Through the middle: Looking at what the U.S. midfield produced against Jamaica

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I spent most of Sunday morning starting at chalkboards at MLSSoccer.com, obsessed with one idea: “That pass Maurice Edu played (to Herculez Gomez) in the first minute. Why didn’t they try that more often?”

That’s easier said than done, though the concept is pretty straight forward. The team saw something that worked right off the bat: Herc running; midfield hitting him; profit. Why didn’t we see more of that?

That gets into a bigger, more subjective debate than I want to tackle here. For now, all I want to do is present some numbers to try and answer an implied question: Did we really see a lack of Edu-esque passes on Friday?

Starting with the premises that the first minute pass from Edu was a good thing, players try to perform that task, and teams would want to see more of that, I looked through the last four U.S. men’s games (three World Cup qualifiers and game in Mexico). I wanted to see how often Jurgen Klinsmann’s side is playing those types of passes, whether those numbers look high or low, and which players are playing the most passes of that type.

What are we looking for?

First, I need to define what type of passes I’m talking about. Check out how Edu’s Friday ball looks on the Opta-fueled chalkboard:

source:
Fascinating. If there’s a more boring way to represent that pass, I can’t imagine it.

Regardless, there are four characteristics of this ball that I think are important:

  • It’s a forward pass,
  • outside of the final third,
  • into the opposition’s final third,
  • and within the width of the penalty area.

That’s the criteria I’m using. How many times has the U.S. (and, to get context on each match, their opponents) completed passes that meet that criteria.

Disclaimer time: These Opta numbers can’t be taken that as gospel, especially if you’re not willing to re-watch a game and confirm them. In addition, the numbers without context are pretty useless.  A lot of these passes I’ll be citing may have no significance, and there are surely some that were important which don’t fit the criteria I’ve established.

So why even do this? Because if we get enough observations together, it does alleviate concerns that one or two deceptive passes can skew the whole endeavor. Plus, the Opta data and chalkboards gives us a way to establish some objective criteria (in this case, direction and location) that mitigates other subjective factors.

Opta has a number of different ways they characterize passes: Chip, dropped from hand, flick on, goal kick, headed ball, launch, and pass. Almost all of those can also be from a free kick. I’m focused on events from open play that are passes or short chips (trying to tease out crosses).

I’m also only looking at completed passes, even though tracking attempted passes might better capture a team’s intent. There are a number of other factors that come into play when collecting a negative result (all surrounding whether it was appropriate to play the pass at all). I decided to exclude them.

Jamaica vs. the United States

On Friday, the U.S completed nine passes that met this criteria. Jamaica had 10. Jermaine Jones’s four passes was tied with Jamaica’s Jason Morrison for game high. Maurice Edu (two) was the only other U.S. player with more than one:

source:

The numbers confirm that idea that Jamaica and the United States were on somewhat even footing. Jamaica never scored from open play, while the U.S. went 89 minutes without beating Dwayne Miler. But among the many things the number don’t do is provide context. Are 10 and nine (or, on the individual level, four) large or small numbers? What should we have been expecting from the U.S.?

Recent matches (Antigua and Barbuda, Guatemala, Mexico, Jamaica)

Looking back at the matches the U.S. has played since World Cup qualifying began adds a little more to the picture:

source:

It’s impossible to draw conclusions from this table, but it looks like defending was as much a problem as attacking. Jamaica didn’t score an open play goal, but both Beckerman and Edu’s fouls came after Jamaica had established possession in the U.S.’s end.

Regardless, the U.S.’s entries into the final third seem in line with what you’d expect, based on these four games. Mexico’s a superior side, while Antigua and Barbuda and Guatemala offered far less resistance. Jamaica proved slightly tougher than Guatemala, though perhaps we wouldn’t have expected the final third passes to jump from three (at Guatemala) to 10 (again, insert relevance caveat here).

Individual numbers

source:

This is like looking at stats in the first week of the baseball season: Fun, but not very informative. There are some things here that jive with our instincts, like the downgrade from Bradley to Beckerman It’s also interesting to note where Edu and Jones sit on this list, particularly given 90 of Edu’s minutes are in defense. While this sample is small, they have better rates than their potential replacements, Torres and Beckerman.

Back to the initial point, which was about the Jamaica game. Why didn’t we see more passes like the one that put Gomez through? Looking across at the U.S.’s previous games, it’s not clear we should have expected more.

Though perhaps the point. Whatever the numbers were on Friday, they weren’t good enough. They led to the U.S.’s first loss in Jamaica. Perhaps looking at these and saying “they’re when we would have expected” may be too close to saying “the U.S. should have expected to lose in Jamaica.” For many people (including, probably, U.S. Soccer), that’s not acceptable.

Everton’s Koeman hopes loss isn’t end: “I don’t think it’s too late”

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Will losing 5-2 at home to Arsenal and dipping into the early season Premier League drop zone be the end of Ronald Koeman at Everton?

He hopes not.

[ RECAP: Everton 2-5 Arsenal ]

“I don’t know, I don’t know,” Koeman said. “I told the players that I believe in the commitment of the players but if you are negative thinking, and everyone is doing it at this moment, I can understand it. You take all the things in a negative way, not even we stayed with 10 men at 1-2. Again, once again all these decisions are not in my hand.

