England v USA
Both teams have points on the board, but it was England who were far more impressive in the first group game as they hammered Iran 6-2. Doubts were raised as to whether England would come out of the traps firing and many thought they would have a problem breaking down a potentially robust Iran outfit. They made very light work of proceedings though and put in an excellent performance. The Three Lions had 77% possession and an xG of 2.14 in that fixture. They certainly overachieved their metrics in the final third with some excellent finishes, such as Bukayo Saka’s first goal. They possess some high class players though, so individual brilliance can almost be expected from time to time. Gareth Southgate unsurprisingly opted to go with a 4-2-3-1 system which he tends to favour vs supposed inferior opposition. That is unlikely to change here with England favoured so heavily and expected to dominate.
The United States national team will play what could be the most-watched men’s match in American history on Friday when they face England on a holiday afternoon for many folks back in the States. The good news on Black Friday, as Americans call it, is that this is a national team that has shown itself more comfortable as an underdog at the World Cup.
Gregg Berhalter took the managerial job in late 2018 vowing not only to return the squad to the World Cup after an embarrassing failure in the 2018 cycle, but also to change the global reputation of American football. But some of this team’s best nights have come when they’ve approached games more pragmatically and taken less risks early. Their 2-0 home qualifying win against Mexico comes to mind in particular. So how Berhalter approaches Friday will be fascinating.
The second is the uncertainty around midfielder Gio Reyna. The young Dortmund attacker might have the Americans’ best toolbox in terms of field vision and technical ability. But he was surprisingly left out of affairs Monday with Berhalter revealing he was dealing with a minor muscle injury.
The big injury doubt for England is captain Harry Kane who underwent an ankle scan on Wednesday. He has a history of ankle problems and with so much of the tournament left to play I don’t think England will take too many risks with their star man. Incredibly, Kane did not score any of the six goals vs Iran and he didn’t even fire a shot on target! Kane did however have two assists and tended to roam around the final third, sometimes popping up on either wing. Callum Wilson would be his likely replacement in the XI and is a pure specialist striker so would not give England that extra creativity which Kane does.
Harry Maguire came off the field against Iran due to feeling unwell but should be fit to start here. James Maddison and Kyle Walker also remain injury doubts and are unlikely to play. The USA will probably raise the level of their game vs England and could certainly score against a defence which is far from secure. However, I expect England to ultimately have too much offensive firepower and take the victory.
Gareth Southgate has his favourites and despite being in poor form domestically this season he opted to start the Man United centre back vs Iran. Maguire generally put in a solid enough display, but half of the reason Southgate loves him is because of the threat he gives from offensive set pieces. He’s scored 7 goals in 49 appearances for his country and crashed a header against the crossbar vs Iran, very unlucky not to score. Presuming he is fit to start after an illness scare, he will be the tallest player on the field at 6”4 and should be able to feast against this US team, which generally lacks height. Of the XI that took to the field vs Wales, only two players were over 6 feet tall (Zimmerman & Sargent).
It was noticeable how much the USA struggled as soon as Wales brought on target man Kieffer Moore, and I suspect they will be vulnerable to some of England’s big guys from set pieces. I wouldn’t be shocked if Maguire actually scored in the game, but he should be good to register at least one official shot on goal, even if it isn’t on target.
The data don’t necessarily suggest Adams is likely to earn a caution. But the conditions are ripe for it.
The Leeds United man will need to replicate his performance against Wales, where he was nearly everywhere and easily surpassed our more than 50 attempted passes prop from Matchday 1.But he’s also wearing the captain’s armband and will be responsible for setting the emotional tone for this young side. He’s going to spend a lot more time without the ball than against Wales. And he’s likely to be near teammates already are on a booking — most likely center back Tim Ream and midfielder Kellyn Acosta.
He may get in a situation where he has no choice but to take a booking to spare a teammate from missing Matchday 3 against Iran.
Saka had a great game vs Iran. He scored two goals and gave the Asian outfit all sorts of problems on the right cutting inside. His place in the team is assured. One area of his game which continues to go under the radar are his fouls. Saka actually averages 1.30 fouls per game in the Premier League for Arsenal this season.
He has only obtained 3 yellow cards and isn’t known for being a dirty player, but he is prone to being fouled quite a lot himself which can often lead to frustration. He is the type of player who will craftily hold back on the opposition to stop them from breaking. He is also not the greatest timer of a tackle, so in probably 70-80 mins of action it would be a surprise if he played a clean game. Against Iran, he produced two fouls and was maybe fortunate not to go in the book. Facing a high press and energetic USA team then he is once again a candidate to a foul at a generous price.
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