JACKSONVILLE, FL - JUNE 07: Midfielder Michael Bradley #4 of the United States dribbles during the international friendly match against Nigeria at EverBank Field on June 7, 2014 in Jacksonville, Florida.

Chasing the narrative: What the numbers tell us (if anything) about Michael Bradley’s World Cup

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After the U.S.’s third group game, the counter-narrative hit full steam, with Major League Soccer’s official website putting its weight behind the rosy view of Michael Bradley’s play. According to FIFA, the United States central midfielder covered more ground in group stage than anybody in the tournament, a factoid that got a full writeup as the league lauded one of its biggest stars. It’d be nice if Bradley’s other numbers got the same attention, but it’s understandable why MLS is trying to promote Bradley’s cause.

So why don’t we do that? Why don’t we give the full statistical record some attention? If the “Bradley’s been awful” narrative is already out there and the counter-narrative’s gaining steam, why don’t we try to take a broader look at Bradley’s production? Let’s collect the numbers, provide some context, and see if there really is anything that confirms the general assessment. Is there anything in the broader statistical record that says Bradley’s been bad?

The subtext of that assessment is more complicated, though. It’s not that Bradley has been bad in the absolute sense (some people are saying this, though). It’s that he hasn’t come close to meeting expectations. This is a player around whom head coach Jurgen Klinsmann has built his formation. It’s not only fair to judge him against a normal player’s expectations but against the performance his coach wants from his most important player. Klinsmann and the U.S. have incurred a type of opportunity cost by setting up as they do.

For his part, Klinsmann has weighed in on the issue, but that’s not the point, here. The point is to see if the statistics, as flawed and limited as they are, offer any support to either claim. What numbers say Bradley’s failed to meet expectations? Or, what statistics support the opposing view, that Bradley’s been fine and has become a scapegoat?

Some numbers we won’t discuss here: Goals (Bradley doesn’t have any, though he should); assists (again, none); distance covered (it speaks to effort, not efficacy). Those numbers are pretty self-evident. We don’t need to dig deeper.

Instead, we’ll look at some of the secondary statistics, though these numbers don’t mean much independent of their context. So we’ve done our best to give that to you. Not only do you get the raw number, but you see where Bradley ranked within the team and within the game.

Of course, that’s only part of the context. The team’s style of play has also been a big factor in Bradley’s numbers. It’s hard to lead a game in passing when your team’s willing to play without the ball. For the most part, that’s what the U.S. has done.

There’s also Bradley’s role within the team to consider, one which establishes some expectations for his performance. As the highest man in the U.S.’s central midfield, we should expect Bradley to be among the team’s leaders in key passes, touches, and passes every game.  As a focal point for the U.S. in transition, Bradley should see more contested time on the ball than his teammates, meaning he’ll likely lead the U.S. in times dispossessed and turnovers, even on good days.

What we’re really looking for here are outlying numbers – something that supports the notion Bradley has been particularly poor:

(All numbers are available via WhoScored.com.)

Opponent Key Passes Touches Dispossessed Passes Turnovers
Ghana (W, 2-1)  0  52  3  43  2
Ranks (Team/Game)  T6/T16  4th/11th  1st/T1  1st/T6  2nd/T4
Portugal (D, 2-2)  1  82  1  69  0
Ranks (Team/Game)  T4/T8  1st/3rd  T1/T3  1st/2nd  T7/T11
Germany (L, 0-1)  1  61  2  49  2
Ranks (Team/Game)  T1/T3  1st/9th  T2/T3  1st/9th  T3/T3

 

There are other numbers we can look at, like passes completed, through balls, and dribbles. I chose these because they require the fewest caveats, whether those caveats be based on the nature of the data, context dependence, or other, more philosophical issues.

The numbers that stand out: The lack of chances creates (key passes – passes that lead to shots), and two games where the overall pass numbers are low. That Bradley had three ‘dispossessions’ and two turnovers against Ghana (when his passes and touches were both low) supports the idea he was far below his standards in the opener. The larger body of data only supports one other claim: Bradley hasn’t been creating changes. The degree to wish you can separate that from the U.S.’s tactics is up to you.

The defensive numbers, where, given the U.S.’s deficits in possession, you’d expect Bradley to be among his team’s as well as the game’s leaders:

Opponent Tackles Interceptions Fouls
Ghana (W, 2-1)  1  1  2
Ranks (Team/Game)  T7/T13  T3/T5  T3/T4
Portugal (D, 2-2)  1  2  2
Ranks (Team/Game)  T4/T9  T4/T8  T1/T3
Germany (L, 0-1)  4  0  3
Ranks (Team/Game)  1st/1st  T8/T13  2nd/2nd

 

Again, what’s our goal here: To find something that clearly highlights Bradley’s struggles. Among the defensive numbers, there’s nothing convincing in either direction. Bradley had a good night in tackles against Germany, but he only generated one more turnover than he did against Portugal.

