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.

World Cup 2022 schedule – how to watch, last 16, calendar, match schedule, brackets, dates

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The World Cup 2022 schedule is locked in and this tournament in Qatar has been sensational as the knockout rounds will capture the imagination of the globe.

[ LIVE: Watch World Cup en Espanol en Peacock ]

Japan, Australia and Morocco made the last 16 with so many huge shocks during the tournament, but the Atlas Lions are the only one of the trio to survive into the quarterfinals. Germany, Denmark, and Belgium all crashed out in the group stage.

Argentina meets the Netherlands in the quarterfinals for a familiar matchup that stands between Lionel Messi and a semifinal date with either Brazil or Japan.

[ MORE: World Cup rosters for all 32 teams ]

The other side of the bracket sees Morocco meeting Portugal for the right to tangle with the winner of England vs France.

So, yeah, the quarterfinals, semifinals, and final should be dynamite. Bring. It. On.

[ MORE: How to watch Premier League in USA ]  

Below is the schedule in full, details on how to watch the games and everything else you need..

[ MORE: World Cup odds ]


World Cup 2022 schedule, start time, dates, how to watch live

  • When: November 20, 2022 to December 18, 2022
  • Knockout round kick-off times: 10am, 2pm (both ET)
  • Location: Qatar
  • TV channels en Español: Telemundo, Universo, Peacock
  • Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)

Follow along with ProSoccerTalk for the latest news, scores, storylines, and updates surrounding the 2022 World Cup, and be sure to subscribe to NBC Sports on YouTube!


Group A | Group B | Group C | Group D | Group E | Group F | Group G | Group H | Full tables


Round of 16 schedule

Match 49 – Saturday, December 3: Netherlands 3-1 USA – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan

Match 50 – Saturday, December 3: Argentina 2-1 Australia – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan

Match 52 – Sunday, December 4: France 3-1 Poland – Al Thumama Stadium, Doha

Match 51 – Sunday, December 4: England 3-0 Senegal – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

Match 53 – Monday, December 5: Japan 1-1 (AET, 1-3 PKs) – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah

Match 54 – Monday, December 5: Brazil 4-1 South Korea – Stadium 974, Doha

Match 55 – Tuesday, December 6: Morocco 0-0 (AET, 3-0 PKs) Spain – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan

Match 56 – Tuesday, December 6: Portugal 6-1 Switzerland – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail


Quarterfinal schedule

Match 58 – Friday, December 9: Croatia vs Brazil (preview) – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan – 10am

Match 57 – Friday, December 9: Netherlands vs Argentina (preview) – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm

Match 60 – Saturday, December 10: Morocco vs Portugal (preview) – Al Thumama Stadium, Doha – 10am

Match 59 – Saturday, December 10: England vs France (preview) – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm


Semifinal schedule

Match 61 – Tuesday, December 13: Winners Match 57 vs Winners Match 58 – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 2pm

Match 62 – Wednesday, December 14: Winners Match 59 vs Winners Match 60 – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 2pm


Third-place play-off

Match 63 – Saturday, December 17: Losers Match 61 vs Losers Match 62 – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan – 2pm


Final

Match 64 – Sunday, December 18: Winners Match 61 vs Winners Match 62 – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail – 10am


Group stage results

Group A

Recap/highlights: Qatar 0-2 Ecuador – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Senegal 0-2 Netherlands  – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor – 5am
Recap/highlights: Qatar 1-3 Senegal – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Netherlands 1-1 Ecuador – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Netherlands 2-0 Qatar – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Ecuador 1-2 Senegal –  Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan

Group B

Recap/highlights: England 6-2 Iran – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: USA 1-1 Wales – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: England 0-0 USA – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Wales 0-2 Iran – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Wales 0-3 England – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Iran 0-1 USA – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor

Group C

Recap/highlights: Argentina 1-2 Saudi Arabia – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Mexico 0-0 Poland – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Poland 2-0 Saudi Arabia – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Argentina 2-0 Mexico – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Poland 0-2 Argentina – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Saudi Arabia 1-2 Mexico – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail

