The USA’s draw with Wales on Monday is not a bad result. That said, it’s not a stellar result. For one thing, the United States is still alive and kicking in the competition. On the other, it is far from guaranteed to reach the round of 16.
By the time the USMNT kicks off against England on Black Friday, they’ll be in third or fourth place in Pool B. Wales and Iran will start in the first game of the day at 5am ET. Nine hours later, the United States faces the toughest task of their three games.
Does the USMNT go out to win or draw against England?
Therefore, Gregg Berhalter has a choice to make.
Of course, part of the consideration for that stems from the result in the Wales game on Friday. A Wales win against Iran puts the USA even more under the microscope against England. Or, a Welsh defeat allows the United States to control its fate against Iran.
It is the beauty of the game of all against all. Loaded chances produce a headache for USMNT head coach Gregg Berhalter. Particularly given the unpredictability of this tournament with top teams like Argentina or Germany losing, Gareth Southgate probably sees this game as a perfect opportunity to secure a place in the round of 16. By doing so, he avoids the stress of a final battle of the day. . Also, he can rest the players in England’s third and final group stage game.
Berhalter’s choice comes down to actively sending a team to win and beat England up front. Either that or he can play for a draw and beat England over the counter. Regardless of the plan, the result is what matters.
Scenarios facing the USA depending on the USA-England outcome
If the US pulls out a win against England, generating four points after two games, the US is in an ideal spot heading into the final group game against Iran. In that scenario, the US would have four points going into the last game. A win against Iran, coupled with a previous win against England, could see the US finish top of the group.
A USA draw against England? Two points is not bad, but not necessarily ideal. It gives the United States a lifeline. Therefore, a win against Iran in the final game would give the US five points, which should certainly be enough to advance. However, Iran would like nothing more than to defeat the United States. So a win against Iran is not guaranteed.
In the worst case scenario, if the USA lose to England and Wales pick up a win earlier in the day against Iran, it’s time for a panic in the American camp. In this scenario, the US would prepare for the final game of the group stage with just one point to their credit. Therefore, a win against Iran would result in a total spoils of four points for the United States. That means the race for second place in the group stage is quite likely to come down to the goal difference between Wales and the United States.
Of all the scenarios, the above is the most likely.
However, in this final scenario, it means that an England team goes into their final group game knowing that The Three Lions have already reached the round of 16. If you’re Gareth Southgate, you need to rest your star players to save them for the playoff. round. For England against Wales, the result does not matter. Psychologically, that’s a big deal on Berhalter’s mind, knowing the cards are stacked against you. Similarly, for Wales, it gives them a psychological boost to know they have a huge advantage to beat arch-rivals England.
USMNT approach against England on Friday
On Monday, the USMNT came out fast against Wales. Tim Weah driving down the right, Pulisic dribbling down the left and progressive play in midfield created several chances. For most of the first half, all of the USMNT outfield players filled the Welsh defensive half. As a reward, the United States got a goal, and well deserved. Pulisic put through Weah after some nice play from Josh Sargent. Weah put the ball past Wayne Hennessey.
The focus of the second half was very different. Reclusive, defensive, even nervous. Thanks to Wales for being more progressive and controlled in possession of the ball. He finished with a total of three shots on goal. The USMNT only had one, that Weah goal.
The contrast in the first and second half showed the disparity in what the United States can bring to the table. Here’s what that means for the USMNT approach against England.
All Out Attack – Press To Win, Risk Defeat
England is one of the deepest and most talented teams in the World Cup. They are strong behind with John Stones, Harry Maguire or even Eric Dier. The full-backs, Luke Shaw and probably Kieran Trippier, are talented, even if they weren’t in the best form against Iran.
If there was one thing missing from England’s starting XI against Iran, however, it was pace. Iran had consistent runs from behind. While the Iranians were still outshot by four, they showed potential. Two goals against England come as the Three Lions have conceded a total of eight goals in their last three UEFA Nations League matches.
So for the United States, the onus falls on Weston McKennie, Christian Pulisic and Tim Weah, or at least who Gregg Berhalter deploys in those forward four in their 4-3-3 formation. England’s relatively slow defensive line can open the doors for the same penetrating runs that Weah displayed in the team’s only goal against Wales. If McKennie, Musah and Adams can find some passing touch, there could be opportunities.
Using Gio Reyna in the attack
Or, Berhalter can use a truly gifted talent in Gio Reyna, someone who didn’t see the pitch against Wales, to get creative against England. Berhalter inadvertently upset most American fans by leaving the Borussia Dortmund teenager on the bench in a game that needed an offensive spark. He shouldn’t make the same mistake if he wants all three points against England.
Of course, playing someone like Reyna requires a midfielder to come out. McKennie, Musah or Tyler Adams are likely replacements should Reyna come in. For all his creativity and offensive brilliance, Reyna is a true striker. In his club, he has 16 appearances this season. Six of them are on the right wing, six on the left wing and six in the attacking midfielder. It would be a surprise to see him start over Pulisic, and he sacrifices speed for dribbling compared to Weah. Therefore, the attacking midfielder would be a natural choice.
Having four players dedicated to attack opens doors at the other end for England. Talent, speed, creativity and cohesion are the attributes of this England team from midfield upwards. It says something when Marcus Rashford, Phil Foden and Jack Grealish can come off the bench and add a couple of goals. Jude Bellingham and Declan Rice have the ability to move forward, bringing their size and talent to attack.
Those last two have an uncanny ability to launch an attack out of thin air. If those two catch the United States with forward numbers, few nations can match England’s clinical nature at the top.
Playing to the tie with a solid defensive formation
If Wales lose or draw against Iran, USMNT’s approach against England may change. Suddenly the prospect of beating Wales’s result against England against the USA’s result against Iran looks nice. If the USA sees an opportunity to play for a draw, and perhaps just hit England on the counter-attack, there is a chance.
Yes, Walker Zimmerman took a silly late penalty which Gareth Bale easily connected home. However, the bond between him and Tim Ream was quiet, at least for the first half. Once Wales began to press, the back line came under more pressure. Berhalter’s insistence on playing from behind saw the Welsh increase their time on the ball. Consequently, Wales had more chances.
Gareth Southgate has one of the best attacking lineups in the world. Harry Kane, who should be healthy for the game, has the informed Bukayo Saka and the ever-dangerous Raheem Sterling on either side of him.
The fact is that England will want to win this game. With a win, England can relax in their game against Wales as they can secure a place in the round of 16. Indeed, there is a realistic chance that England will consolidate first place in the group, giving up nothing to risk on Matchday 3. If that’s the case, Gareth Southgate can submit a raw starting XI.
This gives them experience, while avoiding injuries to the traditional starters. He did the same in 2018 after two victories and Belgium on the third day. Kane, Sterling and Trippier didn’t even touch the court in that game. They each started the other games in that World Cup.
Unpredictability of the World Cup 2022
There is also the possibility that Berhalter will go for one plan in one half and go for the other in the second 45. Argentina and Germany dominated in the first halves of their games. Saudi Arabia and Japan respectively held on in the first 45. Both nations even benefited from disallowed goals.
In the second half, with perhaps the ‘powerful’ nations comfortable, the smaller sides went on offense. Two second half goals made up for early deficits.
Even England looked lackluster in the second half against Iran. If the same impulse is fulfilled on Black Friday, Gregg Berhalter can modify his approach for the USMNT to succeed against England.
PHOTO: IMAGO / Focus Images
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