Myself and Bobinho have taken the last month to ourselves. Both of us were moving house, traveling, and watching the many of the games we've had the pleasure of being entertained with this summer. With myself set for a tour of the English countryside later this week I figured I would sit down as my friendly neighbors in northeast Philly sporadically shoot off fireworks the rest of the evening to discuss what I have taken away from the two international competitions.
The best teams in the world play out of the back.
Watching the European Championship matches you'll notice the Germans and the other heavyweights in the tournament are committed to keeping the ball from their own goal kicks. The Italians caused some trouble for their German counterparts in the quarterfinal matchup by pressuring higher up the pitch forcing Neuer to be more creative with his distribution, but the Germans never seemed to risk losing possession unless they absolutely had to. This is by no means a revolutionary idea that you should play out of the back from goal kicks, but yet during the few MLS matches I have been able to catch this summer thus far, teams consistently play hopeful balls towards the center circle off of goal kicks. This feeds into the scrappy overly physical play that is ever so common in MLS as there are constant battles for first and second balls off of these restarts.
The Germans sometimes kick it long, but they have the ability to control balls and pass out of situations that would be almost always turnovers in most situations for lesser players. The youth coaches in this country need to drive the idea of playing out of the back into our soccer culture if we want to compete at the highest levels internationally. We struggle at every level to play out of the back, from MLS all the way to the full team, and it comes down to our youth systems failing to push these ideas in our youth soccer games. These ideas can be hard to drive into our success driven culture we see in our youth ranks as giving the ball away when playing out of the back (as you could tell from Argentina's 4th goal) is usually detrimental to a team's success. We must somehow as a culture need to fix this issue, in hopes of building players who can handle presses and still keep possession of the ball from goal kicks. Obviously this is not the only thing wrong with American soccer at the moment but it stood out to me as a problem in our country at just about every level
A strong tribe may conquer squads of individuals regardless of the talent levels
One of the biggest stories this summer has been the mediocrity of the English side in the Euros and their embarrassing defeat to Iceland which knocked them out of the tournament. Much has been said about the squad's lack of leadership and cohesiveness, as well as Hodgson's lack of an understanding when it came to the squad's best 11 players. But what really stood out to me was the lack of character and fight shown by the big names in the squad who seemed to run and hide when times got tough. The Icelandic squad had a complete confidence in the sense that "they" were a great squad that could beat the giants of Europe this summer, and they were able to claim the English scalp in what was probably the biggest upset the tournament will see.
I got the sense that the English squad had a very individualistic feel to it, one full of young egos trying to constantly out do the guy next to them. The idea that the individual pieces of the team are great and success would come strictly due to that seemed to be the belief system Roy and the players in the squad lived by. You can look to the current state of the EPL as to why players may be hesitant to really express themselves and show some fight when the time called for it. The amount of money being thrown around at these players by their clubs back home, and the WAGS on the sideline, all awaited the English players no matter what the end result against Iceland was. No one was really fighting to become a breakout star of the tournament, as so many had the global media's attention after their previous club season. No one really had the hunger and drive to prove to the rest of Europe that the English were the best side, their league is already touted the most profitable in the world.
There is something to be said for having something to prove, and the English players were absolutely shown up by a hungry, committed, and passionate tribe of players from Iceland. The disconnect and individually focused mindset of the players really showed when the times got tough, with a lot of players trying their best to personally save face by passing responsibility. All in hopes that someone would pull a rabbit out of their hat and save the day.
New tactics are emerging
Italy has used three center backs throughout their run to the semifinals, and it made the Germans match their tactics during their last match. A three centerback trend seems to be developing at the highest levels as more and more of the world's elite centerbacks become increasingly mobile and good enough distributing the ball. This allows for even more players to be thrown forward in the attack. Allowing for a front five to exist, giving teams with a wealth of attacking options a chance to deploy all of their attacking threats at once. The two wide players will have to track back as wing backs, and the #6 and #8 may have to help in the wide areas at time defensively, but the formation allows for a higher press to occur very easily and for two strikers and a #10 to all be options going forward. This system really does require the right tools, like most, but if it can be employed, it can really cause problems for teams who took my advice earlier and attempt to play out of the back. Look for Chelsea to use this tactic next season as Conte tries to turn the West London club's fortunes around.