again a main reason why this game was also entertaining despite there was not much fluency most of the time. Both teams tried to put pressure on the ball as early as possible. Especially England already at the opposite box if they realised the right occasion. England already started very high pressing against France. But there it was more the sleepy start of the French that led to an English superiority in ball possession early on that turned around bit by bit. Here however the US responded not sleepy. But they also seemed to be taken by surprise the initial minutes how early they were attacked and needed some time to get used to it. But then they slowly got the upper hand. Though England was always committing bodies forward like we havent seen before yet against top class opponents. Not only acted Nikita Parris and Toni Duggan always as anchor points to play into the opposite half where they so far mostly had only one. Also Carney focussed very much more on supporting them quickly up front than on defensive duties. But there you saw again the typical pattern. Fast runners with less technical skills like Parris are more a fit for games with free spaces whereas technically skilled but lesser athletes are better when the opponent tightens up around their own box. With England this time not so tight however the USA had more of the the spaces they wanted in the English half. They found much more possibilities to run into and combine than against Germany. But they also couldnt find the combinations to create enough chances. Some runs over the wing with crosses produced the most danger in front of the English goal.

At halftime it was still 0:0 and despite England had only the one real chance of Parris it seemed not to be flattering them. In the second half the picture changed slowly in favour of the USA. England could launch their attacks a little bit less than in the first half though the game got patchy and there were a few patches with England well in it though overall the USA started to get the upper hand slowly. But again there were very very few moments where this led to chances. Let alone clear cut ones. Again the most excitement came from a few runs with the ball mostly from Pugh or Lavelle. Some others had been visible much less.Β But long distance ball runs are catching the eyes of the fan but rarely are winning matches. Again combination play was mainly visible until the dangerous zone was in sight – but very rarely within it. And again some players seemed to be like on another tune just not finding into the game. England kept the spaces tight enough though the players seemed to get more tired for larger spells. And continued to look the more comfortable side in those mini battles all over the pitch. However their own attacks lacked the speed in support from the deeper players they saw in the first half and thus got locked down often early by the USA defense.

Everything looked like the USA had to go for the disappointing and England for an encouraging 0:0 draw. But fate had made up its own plans. The disappointing 0:0 turned into a very disappointing 0:1 for the USA and into a very unexpected victory from Englands point of view. And like the other games it wasnt decided by a goal which was the result of an intentional piece of play rather than a random one. A corner clearance turned into a dangerous set-up for Lucy Bronze from the edge of the box. And the rebound from the crossbar wasnt cleared decisively enough as well to be out of danger. Ellen White reacted quickest and put the ball into the net and England celebrated one of their greatest victories in the last years.

Tactical View

image of tactical starting line-up
tactical starting line-up

The USA played exactly the same basic tactical formation like in match one. Good. Let us then also call it 3-4-1-2. The back line of 3: Krieger – Johnson – Sauerbrunn. Then there were the 2 deep sitting holding midfielders Horan and Mewis. Then there were 2 wing players Lavalle and Dunn. Lloyd played kind of “behind” the front line with less duties in the own half. And Pugh and Morgan in the front line theoretically. Pugh however showed up far more often and also dropped deep to look for ball contacts and to connect with the midfield.
England extremely offensive given their latest approaches even against teams outside the FIFA top10 like Spain eg lately. You could even argue it was half way 4-3-3. But more like a 4-4-2 with a diamond midfield. Bronze – Houghton – Bassett – Stokes as back line. Williams the holding midfielder. Nobbs right, Christiansen left and Carney top of the diamond. And Parris and Duggan up front. To be mentioned that England always kept 2 players available up front to launch attacks quickly. The US offense again lacked interaction and combination between the players despite there was more space available.

