Hatching a Tactical Plan for USA to Shackle Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo
The U.S. will face their toughest test yet in this World Cup campaign when they take on Cristiano Ronaldo and Portugal Sunday night. The winner will likely be the second team to escape the group behind Germany, meaning this match is absolutely vital for Jurgen Klinsmann's side.
Latest reports from The Guardian suggest that Cristiano Ronaldo will be fit to face the U.S., and manager Jurgen Klinsmann now has to find the best way to deal with the Portugal threat.
If America can mark Ronaldo out of the game, they will stand a much better chance at beating their Portuguese opponents. But just how can the Yanks do that?
In this article, we will take a look at four important factors for the U.S. to shackle Ronaldo and keep him from deciding how this match will play out. Let's begin.
Utilize the 4-2-3-1 for Defensive Stability
In a recent article, I discussed why the U.S. must bring back the 4-2-3-1 against Portugal, and it has a lot to do with defending Ronaldo.
After their poor showing against Ghana, it was clear that America must do something differently. They had very little control over the midfield, and the wings were wide open for attacks.
That can't happen again.
Switching back to the trusted 4-2-3-1 will allow for the double pivot of Jermaine Jones and Kyle Beckerman to form a solid wall in front of the defense, as well as give defensive stability on the flanks with wingers tracking back.
With the double pivot in front of the defense, Portugal will have to work much harder to get the ball to Ronaldo. Even when he does have the ball, he will face more problems on the wings and will not be given the space he normally likes to have.
Take Advantage of Alejandro Bedoya's Work Rate
Alejandro Bedoya may very well be the key to stopping Ronaldo on Sunday night. The 27-year-old has a tremendous work rate, decent pace and is always willing to track back to help out the defense.
With Bedoya playing the right wing, Ronaldo will have to deal with his defensive presence for the entire night.
In fact, if the U.S. can focus heavily on defending Ronaldo's side of the pitch, it could hamper Portugal's rhythm. With Bedoya constantly man-marking down the wing and Fabian Johnson also in defense, Ronaldo will likely have two U.S. players covering him in the offensive half.
Ronaldo will likely have no other choice but to drift further into the midfield to get better looks, but with a double pivot of Jones and Beckerman, that might not be much better for the Ballon d'Or winner.
Attack Down the Opposite Flank
If the U.S. devote themselves to defending Ronaldo's side of the pitch, the bulk of their attacks will have to come from the other flank. Luckily, that could work out very well for the Americans.
DaMarcus Beasley would be able to venture forward in attack as he likes to do to pair up with whoever plays the left wing for America. Graham Zusi, the likely candidate to start on the left, would also provide support for the striker and help make things really difficult for the Portugal defense.
While the full-back and winger on one side of the pitch will be hounding Ronaldo all night, the other two will be constantly venturing forward in attack. However, with Nani's pace on the wing, they will have to be ready to track back when giving away possession.
Portugal right-back Joao Pereira is not known for being a solid defender. An overlapping onslaught of Beasley and Zusi could also be the perfect thing to break down the Portuguese back line.
Keep Possession Through Michael Bradley
Truth be told, no matter how hard a team tries to mark Cristiano Ronaldo out of a game, he has the talent to score goals anyway. If the U.S. really want to make him a non-factor, the best idea would be to keep the ball away from him in general.
If America can be dominant the middle of the pitch and dictate play, Portugal will struggle to give Ronaldo the looks he likes. Midfield play will be more important than ever, and Klinsmann has to make sure he has the right players on the pitch.
Above all else, the U.S. must be sure to play their game through Michael Bradley. He is the one who pulls all the strings to create, but he can also keep possession well, which will significantly limit Ronaldo's time on the ball.
With Bradley and the rest of the midfield working to keep possession, Portugal will be forced to defend deep and hit on the counter.
Ronaldo has shown that he loves counter-attacking, so America will have to be ready to cover his runs when he does get the ball in his own half.
It definitely won't be easy, but it can be done.
Stopping Cristiano Ronaldo will never be an easy thing to do. The U.S have to realize that if Ronaldo is feeling well, he will be a dangerous threat and will get chances. But there are options to limit his influence on the pitch if Klinsmann's side can execute their plan perfectly.
A trip to the next round is on the line for the U.S., and it all hangs on stopping the world's best player.
Will America be able to stop Cristiano Ronaldo? Will the U.S. make it out of the group? Leave your thoughts and comments below!