We have reached the halfway mark of the Women’s World Cup round of 16 after England and France’s victories yesterday. Up to now, most of the favourites have secured their quarter-final spots and the USA are expected to do the same. Jill Ellis’ side are one of the undefeated sides in the group stage, having topped group F with a goal difference of +18.
The holder will face Spain, the side who qualified through goal difference from their group. Jorge Vilda has assembled a very young, talented but experienced side with the oldest among them being 30 years old. Although they struggled a bit, the European side still managed to secure a place in the latter stages.
Before their clash at the Stade Auguste-Delaune, this tactical analysis will help you take a look at both teams’ tactics. We will also use statistics to analyse how the game could turn out.
The USA would basically line up in the same way that they did in their last game against Sweden but with one change. Julie Ertz will return to the centre-back position, replacing Becky Sauerbrunn, who has played in their last two matches. There is also a chance that full-backs Crystal Dunn and Kelley O’Hara would be replaced by Ali Krieger and Tierna Davidson as the former has played in two group stage matches and is very much involved in the team’s style of play.
Spain have used three different formations in their group stage matches. But tonight, they could line up in a 4-2-3-1 system. Marta Corredera would return to the left-back spot and Marta Torrejón is the replacement at right-back. The combination of Nahikari García and Jennifer Hermoso will be the key for Spain as they focus on breaking down the USA’s defence.
USA’s attacking threat
In the group stage, Ellis’ side were the highest scoring team with a total of seventeen goals while they conceded none. It’s also worth noticing that four of the top 10 goal scorers are USA’s players, including Alex Morgan and Carli Lloyd, who have five and three goals respectively.
Also, they never madee less than ten attempts on goal in three group stage matches. The least is eighteen attempts, which comes from their match against Sweden. This shows how strong the North American side are when it comes to attacking. The USA are also consistent when they are holding the ball. We can easily notice the drop in possession, from 75% to 58%, but it’s because they faced tougher competitors.
They tend to build attacks from the back and move the ball in a high tempo. The defenders and two midfielders are usually involved in the build-up as they will create a passing pentagon inside their own half. This is a very effective strategy when dealing with a high pressing team. It will give the USA numerical superiority and allow the ball circulation to occur fluently.
In a smaller scale, they would create passing triangles if the opponent presses them hard and their teammates can’t move into the area. When these kinds of situations happen, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath are willing to drop deep and form the triangles with the defenders or midfielders. Because Rapinoe and Heath have the ability to beat their man using pace and dribbles, they would become the furthest angle of the triangle to pick up the ball as high as possible.
Inside the final third, they rely on wing attacks and intelligent movements to create chances. Most of the times, the North American side would attack down Kelley O’Hara and Tobin Heath’s right-hand side. Using their crossing ability, they would deliver the ball into the box for Morgan to convert. But they can also be creative down the left-hand side.
Again, Rapinoe is the key when the USA attack. Usually, Heath and Morgan’s movements will attract the opponent’s defenders, opening pocket of spaces behind their defensive line. Rapinoe usually arrives late and capitalises on that spaces and receives the ball from her teammates.
Spain need to be careful with their man-oriented pressing system as some USA players could utilise that and create a pocket of space for their teammates to move in. Their movement will drag Spain’s defenders away and disrupt the system. This also leaves Spain’s 16-yard box vulnerable as the USA attackers’ style of play is space-oriented.
When in possession, Spain tend to build their attacks in half-spaces. Some players will drift wide and combine with the wide players to create an overload in either flank. They would also use direct passes towards the attackers to shorten their build-up time. It also allows their teammates to move in pockets of spaces and pick up the ball.
Playing as a number 10 on the field, Jennifer Hermoso will be Spain’s focal point when they are on the attack. Atlético Madrid‘s striker role is very important in Vilda’s high-tempo style of play. She will link up the play and open spaces for her teammates to move in. Also, she is able to make long passes or through balls in order to bypass the pres from the opponent. “Jenni” can become a goal threat, although she only has two goals until this stage of the competition. The USA still need to be aware of her ability and influence on the field.
To deal with the half-space threat from Spain, the USA need to count on their narrow defensive structure. They maintain the 4-3-3 formation in defence, at the same time keeping the distance between the lines as narrow as possible. The aim is to suffocate any spaces and prevent one-two passes in the channels. When the opponent attack down the wings, the structure will shift across and using the byline to press and recover possession.
Another method that Ellis’ side could use is their high press. They could put pressure on Spain’s backline and interrupt their build-up. Usually, they would form two pressing lines, the first one is the attackers and the second is the midfielders. The first line is willing to stretch out or move in a ball-oriented way. The second line will provide support for them, intercept any passes coming in and immediately start a counter-attack.
If the ball is distributed wide, Rapinoe or Heath would turn into the focal point and drag both pressing lines with them. By doing so, they will create an overload and have a higher chance of recovering the ball. When the opposition’s player bypass the press using long passes, the high defensive line is on hand to clear it back into the opposite half.
They also adopt a man-oriented pressing that is similar to Spain’s. The aim is to suffocate the ball carrier’s passing options and provoke any errors that come from her. The USA used this system quite effectively when they played against Chile and it contributed a lot to their 68% ball possession.
The first clash between the USA and Spain occurred in January, where the away side secured a narrow 1-0 win. Tonight in Reims, they will meet each other again as both teams aiming for a spot in the quarter-final. On one side, the USA’s squad consists of experienced players that have lifted the trophy in 2015. They have provided us with a very attractive style of play and goal-thrilling matches.
On the other side, Spain entered the competition with a young and ambitious squad. Up to now, they have beaten their last record, but they don’t intend to dwell on that success. Against the holders, they will perform at their very best and hoping to cause an upset. A potential clash with France is waiting for both teams, and either will make sure that they are the team that will compete with the host in the quarter-final.
If you are following the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2019 then you will find our FREE tactical preview magazine the perfect compliment to the tournament. You can download it HERE – each nation is previewed and we also profile their key player and young player to watch. Enjoy!