The title itself is a bit of a misnomer but I just wanted to use it to give myself the excuse of playing this clip:
I can just imagine Jurgen Klinsmann channelling the late Herb Brooks before kickoff against Ronaldo and his Portuguese side:
“I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great football team the Portuguese have. SCREW EM! This is your time. Now go out there and take it!”
And take it they did though the ending of the match won’t sit well with any US national team fanatic who watched the game. In comparison to their match versus Ghana, the US looked much more livelier, were more tactically astute versus a Portuguese side that wasn’t at its peak through personnel and suspensions. I hate to have this be cliché heavy but there was a touch of the American way that the US displayed. Balls to the wall, missed chances that 9 times out of 10 would be converted, a world class goal from a midfielder who’s more famous for looking like Brian Grant. A defensive blunder or 3 from the backline.
In comparison this Portuguese side is nothing like their teams of previous years, the obvious point being that their talisman in Cristiano Ronaldo is not close to being healthy. They were tactically problematic, stemming from the issues with CR7, and though they’re mathematically not eliminated, it’s highly unlikely they make up the goal difference versus Ghana.
The Cristiano Ronaldo problem:
It’s obvious that Cristiano Ronaldo is carrying a significant injury to his knee, hindering his performance from being 100%. The problems that arise from this is the exact shape that Portugal have defensively. Portugal supposedly play a 4-3-3 with Nani and Ronaldo as the wingers. The only problem with that is with Ronaldo’s knee injury, he’s playing much less on the flanks and more centrally which leaves the left side exposed:
This isn’t to criticize Ronaldo solely. Playing with a banged up knee as a winger is a hell of a chore. It’s heightened even more when said winger is the best player on the side by far and the team is very dependent on said winger. Ronaldo tried to compensate by playing a more central role which made Portugal resemble more of a 4-4-2 formation and Almeida was not particularly impressive trying to cover that flank. More often than not you’d see Raul Meireles try to cover that side defensively so Ronaldo could roam:
It was a very makeshift formation Portugal had, and with their final game versus Ghana who are very reliant on wing play with Atsu and Andre Ayew, it could have the makings of a defensive calamity if this continues.
Portugal’s Defensive Line:
This is more or less an extension of what was previously written for the left side of Portugal’s defensive shape, but something Portugal did was try and play a moderately high line vs the US under their loose 4-4-2:
Even with the substitution of Andre Almeida and Meireles trying to defensively help, it didn’t seem to help Portugal keep some semblance of a defensive shape. Jones was solid in his passing that helped trigger the space that Fabian Johnson had on the width that the US had success with, particularly with how bland the performances were from Zusi and Bedoya. It just felt that Portugal lacked the ingredients needed to play a relatively high line and be solid defensively, which hasn’t been the case previously from Portugal in International tournaments.
Michael Bradley and the USA’s Formation Conundrum:
Michael Bradley for the most part wasn’t particularly impressive vs Portugal, and for the second straight game he’s been some sort of lightning rod in terms of his form. His turnover that led to Portugal’s late game equalizer will be talked about for days to come along with the golden opportunity earlier in the second half that Ricardo Costa saved off the line. This shouldn’t be the symbol of what Michael Bradley is as a player, which is a really good midfielder.
It was very Steven Gerrard esque (still love you Stevie G), but that glosses the underlying issue which is how rigid the US can be formation wise. They’re not Portugal in the sense of having discrete and near fatal issues defensively through their personnel and ideologies, but they seem to have their problems in the midfield. The US are built to play a 4-4-2 formation with two strikers up top but with the injury to Altidore, Jurgen’s had to shift to a 4-5-1 formation more so than the 4-2-3-1. There’s no holding midfielders and Bradley at times has to run from one side of the pitch to the other, which is taxing unless you’re of the capabilities of Yaya Toure (and even he’s helped with that in having Fernandinho as his partner in crime in Manchester City). Also the US aren’t strong on the wings and the passing just seems to be off. This doesn’t excuse entirely what’s happened to Bradley’s form, but it could be a small explanation amongothers for the dip in the two games so far.
USA have to achieve a result versus Germany to assure themselves that they will get through to the knockout stage. They were less than a minute away from getting through to the round of 16 before Ronaldo’s brilliant cross to Verela threw a monkey wrench into those plans. Fabian Johnson was very good on the right side, Jermaine Jones rebounded after a middling performance versus Ghana while Clint Dempsey was a warrior as the lone striker. In a stark contrast to their matchup versus Ghana where the US got lucky in getting three points, their performance versus Portugal deserved a better result than the one point achieved. 2002 didn’t repeat itself on this occasion, but the US can take positives into their final group game versus Germany.