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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:

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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:

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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

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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.

Man City beat Dortmund on PKs after Pulisic scores late goal

SHENZHEN, CHINA - JULY 28:  Kelechi Iheanacho (R) of Manchester City contests the ball against Sokratis Papastathopoulos of Borussia Dortmund during the 2016 International Champions Cup match between Manchester City and Borussia Dortmund at Shenzhen Universiade Stadium on July 28, 2016 in Shenzhen, China.  (Photo by Lintao Zhang/Getty Images)
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Manchester City beat Borussia Dortmund on penalty kicks at Shenzhen Longgang Stadium in China as Pep Guardiola picked up his first win as City’s manager and both teams completed their 2016 International Champions Cup campaigns with a 1-1 draw in regulation.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza ]

On a pitch which cut up badly, Dortmund started brightly but after a raft of changes at half time City were the better team in the second half as Guardiola gave plenty of his more experienced players a run out.

One of those players grabbed the goal as Sergio Aguero tapped home a flowing move 12 minutes from time to hand City their first goal of preseason but right at the death 17-year-old U.S. international Christian Pulisic — who came on at half time and impressed on the right flank — slotted home to make it 1-1 and send the game to penalty kicks.

Young goalkeeper Angus Gunn saved three spot kicks as City eventually won 7-6 on penalties.

City now have just one more preseason game before they being Guardiola’s debut season in the Premier League, as they play Arsenal in a friendly in Sweden on Aug. 7.

[ MORE: Fabregas sent off in Chelsea’s win over Liverpool ]

A shaky start for City saw goalkeeper Willy Caballero give the ball away and Ousmane Dembele was clean through but Nicolas Otamendi blocked his shot brilliantly.

Jesus Navas then raced up the other end and picked out Fabian Delph but he scuffed his shot wide. Emre Mor curled a shot just wide and Dembele blasted an effort miles over the bar after another bad giveaway by City as Dortmund’s high-pressing was catching out their defense.

During a first half water break Guardiola barked orders at several of his players including Ukrainian winger Oleksandr Zinchenko who looked bright in spots. Despite looking more dangerous, Dortmund couldn’t break through and right on half time Kelechi Iheanacho had a great chance after good build up play but Roman Burki saved well from close range.

Wholesale changes took place at half time with U.S. national team starlet Christian Pulisic coming on for Dortmund who made a host of changes. Man City brought on Sergio Aguero, Yaya Toure and David Silva at half time with some of their big-hitters getting some minutes under their belts.

With all the changes the game was disjointed but City looked the more likely to take the lead.

Wilfried Bony, another half time sub, looked bright as he turned and hit a shot on goal which was saved and then cleared. Aguero then smashed an effort over the bar as City pushed hard for their first win, and goal, of preseason so far.

Silva then set up Bony on the edge of the box but he smashed another effort just over the bar, while late on Gonzalo Castro went clean through but drilled his effort over.

Aguero’s goal then arrived and it was a beautifully worked team goal.

Young center back Tosin Adarabioyo sprayed a long ball out to former New York City FC left back Bersant Celina and then Aleix Garcia combined with Silva on the edge of the box and the latter slotted the ball across to Aguero to tap home.

Dortmund had a strong shout for a penalty kick in stoppage time as Shinji Kagawa went down but then Pulisic popped up to slot home with the last kick of regulation after City switched off from a short corner.

In penalty kicks Gunn was the hero as he saved three penalty kicks.

VIDEO: USMNT’s Pulisic nets late equalizer for Dortmund vs. Man City

Dortmund's Christian Pulisic, left, celebrates with Felix Passlack, right, after scoring the opening goal during the German Bundesliga soccer match between Borussia Dortmund and Hamburger SV in Dortmund, Germany, Sunday, April 17, 2016. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)
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Christian Pulisic is making quite a name for himself.

The 17-year-old U.S. international came on at half time of Borussia Dortmund’s International Champions Cup game against Manchester City in Shenzhen, China on Thursday.

[ MORE: City beat Dortmund on PKs ]

He looked bright on the right flank, giving Jason Denayer plenty of problems, and he saved his best moment until last.

Pulisic popped up to slot home with the last kick of regulation after City switched off from a short corner.

He also scored his spot kick in the shootout but Dortmund ended up losing to City on penalty kicks 6-5.

Watch the goal below as Pulisic popped up at the right time to squeeze the ball home.

 

VIDEO: Man United’s Jesse Lingard sets up “Dab University”

LONDON, ENGLAND - FEBRUARY 07: Jesse Lingard of Manchester United celebrates with Wayne Rooney of Manchester United after scoring the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Chelsea and Manchester United at Stamford Bridge on February 7, 2016 in London, England.  (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)
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We all know Jesse Lingard loves a good dab celebration after scoring and now the Manchester United winger is trying to teach others his supreme technique.

Lingard, 23, had a breakout season for United in 2015-16, scoring the winning goal against Crystal Palace in extra time in the FA Cup final and he became a regular for the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Rooney won’t dab ]

The English winger also broke out “the dab” after scoring a beauty against Chelsea in the Premier League too and along with Paul Pogba and many others it has become their celebration of choice.

Cam Newton, you’re a pioneer.

In the video below Lingard sets up “Dab University” with his United teammates and it turns out Cameron Borthwick-Jackson has some moves.

Click play to see Professor Lingard break it down.

Fabregas sent off as Chelsea beat Liverpool in fiery friendly

PASADENA, CA - JULY 27:  Cesc Fabregas #4 of Chelsea receives a red card from referee Baldomero Toledo after a hard challenge to Ragnar Klavan #17 of Liverpool in the second half during the 2016 International Champions Cup at Rose Bowl on July 27, 2016 in Pasadena, California. Chelsea defeated Liverpool 1-0. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
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Liverpool vs. Chelsea is never a friendly encounter.

That was proved correct on Wednesday as Chelsea beat Liverpool 1-0 at the Pasadena Rose Bowl in their opening 2016 International Champions Cup clash.

[ MORE: Guardiola bans pizza ]  

The lone goal of a feisty match came in the first half as Gary Cahill headed home Cesc Fabregas’ corner, but the latter was sent off in the second half for an awful lunging tackle on Ragnar Klavan.

There were six yellow cards — five to Liverpool players — dished out in the game in front of 53,117 in California.

Fabregas apologized to Liverpool after the game for his 70th minute tackle (see video below) according to Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp,

[ MORE: Zlatan reveals MLS offer

Both Klopp and Antonio Conte acknowledged this game was more combative than most friendlies and given the recent history between the two clubs you can understand why.

Chelsea’s new manager was pleased with the reaction of his side when they went down to 10-men but urged his team to play more

“I saw a lot of positive things about the defensive situation but we must improve when we have the ball because I love to play the ball, but we are improving,” Conte said.

Liverpool’s biggest concern was an injury to Marko Grujic who clashed heads with Bertrand Traore and was taken to hospital.

“The biggest problem for me in this moment is that Marko Grujic is in hospital, because he can’t remember anything. That’s not too cool,” Klopp told the media. “Hopefully it’s not too serious. Injuries after games like this in pre-season is the biggest problem obviously.”

Liverpool now head to Santa Clara, Calif. to play against AC Milan on Saturday before flying to St. Louis and playing AS Roma on Aug. 1 on their way back to England. Chelsea will fly to Michigan as they take on Real Madrid at “The Big House” on Saturday.