All of the in-team and in-game ranks look decent enough, considering players like Kyle Beckerman are better positioned to rack up tackles, while Matt Besler would be the best bet to lead the team in interceptions.

Even in the fouls number, there’s nothing eye-catchingly bad. While there’s little here that tells us how Bradley actually played, the description the numbers offer doesn’t support many conclusions.

source: Getty Images
Michael Bradley speaks to the media during training at Sao Paulo FC in Brazil. Through three games at the World Cup, the U.S. central midfielder has no goals and no assists while leading the tournament in distance covered. (Source: Getty Images)

So we’re left back where we started: Relying on our eyes, our analysis, and the more obvious numbers. The extent to which any of that’s reliable is unclear. He missed an easy goal against Portugal and has failed to generate many chances for his teammates, but it’s reasonable to assume the absence of Jozy Altidore and the U.S.’s tactics are heavily skewing those results (at least, the chance creation). People may be seeing what they want, judging Bradley against what they hope will happen instead of a more equitable benchmark.

Me? I tend to agree with the broader opinion. This is as bad as I’ve seen Bradley play in a long time. I think Bradley’s been below average compared to other midfielders in the tournament, and I think it’s completely fair to judge him against a higher standard, given his coach has made decisions to put him in advantageous positions. Though I think, given his track record, it’s highly unlikely Bradley’s poor performances will continue, I think his first 270 minutes in Brazil speak for themselves.

How do I back that up, though? Persuasive language, mostly. I can also highlight particularly poor touches, appeal to my own self-inflated authority, or rely on the wisdom of crowds, however “wise” that may be. Sometimes, I actually manage a complete, cogent argument, though it’s pretty rare.

What I can’t do is rely on the numbers. I can’t lean on distance covered. I can’t build a case on chances created. In context, there’s little in the statistical record that tells us anything about Bradley’s World Cup, whether I’m trying to trumpet the counter-narrative or pile on.

Prince-Wright’s Premier League picks: This is it, don’t get scared

LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29:  Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur is challenged by Gary Cahill of Chelsea during the Barclays Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Chelsea at White Hart Lane on November 29, 2015 in London, England.  (Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)
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Week 36 of the Premier League season is here and we have a full slate of action.

[ STREAM: Every PL game live online ] 

If you, like me, love to dissect all the games and predict what the score will be and which team will win, I encourage you to get involved in the comments section below. Let’s have a bit of fun.

Okay, so I’ve consulted my crystal ball and here’s how we see things panning out. Click play on the videos below to hear my score prediction and preview of each game.

[ VIDEO: Top 5 storylines

With the first section labelled “basically, free money” for the picks I think are dead certs. The section labelled “don’t touch this” means if you’re betting I advise you to stay clear, while the “so you’re telling me there’s a chance” section are the longshots. If it is better odds you are after, those are the picks to go for.


BASICALLY, FREE MONEY

Newcastle United 2-0 Crystal Palace (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, USA Network) – [STREAM]

Arsenal 3-1 Norwich City – (Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBC) – [STREAM]

DON’T TOUCH THIS… 

Manchester United 2-1 Leicester City – (Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Chelsea 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur – (Monday, 3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Swansea City 1-1 Liverpool – (Sunday, 7 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Stoke City 1-1 Sunderland – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

West Brom 2-2 West Ham – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Everton 2-1 Bournemouth – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

“SO YOU’RE TELLING ME THERE’S A CHANCE…”

Southampton 3-1 Manchester City – (Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET, NBCSN) – [STREAM]

Watford 1-2 Aston Villa – (Saturday, 10 a.m. ET, Premier League Extratime) – [STREAM]

Top 5 storylines in Premier League: Week 36

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Week 36 of the 2015-16 Premier League season is here.

[ MORE: Full TV schedule – Week 36

That’s right, remarkably we have just three weeks to go in the season. I can’t quite believe it either.

With Leicester City on the brink of winning the title, an intense top four battle and a massive scrap between three teams for the final two relegation spots, it’s going to be madness.

Here’s a look at the top five Premier League storylines you should be keeping on eye on this weekend.


Foxes can clinch – (Manchester United vs. Leicester City, Sunday, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

“Now is the real chance to win the title. Next season you never know what happens. Once in a life.”

Those were the words of Claudio Ranieri ahead of Leicester’s trip to Old Trafford. The Italian manager knows he’s on the brink of immortality. The Foxes need just three points from their remaining three games to secure the title but they will be under no illusion that Manchester United will roll over this Sunday. Oh no. Despite reports of United’s fans offering up their season tickets in the home end for Leicester fans to potentially see their team win the title, there will be no such gesture of goodwill from Louis van Gaal and his players.