 

Resume and Prospect

We already compared team USA to the club sides of VfL Wolfsburg and Olympique Lyon. This was even more reminding us at what happened there. Both had big disappointments after they won the Champions League and were unable to live up to their own expectations after this. Both started to look intensely into the reasons and how they could turn this around.
Pretty much exactly the same like what the management of team US did after the disappointing Olympics after the World Cup victory. (Among other things by the way both tried to switch to a back line of 3). And Lyon and Wolfsburg both first started to struggle even more before seemingly finding back on tracks later on. Not sure if we dont see the same with team USA. But when the search to make things better gets too much unsettling and mixing up well working patterns of the past it might turn out to be so.
Trying out some new players surely was absolutely fine. However the tactical changes team US is now trying seem not to be headed in the right direction so far. There is the handyman who doesnt know exactly how to solve a problem but instead simply tries some standard procedures around them hoping that something changes somehow. Maybe we have some good luck and something turns out.
The general problem remains that teams are developing into ever more compact defensive blocks who are increasingly difficult to pass. The antidote is not to find even better players who might be able to pass them on their own. The way is to find players who are good in connecting with each other to pass the defenses by combining with each other well enough to base this on smart team play. At the moment the situation unfortunately looks not as if the players are aware they have to combine better.

Rose Lavalle is a player who has the style of play to link up with others. She is certainly another exceptional talent and will hopefully soon be an integral part of the team. You saw her lack of experience on this level. But you saw the touch for the ball, the acceleration, and inventiveness in finding ways forward. Question is why she wasnt called earlier.

England will increase their self confidence even more. And you might see that as a positive. Not sure whether that is good in all aspects because some are already over the top. But it might well be one victory for the history books and still remembered in many years. However for the short term development towards the EC it probably doesnt help too much. Too different were the circumstances to put that into any development context. Too much accidental events played a role. Good for England the US missed some good chances. But you might hope this increases the braveness to “risk” being more offensive in the basic layout in the future. It is probably already very late to develop a consistent style of offensive play until the EC. Because chances from own combination play have been rather close to non existent so far in this SheBelieves Cup. To be successful in the EC tournament it is more about the ability to go through a series of games where you must score against more defensive teams rather than denying better from scoring.
However we can see the intensified training now also starts to pay dividend individually regarding the athletics. The individual difference between the top teams in this regard has reduced very much. But also the others are coming very fast in this regard.

But England will be difficult to beat for every opponent. And when you are in a groove you are in a groove.

Player of the match: Lucy Bronze

Looking for the player of the match has gotten so much more complicated over the last 2 years that it is hard to believe. The defensive blocks are so much dominating most games now being successful in not having any outstanding player but act very integrated. So the poor forwards often are lost and you often cant even say who was the better or the not so good out of the hugely integrated defensive group where everyone has to fullfil his special task to work as a unit. However this was a match taylor-made for Bronze because the US players tried to beat the UK by individual athletics. She also supported the offense though the effect of her actions wasnt counting very much most of the times. Until she should have a big impact smashing this ball against the cross bar.

 


PLAYER RATINGS:

USA:

Harris: 7
Absolutely on level (at least?) with Naeher.

Krieger: 6.5
Ok defensively. Build up play not free of errors though.

Sauerbrunn: 6.5
Usual solidity but also not yet quite settled into the back 3

Johnson: 7.5
Also solid but no real big questions asked

Horan: 6.5
Solid work in defence but not much support for the offense.

Mewis: 7
Solid defensively. Tried to also support the offense.

Lavelle: 7.5
Enterprising and full of capabilities. Best debut since Pugh

Dunn: 6.5
One excellent service is just not quite enough

Lloyd: 6
Couldnt create much danger. But no bad work rate.

Morgan: 6
Rarely seen so much disconnected from a game.

Pugh: 7.5
Engaged performance. Running without ball.


Engalnd:

Chamberlain: 7
One big save. Not much else to do.

Bronze: 7.5
Won most of her duels. And good support for the offense.

Houghton: 7
Solid anchor point. Improving mobility.

Bassett: 6.5
Solid game as well.

Stokes: 6.5
Defense ok. Engaged in offense but not effectively.

Nobbs: 7
Useful part of the defense. Not much to see otherwise

Williams: 6.5
Clever part of the defensive block

Christiansen: 6.5
Lots of pressing the opponents. But not much more

Carney: 7
Good work rate initially

Duggan: 6
Always active but not to much effect.

Parris: 6.5
Good work rate and looked the more dangerous forward


Every comment is very much appreciated !

 

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