Italy 0 – USMNT 1: Resilient Yanks earn unexpected win
Jurgen Klinsmann selected to his seemingly favorite 4-2-3-1 formation. With the absences of Landon Donovan, Tim Chandler, Oguchi Onyewu, Jose Torres and Jermaine Jones, the Yank’s squad depth was tested. Hoffenheim German-American Fabian Johnson earned the start at left back and had an impressive showing, most likely earning another start at the hard to fill position. The rest of the back four were experienced; Cherundolo, Bocanegra and Goodson are three players who know how to battle and earn a tough result.
The two critical players for the Yanks were Maurice Edu and Michael Bradley. Edu has been criticized in the past for offering little else than combativeness and athleticism. However, tonight he was tactically aware and did a decent job of winning the ball back but more importantly finding a pass to retain possession. Michael Bradley arguably had a man of the match performance. After the match, Klinsmann mentioned that Bradley made a huge step in his career by coming to Italy. This could be seen through his savvy performance; Bradley seemed to be more defensively conscious and refrained from making over aggressive moves to win the ball or ambitious runs into the box. Instead, he anchored the center of the pitch alongside Edu and was also impressive in link up play going forward. Bradley and Edu had only 11 misplaced passes combined while recovering the ball 16 times.
Danny Williams and Brek Shea operated as the wide men. Shea possesses the technical ability but struggles mentally with the international game. He was easily nudged off the ball and seemed hesitant; in the first half he could have run at Barzagli through the center but elected to square the ball to Dempsey which was easily spotted and picked off by Pirlo. Also, too often he allowed Maggio, the right back, to get behind him and get in a cross. Williams typically plays as a central midfielder for Hoffenheim and looked uncomfortable as a winger. He did well in providing the simple pass but was not a threat going forward. However, after the goal he did an excellent job defending the wide areas when Italy were pressing for a goal.
The key to the US attack was the linkup between Altidore and Dempsey. Many people on twitter complained upon seeing the lineups because Altidore was paired alone up top. But Jozy can operate as a single striker if he gets support from the midfield. Dempsey provided the perfect linkup man; a veteran who could instruct the young striker where to move and make the game easier for him. We saw the talent on display by Altidore in providing the assist; he held off a strong challenge by Barzagli, killed the cross with a deft first touch and laid the ball off perfectly for Dempsey to fire home the winner. Before the match, Klinsmann called Altidore out to the media, telling them that he needed to be more professional at AZ Alkmaar to earn more playing time and I hope he respects the manager to take these words to heart and reach his potential. If he can replicate his second half performance more often, there is no doubt Jozy can become an excellent striker.
|Italy’s Tactical Adjustment Caused Problems|
Prandelli used this friendly to prepare for this summer’s European Championships. He aligned the home side into a 4-4-2, with a diamond midfield. Pirlo, the veteran world cup winner, operated as a deep lying playmaker. The Italians made an astute adjustment in their midfield; frequently Nocerino or Marchisio would tuck inside and allow the fullbacks (Criscito and Maggio) to overlap. This outnumbered the Yanks 3 v 2 in central midfield and allowed Pirlo tons of time and space on the ball (as seen in the picture). Also, Shea was slow to cover Maggio and Dempsey did not get tight enough to Pirlo. Klinsmann mentioned in his pre match press conference about the importance of shutting down Pirlo’s space but the execution on the field was poor and should have cost the Yanks.
Pirlo was the classiest player on the park. He completed 91 passes, by far the most by any player. However, the Azzurri were caught offside nine times in the match; thus negating the impact of his excellent through balls behind a vulnerable American central defense. He looked as if he was playing in a Sunday rec league match given how comfortable he was. He didn’t even have a hair out of place making a tackle because the US did not make him work hard defensively.
In front of Pirlo was Thiago Motta, who struggled to make an impact with his passing; he only attempted two through balls, both of which were intercepted. He did however, have two good chances but his shots were straight at Tim Howard. Giovinco and Matri were paired up top, with Giovinco allowed the freedom to scour the pitch looking to find his way past the Yank’s defense.
