When the United States beat the Netherlands, I was quick to wave a flag of caution regarding the insane number of shots (27) the US gave up. That team's weird low block 4-3-3 was a mess and, given the shot totals, wasn't all that promising in terms of being a sustainable blueprint for how to punch above our weight with any regularity.
What the US managed to pull off against Germany, however, has me waving no such flags of caution. The United States not only managed to beat the World Cup Champions, but from a tactical perspective, did so in such a manner that can and should be used as a blue print going forward for how the US should play teams of superior talent who try to pick us apart with passing.
While Germany controlled possession, the US was able to neutralize this threat by limiting Germany's possession in the final third. Of their 64% possession, only 14% was was in the final third. That's an absurdly low percentage. For perspective, the lowest average in MLS last year was Sporting Kansas City who allowed a mere 17%.
People like to throw possession around as a stat to show who is "controlling the game," however, the simple fact is that from a goal scoring standpoint, possession only becomes goal dangerous in the final third. For this reason, limiting final third possession at the expensive of overall possession can be quite effective.
It's a simple concept to grasp but the execution can often be quite difficult as it's not as simple as sitting back. While playing a low block (deep line of confrontation), does help to clog up passing lanes, it also invites the ball into the final third with regularity as their are few challengers in between. This is what we saw from the US against the Netherlands. Against Germany, however, they managed to find a happy balance.
Here are all of Germany's completed passes. Notice how the passes are all going wide in the final third. Also notice the huge hole at the top of the box.
If you look at the US's defensive actions, you'll notice a high-line of confrontation and a concerted effort to push the Germans wide. Once wide, the US constantly frustrated and dispossessed the Germans. Here are the US's defensive actions.
And here are all of the areas where the Germans lost the ball. Again, you'll see it's clustered on the wings.
This is how the US was able to keep Germany from having any sort of sustained possession in the final third outside of the wings where they were contained.
And the defensive MVP on the night is not someone you would inspect. In fact, this particular player has received a lot of grief for his poor performance. I'm speaking, of course, about Timmy Chandler and if you look at the numbers, they are quite astounding. Chandler accounted for 25% of the US's defensive usage. He was an utter beast shutting down attempts that came down his side. And there were a lot of them because Gyasi Zardes, who was playing in front of him, didn't have a single defensive action.
Whether this is by design, Chandler backstopping allowing Gyasi to move forward unrestrained, or Gyasi just wasn't performing his defensive duties, is unknown, however, what is known is that Chandler put in a ridiculous amount of defensive work that he is not being recognized for. Here are his actions.
Interestingly, it was Mix and not Johnson who was the more defensively active on the other side of the field until Evans came in and locked it down. Evans also allowed Yedlin to venture forward similar to Zardes, with little defensive responsibility.
And this brings us to speed and countering on the switch. When the US got the ball, they sprung quickly and Bradley would play beautiful diagonal to them. 5 of the US's 10 chances came from the middle third and depending on how you define long ball, 5 or 6 of the US's chances came from long balls.
Sure the US didn't generate a lot of shots with this strategy but in managing to limit Germany's shots relative to possession, the US was able to go toe to toe with a giant and put up similar offensive numbers. They outshot them 13-12. They were equally dangerous in their shots, the xG difference being a mere 0.2. Finally, they outgoaled them 2-1, shocking the world in the process.
But the US has managed to outgoal plenty of teams they shouldn't have. Germany, however, was not such a team. The US fully deserved their result and proved, with the right tactics, they can hang with the big dogs without relying primarily on luck.