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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:

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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.

La Liga & Serie A: Ramos rescues draw in Clasico, Juve rolls

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 03:  Sergio Ramos of Real Madrid CF heads the ball towards goal and scores his team's first goal during the La Liga match between FC Barcelona and Real Madrid CF at Camp Nou stadium on December 3, 2016 in Barcelona, Spain.  (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
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A roundup of Saturday’s action in Spain and Italy’s top flights…

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea handles City; Spurs, Arsenal each score five ]

Barcelona 1-1 Real MadridRECAP

It was nearly the end of Real’s lengthy unbeaten streak, but then Sergio Ramos stepped up with his noggin to give the visitors a share of the points at the Camp Nou. The veteran Spanish defender headed home the equalizer in second-half stoppage time to give Real a draw against its bitter rival.

Barcelona took the lead on 53 minutes when Luis Suarez headed home a Neymar free kick from the left wing. The result keeps both sides in place as the league’s top two teams, with Real holding a six-point advantage at the summit.

Granada 2-1 Sevilla

On a day where the league’s top two sides settled for a draw in El Clasico, Sevilla suffered a massive blow on the road against one of La Liga’s struggling sides. Granada earned its first win of 2016 after goals from Andreas Pereira and David Lomban propelled the hosts past Sevilla.

Wissam Ben Yedder netted a late finish for the visitors in second-half stoppage time, however, it wasn’t enough for Sevilla to pull out a result. Granada remains in the relegation zone on eight points, while Sevilla holds its third-place standing following the loss.

Elsewhere in La Liga

Leganes 0-0 Villareal
Atletico Madrid 0-0 Espanyol

Sunday’s La Liga schedule

Real Betis vs. Celta Vigo — 6 a.m. ET
Athletic Bilbao vs. Eibar — 10:15 a.m. ET
Alaves vs. Las Palmas — 12:30 p.m. ET
Sporting Gijon vs. Osasuna — 12:30 p.m. ET
Valencia vs. Malaga — 2:45 p.m. ET


Juventus 3-1 Atalanta

Alex Sandro and Daniele Rugani got Juventus out to a flying start in the first half, and it was Mario Mandzukic who finished the day off for the hosts. Juventus remains atop Serie A following Saturday’s convincing win over Atalanta, while the visitors remain in fifth place in Italy’s top flight.

Remo Freuler provided consolation for the away side in the 82nd minute after finishing off Marco D’Alessandro cross, which was Atalanta’s second shot on target during the match.

Sunday’s Serie A schedule

AC Milan vs. Crotone — 6:30 a.m. ET
Lazio vs. Roma — 9 a.m. ET
Sampdoria vs. Torino — 9 a.m. ET
Sassuolo vs. Empoli — 9 a.m. ET
Pescara vs. Cagliari — 9 a.m. ET
Fiorentina vs. Palermo — 2:45 p.m. ET

Metz-Lyon match stopped after keeper Lopes injured by firecracker

TURIN, ITALY - NOVEMBER 02:  Anthony Lopes of Olympique Lyonnais kicks the ball during the UEFA Champions League Group H match between Juventus and Olympique Lyonnais at Juventus Stadium on November 2, 2016 in Turin, Italy.  (Photo by Valerio Pennicino/Getty Images)
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Lyon goalkeeper Anthony Lopes was taken to the hospital after being hit by a firecracker during the team’s Ligue 1 match against Metz on Saturday.

[ MORE: PL roundup — Chelsea handles Man City; Arsenal, Spurs win big ]

The match was stopped in the first half when Lopes was struck by a firecracker in the 31st minute, before the game was ultimately abandoned due to the lack of safety conditions.

Metz was leading the match 1-0 at the time of stoppage, however, Lyon could be awarded the 3-0 victory pending a decision from France’s governing body.

Here’s the official statement released by Lyon:

“The public authorities in Metz took the decision to stop the match between FC Metz and Olympique Lyonnais indefinitely, in agreement with the match delegate and the referee, following the incidents that took place at the half-hour point of the game,” French football’s governing body, the LFP, said in a statement.

“A report will be sent to the LFP’s Disciplinary Commission. The LFP regrets these incidents and will be uncompromising in its continued review of this report.”

Strong pressure helped ease Gunners to five-goal performance

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain of Arsenal celebrates with team mates after scoring his team's fourth goal during the Premier League match between West Ham United and Arsenal at London Stadium on December 3, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images)
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Arsenal continues to apply pressure at the top of the Premier League, and Saturday’s performance at the London Stadium showed just how dangerous the Gunners can be away from home.

[ MORE: Chelsea makes it 8 in a row; Arsenal, Spurs combine for 10 goals ]

The Gunners took advantage of several West Ham mistakes on the afternoon, including a first-half turnover that sent Alexis Sanchez into the penalty area before setting up a simply tap-in finish for Mesut Ozil.

[ MORE: Carroll says Arsenal can “punish mistakes” instantly ]

Arsene Wenger‘s side went on to score four more times in Arsenal’s 5-1 rout against the Hammers, and Frenchman suggested post match that much of his team’s success was due to their willingness to high press and force West Ham into mistakes.

“I think overall we had a strong team performance for 90 minutes with very few weak periods,” Wenger said. “There’s only one regret that we didn’t take our chances in the first half and that it was 1-0 up at halftime and how it plays on the mind when you can play for that.