The Azzurri struggled to capitalize on the brilliant balls over the top from Pirlo because they lacked a quality striker. Giovinco provided clever movement but was too often caught offside and gave the ball away trying to take on players one v one. Matri seemed off the pace, he only has a handful of caps in his career. Perhaps the infamous Mario Balotelli, who was not picked because of his unreliability, could have flourished from the brilliance of Pirlo.
Italy only conceded two goals during Euro qualifiers and it was easy to see why, even though they started Ogbonna in place of Chiellini. The 23 year old made his second appearance but was comfortable and strong in defense.
Italy played the match at the pace of a friendly, which explained the post-match quote by Buffon claiming that the Azzurri had trouble getting up for friendly matches. They have lost four friendlies under Prandelli. The Italians allowed the US to have the ball until they reached the final third.
In the fourth minute, Maggio got behind Shea, as he did numerous times for Napoli in the Champions League v Chelsea and got the ball to Thiago Motta who lost his marker, Michael Bradley and forced an excellent kick save by Tim Howard.
In the first half, much of the US success going forward came out wide. Ten minutes in, Dempsey and Williams worked down the touchline and Dempsey cut the ball back to Cherundolo who should have shot it but passed to Bradley and wasted a chance.
In the 18th minute in, the US worked the left side of the pitch with Shea and Johnson. Johnson’s square ball found Shea in space after Dempsey played a clever dummy but Shea’s strike from 20 yards went wide. In the 26th minute, Edu won the ball after pressing aggressively in midfield and slipped in Shea behind the defense but the winger’s touch sent the ball too far in front.
Italy had a decent chance from Motta a minute before half time but for most of the match they struggled to test Tim Howard because they were caught offside repeatedly.
Surprisingly, Klinsmann made zero changes at halftime. Italy brought on Chiellini and Montolivo for Nocerino and Criscito. Ogbonna moved to left back with Chiellini in the center and Montolivo in the center of midfield.
Altidore provided excellent movement and was able to find space to receive passes all night. At one point, the audio picked up Klinsmann praising his movement. However, when he received the pass, he was often knocked off the ball or gave it away through an errant pass. In the second half he was much sharper.
After receiving the ball on the left wing from Bradley, Johnson was able to cross into the box. Altidore out muscled Barzagli for the ball, killed it with his first touch and teed up Clint Dempsey to fire a first time shot to the right of Buffon. The keeper had no chances as Dempsey has been in blistering form for Fulham.
Just after the goal, Prandelli sent on Pazzini as a straight swap for Matri and put Borini out wide right for Motta, moving Montolivo inside.
Ten minutes later the Italians double switched again but kept their 4-3-3 structure. De Rossi and Abate directly replaced Marchisio and Maggio. Borini was the most likely threat to score as he played as a right forward which allowed Abate to overlap on the right. However, last ditch defending and some crucial blocks prevented an equalizer.
In the final twenty minutes, the US went into a shell to try and maintain the result. They used two banks of four and sat deep and narrow. Spector came on for Fabian Johnson for the final 15 minutes and provided the performance of a veteran; he blocked several shots from Borini. Kljestan played in the unfamiliar wide left when he came on for Shea and struggled defensively. He allowed Abate to get in behind him and was fortunate Bocanegra was able to clear the dangerous cross he provided.
Terrance Boyd, the Borussia Dortmund reserve product came on for the final ten minutes and looked expectedly raw. He struggled with his touch and holding up the ball and made a few immature fouls. He is clearly not ready for the international stage but Klinsmann said he wanted the youngster to familiarize himself with the US setup.
It was only a friendly, but it was a great confidence building win. Klinsmann went with a conservative and defensive approach, similar to a Bob Bradley’s performance. However, the Klinsmann twist of trying to play out from the back instead of clearing the lines ultimately made it more exciting to watch. The most dangerous attacks originated from the wings. Going forward, the US needs to continue playing this style except in the future having more than 39% possession, which Dempsey said in the post-match interview.