Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Dempsey, Redeemed, Recycled

(This post is recycled from my comments in response to a post at The Shin Guardian.)

The Clint Dempsey saga continues. Did you happen to see big Clint running like mad and defending for Fulham this week-end? I wonder what changes when he suits up for the US. Maybe a manager that has the respect of the players and actually gives them clear tactical instructions? Or is it that the other Fulham players movement off the ball is that much better? We saw some more profligate finishing but he was definitely one of the best players on the pitch for the full 90 minutes.

The asymmetric system Fulham played against Everton was interesting. Duff switched to the right wing to try and exploit space left from Baines’ runs forward and make him defend on his weaker side when he cut inside (Baines is similarly one-sided). Pantsil stayed at home a little more than he often does. Dempsey played deeper and came inside from the left and tried to get into the far post to try to get on crosses with Konchesky on the overlap for width. Those are effective tactics from Hodgson that used his players strengths to exploit his opponents weaknesses. Looks to me like Dempsey can be very effective playing deeper in midfield and tracks back very effectively if when asked by his manager.

Fulham’s tactics were much more clearly articulated than the USMNT where its often hard to say what they were after any given match. I think Dempsey’s actually a bit more dangerous in the spot he played on the left given when he can cut inside to find a runner in the channel, shoot from distance or arrive late at the far post – he never gets up the wing to cross the ball anyway. On that performance, is there any doubt that Dempsey can play at a high level more centrally in midfield either?

When stationed out on the left Donovan also has the sort of reverse ball that Frank Lampard played for Drogba’s goal this week-end (unfortunately it isn't available on youtube due to copyright claims). So Donovan and Dempsey are both more dangerous on the left. Sometimes I’d like to see Donovan try to get around the fullback but he usually stops around the 18 and starts playing quarterback instead. I guess that’s just not his game. I feel Dempsey's poor performances for the USMNT are partly because he needs more similarly skilled players around him in support. So how to we transform USMNT Dempsey into Fulham Dempsey?

Given that they’re both better on the left, it would be interesting to sacrifice one of Davies or Altidore for Holden as a pure winger on the right, giving Dempsey and Donovan freedom to interchange between left midfield and a deeper attacking behind the lone striker. Holden would be asked to track back to help Spector while Donovan and Dempsey could share defensive responsibility with whoever was in better position to track back when the ball was lost. With a wing-back like Castillo now in the mix, he could overlap on the left, making for a 4-5-1 (4-2-3-1) that quickly becomes a very attacking 3-4-3 (3-2-2-3) in attack which is still better able to defend once possession is lost.

This allows our two most gifted players to play off one another instead of being stationed on opposite sides of the pitch. This should mean we’re more coherent in possession despite playing with two destroyers in central midfield. Clark and Bradley (or Edu but it seems like J.Jones is getting more doubtful by the day) must play as conservative holding players with one ready to cover the fullback’s space on the left when Castillo advances and the other protecting in front of the back four when possession is lost. In possession they should provide the easy option in support of Donovan or Dempsey to switch the ball quickly to the right for Holden to get beyond the fullback and put in crosses.

Attacking with 5 players is plenty given that attacking with 6 creates the defensive problems we have when possession is lost, when we often leave the back four completely exposed. It’s much easier to defend against the counterattack with 3 defenders and 2 midfielders rather than just a single defensive line that our central midfielders leave unprotected. That’s why almost everyone gives the fullbacks license to attack while the defensive midfielders stay in position to be able to defend in the center when the ball is lost. That’s why it doesn’t matter so much how well Castillo can defend, as whether Bradley figures out that his central midfielders need to be on a shorter leash. The attack lacks midfield support, not numbers.


  1. Matt from TheShinGuardian.com -- thought I'd pay my respects. :>

    I like the idea there on the USMNT as I commented on our site. Another option that might make sense (you knew I was going to go here)...is leave Donovan our right and put Benny up top Demps. That would be shear music. Donovan can still make his runs and Demps gets the service he's looking for there.

    Or you could even keep Davies in there (as he tends to keep up the pitch) where you have Donovan -- it will give Deuce the space he needs.

    Shaun, our resident Liverpool fan is working on a comparison between Gerrard's play for club and country vs. Dempsey's -- stay tuned.

    Good work.

  2. Thanks for visiting. Dempsey is definitely suited to the sort of role Gerrard plays. In fact, i was thinking somewhat of the system England play with Rooney nominally behind a lone striker and Gerrard in an advanced midfield position on the left, with full freedom to switch places in attack. My idea with this system is more that Dempsey and Donovan overloading the left side means more space on the right giving a direct attacker like Holden a lot of joy if we can switch the ball quickly through midfield. Then Dempsey can get into the box, while Donovan lurks a bit deeper. It also gives Bradley a clearer idea of his positioning and running which i think he needs.

    I really like the dimension Benny adds to our play in central midfield. He could fit well in this system paired with Clark in the central midfield fulcrum and I could see him between two-destroyers in a midfield 3 in a christmas tree system which is more or less what you're describing. In my system, with Donovan on the right, too much of the play will flow through him to exploit the switch to that wing. Donovan doesn't really get around the Fullback like Holden but instead likes to cut inside and pick out a pass from the corner of the penalty box.

    I think Davies could be very effective coming inside from out on the wing - the main problem when Altidore and Davies are paired together is when we regain possession, they're both trying to lead the line. I think this is another case showing a lack of clear tactical instructions from a certain Manager.