United have won six of the last eight in the PL, have reached the FA Cup final and Van Gaal needs a top four finish to realistically be around next season. They need a win. Yes, Leicester is without Jamie Vardy but Ranieri always seems to find a way of re-energizing this team. He really won’t have to say much this weekend. It’s simple: “beat Manchester United at Old Trafford and you are champions of the Premier League. You will go down in history forever.”

With Wayne Rooney pulling the strings in midfield, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford a threat in-behind Leicester and David De Gea in top form, Leicester will face a tough test. Then again, every week we write them off and they just keep winning.


Bitter Chelsea ready to battle – (Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur, Monday, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra 

Speaking of the PL title, remember who the reigning champs are? This is awkward. Of course, it’s Chelsea. Following Jose Mourinho’s midseason departure after a disastrous start to the campaign saw the Blues languishing just above the drop zone, Guus Hiddink has steadied the ship with a top 10 finish at least keeping things respectable ahead of Antonio Conte’s summer arrival.

That said, plenty of Chelsea’s players seem to have played themselves out of Conte’s plans in recent weeks with turgid performances. They won’t be lacking in effort on Monday, though, as the Blues are desperate to make sure that if Leicester slip up then London rival Tottenham don’t take advantage of it.

With Mauricio Pochettino confirming he has verbally agreed a new contract at Tottenham ahead of this game, all is rosy as Spurs. They have a new stadium on the way, a talented a hungry young squad and are making real progress under Pochettino as they’ll be in the UEFA Champions League next season. Chelsea is jealous, envious and maybe a little bitter to see their London rivals challenging for the PL. Eden Hazard has said the players will do their utmost to make sure Spurs don’t beat them on Monday. Expect an intense London battle at Stamford Bridge, a ground that hasn’t been a happy hunting ground (one win in their last 13 visits) for Tottenham in the past.


Wenger under pressure – (Arsenal vs. Norwich City, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra 

Arsene Wenger hit back at Arsenal’s critics ahead of this game but the fans are starting to stay away from the Emirates and that is bad news from the Frenchman.

After two decades in charge, any Arsenal fan will thank Wenger for what he has done for the club. However, the growing feeling from many is that they want a change. Wenger hasn’t delivered the PL since 2004 and this season their title charge crumbled. They should have won it. Leicester and Tottenham are not superior to them, at least on paper, but Wenger’s side showed a mental fragility at a pivotal point of the season and now they’re challenging for fourth place instead of the title.

When the season is over Arsenal’s board will have to take a long, hard look at what’s next. With empty seat in their last home game, Wenger insisted it isn’t a problem. He can’t keep burying his head in the sand.


Pardew to be a villain? – (Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra 

Alan Pardew led Newcastle to the top five and the quarterfinals of the UEFA Europa League. He also had them embroiled in a relegation battle and had an up-and-down relationship with the fans during his time in charge at St James’ Park.

When he returns with his Crystal Palace side this Saturday he will get a mixed reception. The Eagles have won just once in the PL in 2016 and sit on 39 points and not out of relegation trouble themselves even if it seems very unlikely they’ll go down. Their run to the FA Cup final has been a distraction but there will be plenty of focus from Rafael Benitez and Newcastle. They know the next two games is their chance to save themselves.

Newcastle are three games unbeaten and host an out of sorts Palace and then travel to Aston Villa. They must win those two games to give themselves a chance of staying up. If Pardew leads Palace to victory at St James’ he may just have to stay in the locker room for a while after the final whistle has blown…

With Sunderland away at Stoke and Norwich away at Arsenal this weekend, the Magpies know a win could see them leapfrog both and get out of the relegation zone. That would be huge as their confidence continues to build under Benitez. Is it too little too late, though? Look at the situation above. It is tight.


Top 4 battle intense

West Ham United face a tricky trip to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday (10 a.m. ET on Premier League Extratime and online via Live Extra), while Manchester United host Leicester City and Manchester City travel to top six chasing Southampton on Sunday (11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). West Ham, United and City are all battling it out with Arsenal for the final two Champions League spots.

Nobody can afford to slip up.

As we mentioned, United are looking strong and although West Ham have lost just one of their last 10 games they’ve also drawn four of their last five to curtail their progress. City drew 0-0 with Real Madrid in midweek and may have one eye on the return leg at the Santiago Bernabeu next Wednesday. Can Manuel Pellegrini afford to rest key players like Kevin De Bruyne, Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart ahead of that game?

The top four battle will likely go down to the wire and its likely one of the contenders will slip up this weekend with tough games for all four.  

Van Gaal: We cannot let Leicester win the title

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Louis Van Gaal is a party pooper. He wants Manchester United to beat Leicester City this Sunday (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at Old Trafford.

