Data behind the U.S.’s 2013 defensive performance

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SEATTLE, Wash. — On Saturday, Jurgen Klinsmann was asked about the growing partnership between Omar Gonzalez and Matt Besler, one about which Major League Soccer fans have every reason to be excited. Both players have been brought up through the domestic league and, along with the likes of Graham Zusi and Brad Evans, are starting reestablish MLS’s influence on the national team. Remember, only three MLS players represented the U.S. at the last World Cup, with Landon Donovan the only one to make a significant contribution in South Africa.

Right now, Klinsmann could probably care less his new center backs play in Major League Soccer. Of course, he’s supportive of the domestic league, even if he stresses players continue to push themselves, even if that means leaving home soil. But when it comes time to pick a squad, it’s all about what you’re capable of doing, whether you play for an MLS cellar dweller or an EPL Champions League contender.

So no surprise, the U.S. head coach was full of positives about his center back duo, with Friday’s late goal the only score the Besler-Gonzalez pair has been on the field for in two qualifying starts.

Klinsmann:

“I think they’re on a very, very positive path. They’re gaining experience … they did very well. It’s a partnership that is growing, that is developing. We have other center backs there as well …

“The more they play together, the better their understanding is, the better they’re fine tuned and know what the other one is doing. We can do more work in a tactical way. So every training session helps there.

“But overall, we’re very pleased with the development of the back line and the alternatives that we have there.

(MORE: Klinsmann talks injuries, absences ahead of Panama)

Words are nice. Data can often be nicer. So we went back through the U.S.’s 2013 games and looked at the performance of the center backs, how they’ve done both individually and as tandems, and collected the numbers.

Here’s what we found:

Individuals – All 2013 games

source:

We didn’t worry about who was at fault for goals and whatnot. This is just goals allowed while a player was at center half (so Cameron’s work elsewhere isn’t included here).

(MORE: Remember Klinsmann preaching adaptation? Look at that left side.)

Omar Gonzalez has played every minute of every game at center half for the U.S. in 2013, including all four World Cup qualifiers:

Individuals – Final Round World Cup Qualifiers

source:

Chemistry being what it is, we also looked at how players performed as tandems. Since Gonzalez has been ever-present, this could just as easily be seen as “who’s fitting best with Omar”:

Tandems – All 2013 games

source:

The all games data is heavily influenced by the recent qualifiers, the Belgium and Germany games featuring seven of the 10 goals the US has conceded this year. Without the Germany game, the Besler-Gonzalez duo has only conceded once in 270 minutes.

Tandems – Final Round World Cup Qualifiers

source:

There isn’t enough data here to be meaningful, particularly considering the snow game. The Gonzalez-Goodson pairing in Commerce City had the benefit of defending in a blizzard.

(MORE: Quick turnaround, long trip between Jamaica, Seattle)

What does all the data tell us? Not much. We see some positives with Besler and Gonzalez, some negatives with Cameron, and not enough information on Goodson, but they’re merely interesting results – not enough to serve as a basis for any conclusions.

A better basis, until we get more results: Matt Besler and Omar Gonzalez look good. They’re the pair that seem most-capable of keeping goals off the board. That’s why they’ll almost surely start together on Tuesday night.

Three things we learned: Chelsea v. Southampton

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LONDON — Chelsea beat Southampton 2-0 in the FA Cup semifinal at Wembley on Sunday, with the Blues setting up an FA Cup final clash with Manchester United on May 19.

Antonio Conte‘s side scored twice in the second half with Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata on the scoresheet against a sorry Saints outfit.

Here’s what we learned as Chelsea have set up a tasty clash with Jose Mourinho next month.


GIROUD AN ELEGANT ASSASSIN

Olivier Giroud is quickly becoming a cult hero at Chelsea. The Frenchman dribbled delicately around three Southampton defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy before prodding home to put his side ahead.

It was a elegant, yet clumsy, goal and summed up Giroud’s penchant for delivering goals of the highest difficulty.

Giroud has now been involved in 22 goals in 26 FA Cup appearances (15 goals, 7 assists), more than any other player in the completion since his debut in 2013.

The Frenchman is now pushing hard to be Chelsea’s first-choice central striker ahead of Alvaro Morata, although the Spaniard did grab a goal late on to wrap up the win.

Giroud has scored four goals in 13 appearances in all competitions since arriving from Arsenal in January but the way he holds the ball up and links with Eden Hazard is a huge plus for Conte. Giroud could also start up top with Morata if Chelsea tweak their system and at the age of 31 there is still plenty of life left in him and not just as a late sub, the role Conte earmarked for him.


COULD CONTE STAY…

Antonio Conte will likely still leave Chelsea at the end of the season but the Italian coach seems to badly want his time at Chelsea to end with a trophy.

But here’s a thought: if Chelsea beat Man United and somehow make it into the top four at Tottenham’s expense (they are five points back with four games to go), will he remain in charge for the final year of his three-year contract?

