World Cup 2014

Three Things: Portugal's World Cup nosedive leaves door wide open for USMNT | Armchair Analyst

I've been saying for a bit that Portugal are very, very beatable. They are slow of foot everywhere except the wings, age has caught up to their best central defenders and their 'keeper is something less than elite.

That said...

Take every "USMNT fans should be overjoyed" thing I write below with a giant grain of salt. Germany were rampant in their 4-0 win, jumping on Portugal's throat early and staying there for the duration.

Let's look at a few key take-aways:


1. Pinning Germany against the sideline is actually risky

One of the basic tenets of any defensive pressure – not just high pressure – is that your best defender is the sideline. The goal for lots of coaches is to get their teams to trap opponents there and hold them.

Good luck trying that against the Germans.

They play a very flexible 4-5-1 – some call it a 4-6-0, but just becuase Thomas Muller isn't a target forward, that doesn't make him a midfielder – that is closer to "total football" across the front six (and fullbacks) than anything happening out there today. It's a very proactive formation in that Germany try to dictate the game, but in its genesis it's reactive, since it was formed as a way to undermine and subvert a lot of the standard defensive thinking across the world's game.

In other words: don't overcommit to pinning the Germans, because this:

Sorry for the humongously long GIF, but I needed to show the whole play (and actually wanted to show the three seconds before hand, but que sera...).

With the ball on the left touchline, Portugal are in a good, classic position here, and should be able to box Germany in. But because of the midfield overload, there are instantly too many players to track, and too many options for the defense to consider.

Muller checks in the center channel, Mario Götze makes a nice, slow north-south jog, while Sami Khedira finds a good spot in support. On the other side of the pitch, however, Mesut Özil has recognized this pattern of play and makes a hard vertical run between the left back and left center back.

Boom. Long ball. Scoring opportunity.

This is standard stuff in the Bundesliga, which still produces more long balls than any other top league in the world. What sets them apart, though, is that they've figured out how to make long balls efficient. It's not just some hopeful hit over the top to break out; it's a tried and true, practiced method of opening up the game.

The Germans are real freaking good.


2. Limiting Ronaldo's impact on the ball

There are lots of gimmicky ways to keep Cristiano Ronaldo from putting his stamp on any given game – I've actually suggested man-marking him in the past. I still think that would have been a pretty damn good strategy for the US, and probably for Ghana, too.

But the best way to limit Ronaldo is to overwhelm the midfield support behind him, and put him out onto an island.

He got more touches in the second half as Portugal had to go into a 4-5-0 shell following Pepe's ejection (we'll get to that), but none from the run of play were dangerous:

Those are his successful passes and dribbles. Not a lot of action to be found, even when it was 11 v. 11.

About the only danger Ronaldo provided came early when he caught Jerome Boateng too far up the field and got isolated on Per Mertesacker, then forced a decent save out of Manuel Neuer. It took 20 minutes for Germany to patch that up – there was another Ronaldo run that Hugo Almeida should have found – and put the game on complete defensive lockdown.

The US aren't going to play as well in possession and positional defense as Germany did today. And Fabian Johnson overlaps even more than Boateng, so ... yeah. This was a big lesson in how to deal with Cristiano, and how not to. And nothing really changes the fact that Johnson and Geoff Cameron are going to have to be in perfect sync to keep Ronaldo quiet.


3. Portugal explode in spectacular fashion

This ended up being basically the dream scenario for the US and Ghana, each of whom could now conceivably advance with just three points. Say the Germans sweep – and who's going to bet against that after this display? – Ghana beat the US, the US beat Portugal and Portugal beat Ghana.

Three teams on three points, with goal differential the main tiebreaker. That minus-4 mark in Portugal's column could very well be the eliminator for them.

That one cracked me up.

This couldn't have played out better for the US (or Ghana). Two Portuguese starters – Almeida and Fábio Coentrão – went off injured. A third, Pepe, got a red card a few minutes before halftime, and left his teammates to chase the German attacking machine in tropical heat, 10-v-11, for the better part of an hour.

The US play Portugal in Manaus, which absolutely destroyed both England and Italy on Friday with oppressive heat and humidity, or as Houstonians call it, "a cool spring day." The Portuguese starters who played Monday – including, hopefully, Ronaldo – will be hard pressed to own a game given the extra running, the side shorn of three key starters, and weather that rips the soul out of Europeans.

What's it mean?

Whoever wins Monday night's game should advance from Group G. Pressure's on, and the clock is ticking.