Au contraire.

[ MORE: How are Leicester here? ]

Van Gaal, 64, wants his side to beat Leicester this weekend so they can have an even bigger celebration at the King Power Stadium the following weekend against Everton when they will likely win the Premier League.

He’s a sly old fox. No pun intended.

Anyway, with United pushing for a top four finish after winning six of their last eight games in the PL, Van Gaal is adamant his team must win on Sunday to deny Leicester the one win they need to secure the title.

“I think we have to beat Leicester because we are still in the race for the first positions, so we have to beat them,” Van Gaal said. “We cannot allow that they are the champions this weekend at Old Trafford. I think they shall be the champion a week later, so we don’t spoil the party, just postpone it a little bit.

“I was the first who said that they could be champions and now a presenter [Match of the Day’s Gary Lineker] has to wear underwear when they are the champions. For me it is not a surprise; I say that many, many times. I believe in team building and the manager has done that with this team. They had the circumstances to play always with the same team as they did not play so many matches as the other teams in the league, so it is always possible. It is good for the Premier League and the sport of football that not always the same teams are the champion.”

With Leicester missing Jamie Vardy, plus United losing just once at home against Leicester in the league in the last 44 years, the Red Devils will be confident of dashing the Foxes title hopes. At least for this week.

[ MORE: How will USMNT line up this summer? ]

Wayne Rooney is back to his creative best, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are looking razor sharp and David De Gea is on top form. You would think United could win this and significantly boost their top four hopes.

Than again, this is Leicester. This season they’ve proved that just when you think you have things figured out, they surprise you again.

Not LVG, though. He will have his party hat and streamers ready just in case…

WATCH: Premier League TV schedule, stream links – Week 36

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Week 36 of the 2015-16 Premier League season and this is the week we could have a brand new champion.

It all kicks off at the Britannia Stadium on Saturday as Stoke City hosting relegation battler Sunderland (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to the Potteris. Can Sam Allardyce‘s side keep their good run going and grab a vital win in the race against the dreaded drop? At the same time fellow relegation rivals Newcastle United host Crystal Palace (Watch live, 10 a.m. ET on USA and online via Live Extra) at St James’ Park. Former Magpies boss Alan Pardew will be the villain but the Magpies are three games unbeaten.

[ WATCH: Premier League via Live Extra ]

Rounding things off on Saturday, Arsenal welcome Norwich City (Watch live, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC and online via Live Extra) to the Emirates Stadium. Arsene Wenger is under pressure from the fans as the Gunners are battling for a top four finish, while the Canaries are battling for their lives and are currently in the drop zone.

A busy Sunday sees three games back-to-back with Swansea hosting Liverpool (Watch live, 7 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) at the Liberty Stadium. The Reds are still chasing a top six finish but will be distracted by their Europa League exploits. Then, the big one. Leicester City head to Manchester United (Watch live, 9:05 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) knowing a win will win them the Premier League title. Can Claudio Ranieri‘s men clinch the PL trophy at Old Trafford?

Top six chasing Southampton then host top four hopefuls Manchester City at St Mary’s (Watch live, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra). Will Ronald Koeman‘s men keep their good run going against a Man City side who drew with Real Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League semifinal in midweek?

Then, Week 36 finishes off on Monday with a massive London derby. Tottenham know that if Leicester slip up at Manchester United, then they will need at least a win or a draw at Chelsea on Monday (Watch live, 3 p.m. ET on NBCSN and online via Live Extra) to keep the title race alive. Can Mauricio Pochettino‘s men capitalize on any slip up from the Foxes to keep the title race going?

You can watch every single second of every single game live online via NBC Sports Live Extra and the NBC Sports Live Extra App. If you’re looking for full-event replays of Premier League games, you can find them here. They are available soon after the final whistle, but rights limit us to a certain number each week. Looking for game highlights? Try this.

Here’s your full TV schedule for the coming days. Enjoy.

FULL TV SCHEDULE

Saturday

10 a.m. ET: Stoke City vs. Sunderland – NBCSN [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Newcastle United vs. Crystal Palace – USA [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Watford vs. Aston Villa – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: Everton vs. Bournemouth – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
10 a.m. ET: West Brom vs. West Ham – Premier League Extratime [STREAM]
12:30 p.m. ET: Arsenal vs. Norwich – NBC [STREAM]

Sunday

7 a.m. ET: Swansea City vs. Liverpool – NBCSN [STREAM]
9:05 a.m. ET: Manchester United vs. Leicester City – NBCSN [STREAM]
11:30 a.m. ET: Southampton vs. Manchester City – NBCSN [STREAM]

Monday

3 p.m. ET: Chelsea vs. Tottenham Hotspur – NBCSN [STREAM]