“But we maintained the pressure on West Ham and overall we finished in a really strong way. We were always dangerous because we won it quickly back. When we were on the breaks because we we always looked patiently to make the difference.”

Sanchez led the Gunners on the day with a hat-trick, bringing his goal total on the season up to 11. The Chilean has largely helped Arsenal become one of the PL’s most dangerous attacks, with the Gunners having scored the most goals in England’s top flight through 14 matches (33).

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

When asked about the prospect of putting up big score lines on a consistent basis, Wenger said that while every game possesses different challenges he is quite pleased with Arsenal’s road form this season.

“I think every game gives you a different problem,” Wenger said. “But at the moment it looks we score more goals away from home than at home. Is that because your opponent comes a bit more out? Is that because you play with a bit more freedom?

“That will be interesting to analyze that. Do we play with a block that is less deep away from home? If you look at our results away from home they’ve been very convincing.”

[ FOLLOW: All of PST’s PL coverage ]

As Wenger noted, the Gunners have done very well notching goals away from the Emirates Stadium in 2016. In seven away matches thus far in PL play, Arsenal has tallied 18 goals on the road in comparison to the team’s 15 at home.

PL Saturday roundup: Chelsea routs Manchester City; Spurs put up five

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03:  Chelsea players applaud supporters after their 3-1 win in the Premier League match between Manchester City and Chelsea at Etihad Stadium on December 3, 2016 in Manchester, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
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Antonio Conte‘s side continues its recent path of destruction atop the Premier League, while the rest of England looks to keep up with the Blues.

Chelsea battled back in the second half on Saturday to defeat Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium to extend the club’s PL unbeaten streak to eight matches.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Elsewhere, Tottenham notched five goals in their rout of Swansea City, while Arsenal comfortably handled West Ham United at the London Stadium.

Here, we take a look back at Saturday’s action from around England’s top flight.

Manchester City 1-3 Chelsea — RECAP

Eight straight victories have Chelsea atop the PL, and the biggest now becomes: who will be the club that stops Conte’s Blues? An unlikely own goal from Gary Cahill gave the Citizens the lead on the stroke of halftime, but a thunderous comeback from the visitors helped give Chelsea three points at the Etihad. Goals from Diego Costa, Willian and Eden Hazard rung throughout Manchester in the second stanza, however, Costa’s exit from the match will surely be monitored by the Blues.

Additionally, City will play shorthanded moving forward after Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho picked up red cards during a late scuffle that ensuing following the Argentine’s rash tackle on David Luiz.

Tottenham 5-0 Swansea City — RECAP

Spurs couldn’t have drawn it up better following last week’s disappointment at Stamford Bridge. Tottenham received great contributions from Harry Kane and Christian Erikson, who each netted braces on the day, while Heung-Ming Son delivered a stunning acrobatic effort to help the hosts rout Bob Bradley‘s team. The Swans sit bottom of the PL table on nine points and have conceded 31 times in their opening 14 matches.

West Ham 1-5 Arsenal — RECAP

The Gunners had no troubles with West Ham on Saturday as Arsene Wenger‘s side moved up to second place behind a five-spot from one of the PL’s top attacks. Alexis Sanchez paced the Gunners with a hat-trick, while Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Mesut Ozil also scored for the visitors at the London Stadium. Andy Carroll provided the lone moment of consolation for West Ham after Dimitri Payet‘s free kick smacked off the crossbar and onto the head of the Englishman.

Crystal Palace 3-0 Southampton — RECAP

Fraser Forster put the Saints behind in the first half after a tremendous mistake in front of his own net, leaving Christian Benteke with one of the easiest finishes he’ll ever have. The former Liverpool striker added a second and James Tompkins also got in on the scoring for the Eagles as Alan Pardew‘s men snapped a six-match losing streak.

SUNDERLAND, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 03: Leicester player Andy King (c) reacts as Sunderland goalkeeper Jordan Pickford makes a last minute save to deny Leicester a draw during the Premier League match between Sunderland and Leicester City at Stadium of Light on December 3, 2016 in Sunderland, England. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)
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Sunderland 2-1 Leicester City — RECAP

Jermain Defoe continues to be the talisman for the Black Cats, however, Sunderland’s good fortunes began off of a Robert Huth own goal. The Foxes pulled a goal back in the 78th minute through Shinji Okazaki but Leicester continued its struggles on Saturday with its seventh loss of the campaign. Sunderland has now won three of its last four matches, bringing David Moyes‘ side up to 18th in the table.

West Brom 3-1 Watford —  RECAP

Tony Pulis‘ side has quietly made some noise in 2016, and while West Brom likely won’t pull off a Leicester-like feat this season the Baggies currently find themselves in sixth place as the halfway point nears. Jonny Evans and Chris Brunt netted in the first half for the hosts before Matt Phillips scored late to ensure all three points would go in favor of the Baggies. Despite nabbing a goal in the second half, Watford’s chances of picking out a result were halted when Roberto Pereyra was sent off.

Stoke City 2-0 Burnley — RECAP

Jonathan Walters and Marc Muniesa helped propel Stoke up ninth place on Saturday with their victory at the Brittania Stadium. For Muniesa, the goal marked his first in the PL. Burnley drops to 14th place following the loss, and the Clarets sit just three points above the relegation zone.