The Blues cruised into the FA Cup final and looked fired up from the start as Eden Hazard pulled the strings and Giroud made a nuisance of himself.

Conte’s comments all season long suggest he will depart Chelsea this summer and seek a new project, but if he does so after winning the FA Cup (after being runners up last season) to go along with the PL title he won last season, and then finishing fifth, that’s not a bad two years in the PL.

The Italian will depart with his pride and reputation intact even if he doesn’t defeat his old foe Mourinho in the final next month.


SOUTHAMPTON’S STRUGGLES

Saints are in the Premier League’s relegation zone for a reason and their total lack of confidence was clear for all to see at Wembley.

Mark Hughes‘ men have five games left to save themselves but it almost seems as if Saints’ players have resigned themselves to relegation from the Premier League despite sitting just four points from safety. One win in their last 21 PL games (that came against West Brom) tells the story of a side crumbling before our eyes.

After they shipped 12 goals in four Premier League, all of them defeats, Hughes has set Saints up in a 5-3-1-1 formation to try and make them tougher to break down.

It is working, at least defensively, with a 0-0 draw at Leicester on Thursday, but going forward they totally lack any cohesion and only created three real chances on Sunday as Shane Long made a hash of a great opportunity, Charlie Austin hit the post and Nathan Redmond tested Willy Caballero.

Saints are in a really bad place as they now have to find a way to stop themselves hurtling towards relegation. Their game at home against Bournemouth next weekend is a must win. Simple.

Chelsea joins Man Utd in FA Cup Final

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Chelsea will meet old pal Jose Mourinho in the FA Cup Final after beating Southampton 2-0 at Wembley Stadium on Sunday.

Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata scored the goals for Antonio Conte‘s men, whose date with Manchester United comes at the same venue on May 19.

Southampton will turn its attention back to the relegation battle, four points behind 17th place Swansea City.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Willian hit the cross bar with an early effort as Chelsea looked very much up for the semifinal.

Olivier Giroud had a 39th minute chance zip wide of the frame, as Chelsea posted nine of the first half’s 11 shot attempts while holding 60 percent possession.

Saints would have been happy to get to the locker room at nil-nil.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Twenty-eight seconds into the second half: That’s when Giroud scored, with Chelsea’s first long ball knocked down by Eden Hazard on the edge of the 18 and played to the Frenchman.

Giroud cut between two Saints defenders and goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with his right foot.

Hazard curled an effort of his own wide in the 48th minute.

Saints snapped to life, and Shane Long touched around Wily Caballero but too strong to equalize at Wembley.

Nathan Redmond forced a wild save out of Caballero in the 72nd minute, and nearly claimed the corner.

McCarthy tipped a Hazard shot over the bar minutes later.

Morata put it to bed on a cross from his in-tune assist man Cesar Azpilicueta.

The finish was thrilling nevertheless, with Charlie Austin hitting the far post and Saints getting a goal line clearance at the other end.

Wenger: Praise after exit announcement “more than I deserve”

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Arsene Wenger doesn’t seem like the type to go on a victory lap, but the Arsenal boss is handling his resignation and the accompanying praise with pure class.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

Wenger announced the end of his long Arsenal tenure earlier this week, and has been met by heaps of praise from ex-players, fans, current Gunners, and even rivals.

The Frenchman addressed the plaudits following a 4-1 win over West Ham United at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday. From the BBC:

“I would like to thank everyone who has been very nice and kind and praised me more than I deserved it. I would like to say thank you everyone. It’s been a great period for me and I’m thankful for that.”

Arsenal punished West Ham after the Irons equalized through Marko Arnautovic, getting a lucky goal from Aaron Ramsey and two fine finishes from Alexandre Lacazette in the win.

“I was focused on winning the game. We just tried to be professional and do our job even when the circumstances are different. It was a good team spirit and good preparation for Thursday.

“I think we constructed patiently. We didn’t make big mistakes. First of all before winning a trophy, you need to get through the semi-finals. This is a good way to prepare – scoring goals against a strong West Ham team who have done well recently.”

Next up: A huge test in the UEFA Europa League semifinals, with Atletico Madrid visiting for Thursday’s first leg. Wenger rested several big names, and Atleti has just one win from its last four matches (including a Madrid Derby draw at the Bernabeu).

WATCH: Chelsea’s Giroud scores 27 seconds after halftime

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Southampton held firm against Chelsea’s challenge for 45 minutes of Sunday’s FA Cup semifinal at Wembley Stadium.

Well, 45 minutes and 27 seconds.

[ RECAP: Arsenal 4-1 West Ham ]

The first long ball of the second half saw Chelsea’s Eden Hazard leap to trap, and the Belgian played a quick ball forward to his striker.

That’s Olivier Giroud, who dribbled between two defenders and Saints goalkeeper Alex McCarthy to stab home with the outside of his right foot.