The United States will need to play its best game of this World Cup in order to overcome Belgium on Tuesday. While the Belgians have struggled at times in Group H play, they have the types of players that can cause the US fits.
Typically friendly results tend to be unreliable indicators as to team strengths. However, Belgium’s 4-2 demolition of the United States last summer in Cleveland demonstrated the wide gap in talent between these two sides. Christian Benteke who terrorized the US backline in that match is injured and has missed the World Cup. However, the remaining Belgian attacking players that had so much success against the USA will all be available on Tuesday.
Dries Mertens, Eden Hazard and to a lesser extent Kevin Mirallas and Nacer Chadli can be used to pull defenders every which way from the flanks to the center of the pitch. This means in theory the US is more likely to lose its shape at the back then in any prior match. But what we have also found is that the center of the pitch becomes quite crowded for Belgium. The US may be forced to mark zonally and to ensure that the midfield defensive duo of Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman do not get pulled too easily into wide positions.
Belgium also does not necessarily push its fullbacks forward the way the opposition the United States has faced earlier in this tournament do. In Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen, the Belgians have two fullbacks that are more naturally central defenders. The lack overlapping runs from these fullbacks adds to the further congestion in the middle of the pitch.
But Belgium is aware of the physical threat posed by the United States. Marc Wilmots the Belgian Manager described the potential match as a “war” on Saturday.
“Physically they are very strong. We are preparing for a war”
The United States might have Jozy Altidore back on Tuesday but US Manager Klinsmann must prepare for a fourth successive match in which his talisman is unable to play 90 minutes.
So how does the US potentially set up against Belgium given these realities?
This is the exact same setup Jurgen Klinsmann used against Portugal on June 22nd in a 2-2 draw. The formation gives the US the necessary protection in the center of midfield against the playmakers Belgium possess. Omar Gonzalez played quite well for the US against Germany, but a return to Geoff Cameron would be wise. Cameron’s reading of the game and successful play against many of the Belgian stars in the Premier League.
Additionally, the United States cannot expect to concede as much possession as they did against Germany and have an opportunity to upset the talented Belgians. Klinsmann’s side must keep the ball with more regularity and cannot make the types of mistakes in the defensive end that were made against Portugal.
The United States will have to be disciplined and smart in how they approach Belgium. The depth at Wilmots disposal also means that the Belgian Manager can change the personnel rather easily. This will make Klinsmann’s tactical changes in-game all the more critical.
The potential of using Altidore as a late game sub could change the way the United States plays in the second half. The tactical choices for Klinsmann are limited and thus their is a limited margin for error in the decisions he makes.