Both the United States and Sweden are among the group of favourites that could realistically win the World Cup. And both are quite similar in their general style of football, which became obvious on the first two matchdays.
Since the discrepancies in terms of physicality are still somewhat significant at this year’s tournament, teams such as the United States and Sweden seem to have a huge advantage over “smaller” sides. Both are able to bully those who cannot keep up with them in terms height, speed and athleticism in general.
The Swedes used their height advantage tremendously when they beat Chile on Matchday one, with a distinct focus on vertical plays and aggressive dribbles against the opposing full-backs. Verticality has been a feature of almost all favourites at the tournament so far.
Sweden does not fool around at the back and attempt to initiate long spells of possession with slow and methodical passing plays. Instead, the attack the opposing back line with their vertical passes at every opportunity.
That style makes for an exciting game, yet it brings up the question what happens if the Swedes cannot dominate physically and have to fall back on other strategical elements. They showed glimpses of that against Chile and Thailand. Most of the time, Sweden broke through the half-spaces and played crosses into the box to create as many goal-scoring situations as possible.
But when they decided to mix things up a bit, they changed their build-up structure by moving one central midfielder into the left half-space while the other was advancing behind the opposing midfield line. The vacated space in the centre was occupied by Nilla Fischer, who is, on paper, one of the two centre-backs.
A transformation from a standard-like 4-2-3-1 to a 3-6-1 is something we don’t usually see from other teams at the World Cup. Sweden already tried out different systems with back threes before the tournament and seemed to have success with it, especially since most opponents strictly utilise man-oriented defence schemes.
Relentless wing attacks
As for the United States, the team couldn’t have had a more unusual start to this World Cup, beating Thailand in record-breaking fashion. However, we had to wait to their second match against Chile to learn more about how well this team can perform.
Their style is similar to the Swedish. The United States make many deep runs on the outside lanes and intend to outpace opponents while also working around the compact middle blocks which the majority of opponents employ.
Most US players are highly gifted, but some still stand out; Megan Rapinoe in particular. Her presence on the left side is remarkable. And while it appears to be a bit unimaginative to just hand over the ball to her and let her take on defenders to get to the touchline and then serve assists to Alex Morgan, it is a pragmatic approach that has worked out for many teams that possessed outstanding wingers in the past.
What the US team need to do is to move the ball down the field and keep their positional shape intact while advancing. By doing so, Rapinoe and the others will have the necessary support system to create as many passing options as possible and, therefore, make the attack unpredictable.
Since neither team has a clear physical advantage in this matchup, it comes down to one question: can Sweden succeed with their versatile build-up structure or do the United States wear down their opponent by relentlessly playing through their talented wingers?