Koeman spoke in relatively relaxed tones after the defeat, clearly flustered but aware that freaking out wasn’t going to change anything.

“It’s difficult,” he said. “It’s not a time to start to be crazy because I’m responsible for this team. We lost 5-2 and it’s a big result even against Arsenal.”

Like fellow Dutch manager Frank De Boer at Crystal Palace, the move is not necessary yet somehow seems inevitable. Will Bill Kenwright and the Everton board be able to avoid itchy trigger fingers with a midweek trip to Chelsea in the League Cup and a visit to Leicester City next?

The League Cup match gives a little buffer, but a relegation six-pointer of sorts against Leicester is probably not the time for a shakeup. And all one has to do is look to the Foxes to see how a managerial change doesn’t fix everything.

If the Toffees squad hates Koeman, and we don’t know much about this, then yes, maybe a change for the sake of change could help before the trip to Leicester.

But there was a moment in the first half, when it was still 1-0 for the hosts, that showed just how slim the margins are for Everton. Gylfi Sigurdsson, the mega money transfer, chipped a ball into the box that any top striker would’ve ran onto and belted home for 2-0.

But there was not a top striker there. Koeman did not sell Romelu Lukaku to Manchester United. Everton, as Arlo White and Lee Dixon said during the broadcast, put all their eggs in Olivier Giroud‘s basket only to see him stay in London for family reasons. Sandro hasn’t done the trick, and the Toffees need January badly. Will they get there with Koeman?

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Everton 2-5 Arsenal: Ozil, Sanchez star for Gunners

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  • Rooney buries beauty (video)
  • Ozil puts Gunners ahead
  • Lacazette scores after Gana red card
  • Toffees into relegation zone

Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil starred as Arsenal overcame a beautiful Wayne Rooney opener to send 10-man Everton into the Bottom Three after a 5-2 decision at Goodison Park on Sunday.

Ozil scored the match-winner and Sanchez, Nacho Monreal, Aaron Ramsey, and Alexandre Lacazette also scored as Arsenal again showed its potential for greatness in a comeback win. The Gunners move into fifth, behind Chelsea on goal differential.

The loss overshadowed Wayne Rooney’s wonderful strike from outside the 18, and sends Everton 18th on goal differential. Oumar Niasse scored in stoppage time off a laughable back pass from Monreal.

Idrissa Gana Gueye took a second yellow for fouling Granit Xhaka in the 69th minute.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

The first 10 minutes may’ve well been subtitled, “Alexandre Lacazette versus Jordan Pickford,” but Rooney changed that.

The Everton hero, two days shy of his 32nd birthday, buried his 15th career goal against Arsenal by picking up the ball after a 50-50 scrap opened the ball into his path.

What a hit.

Arsenal hit back, before the break, when Pickford got horizontal to save a an Aaron Ramsey rip onto the boot of Monreal. Pickford only got a piece of the shot, and it was 1-1.

Pickford some more wonderful Gunner thwarting late in the half when Alexis Sanchez’s crafty dribbling led him to the doorstep.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Rooney’s goal was a distant memory when Arsenal earned its first lead via gorgeous goal production in its own right. Alexis Sanchez chipped a delightful ball into the 18 and Ozil nodded it past Pickford.

There were third and fourth rungs on Ozil and Sanchez’s goal ladder when Hector Bellerin took the ball from a Nikola Vlasic mistake and fed Sanchez, who found Ozil for a cutback to Lacazette inside the 18.

Substitute mid Jack Wilshere cued up Ramsey for a fine team goal just before the whistle, but it wasn’t the final goal. Niasse took advantage of a Monreal gaffe to make it 4-2 before Alexis waltzed to restore the three-goal advantage.

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Watch Live: Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool

Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images
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Tottenham Hotspur looks to keep Liverpool in its rear view mirror with a win at Wembley Stadium on Sunday (Watch live at 11 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via NBCSports.com).

The Reds can move a point back of third-placed Spurs with a win.

WATCH LIVE ONLINE, HERE

Georginio Wijnaldum will miss with a reported injury, as Jordan Henderson, James Milner, and Emre Can start in Jurgen Klopp‘s midfield.

For Spurs, it’ll be Harry Winks starting over Eric Dier in an otherwise fairly standard unit.

LINEUPS

Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Trippier, Alderweireld, Sanchez, Vertonghen, Aurier, Winks, Dele, Eriksen, Son, Kane. Subs: Vorm, Rose, Nkoudou, Sissoko, Llorente, Dier, Davies.

Liverpool: Mignolet, Gomez, Matip, Lovren, Moreno, Henderson, Milner, Can, Salah, Coutinho, Firmino. Subs: Karius, Grujic, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexander-Arnold, Solanke, Klavan, Sturridge.

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AT HALF: Rooney’s beauty leads entertaining 1-1 vs. Arsenal

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The first 10 minutes of Arsenal’s visit to Everton may’ve well been subtitled, “Alexandre Lacazette versus Jordan Pickford,” but Wayne Rooney changed that.

The Everton hero, two days shy of his 32nd birthday, buried his 15th career goal against Arsenal by picking up the ball after a 50-50 scrap opened the ball into his path.

[ STREAM: Everton vs. Arsenal ]

What a hit.

Unfortunately for Everton, Nacho Monreal hit back just before the break to level the score.

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