Group D

Recap/highlights: France 4-1 Australia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Denmark 0-0 Tunisia – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: France 2-1 Denmark – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Tunisia 0-1 Australia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Tunisia 1-0 France –  Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Australia 1-0 Denmark – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah

Group E

Recap/highlights: Spain 7-0 Costa Rica – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Germany 1-2 Japan – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Spain 1-1 Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Japan 0-1 Costa Rica – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Japan 2-1 Spain – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Costa Rica 2-4 Germany – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor

Group F

Recap/highlights: Belgium 1-0 Canada – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Morocco 0-0 Croatia – Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor – 5am
Recap/highlights: Belgium 0-2 Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor
Recap/highlights: Croatia 4-1 Canada – Khalifa International Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Croatia 0-0 Belgium – Ahmed bin Ali Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights Canada 1-2 Morocco – Al Thumama Stadium, Al Khor

Group G

Recap/highlights: Brazil 2-0 Serbia – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Switzerland 1-0 Cameroon – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Brazil 1-0 Switzerland – Stadium 974, Doha – 11am
Recap/highlights: Cameroon 3-3 Serbia – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah
Recap/highlights: Cameroon 1-0 Brazil – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: Serbia 2-3 Switzerland – Stadium 974, Doha

Group H

Recap/highlights: Portugal 3-2 Ghana – Stadium 974, Doha
Recap/highlights: Uruguay 0-0 South Korea – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Portugal 2-0 Uruguay – Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
Recap/highlights: South Korea 2-3 Ghana – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: South Korea 2-1 Portugal – Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
Recap/highlights: Ghana 0-2 Uruguay – Al Janoub Stadium, Al Wakrah


Morocco vs Portugal: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Can red-hot Portugal find a way past Yassine Bounou and Morocco when the World Cup quarterfinals hit Qatar on Saturday?

Match 60 of the tournament will see Bounou riding high after stopping three of four penalties faced in the Round of 16 versus Spain, but Portugal won’t be thinking about going more than 90 minutes after scoring a half-dozen goals against Switzerland.

STREAM MOROCCO vs PORTUGAL LIVE

Cristiano Ronaldo scored a fourth-minute goal to lead Portugal past Morocco in the group stage of the 2018 World Cup, but Morocco’s yet to lose in Qatar.

The Atlas Lions needed penalties to beat Spain in the Round of 16, while Portugal had no such trouble in clobbering Switzerland 6-1.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Morocco vs Portugal.


How to watch Morocco vs Portugal live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Saturday December 10
Stadium: Al Thumama Stadium, Doha
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Bounou — spelled Bono on his jersey — was sensational in penalties, but Morocco’s defenders limited Spain to a single shot on target. Romain Saiss has been especially good in the middle of the back line while Achraf Hakimi and Noussair Mazroui have been effective out wide, going forward and defending.

Portugal put Goncalo Ramos in the Starting XI for Cristiano Ronaldo and the 21-year-old center forward scored three goals and added an assist against Switzerland. Bruno Fernandes has been wonderful for Portugal, while Ruben Neves and Rafael Leao were able to get through the match with small sub roles and should be rested if called upon by Fernando Santos, who is seeking a World Cup to go with his EURO crown.


Morocco quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 22
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CAF
Coach: Vahid Halilhodzic
Key players: Achraf Hakimi, Yassine Bounou, Youssef En-Nesyri, Romain Saiss

Portugal quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 9
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs
Coach: Fernando Santos
Key players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Cancel

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England vs France: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Match 59 of the 2022 World Cup features a pair of European heavyweights duking it out for a place in the semifinals when England faces France on Saturday.

Didier Deschamps’ France is bidding to become a back-to-back World Cup winner, but Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions are tournament-hardened and have shown their explosive nature three times this tournament.

STREAM ENGLAND vs FRANCE LIVE

France beat Poland 3-1 in its Round of 16 match while England overcame a dodgy start to pound Senegal 3-0.

Neither team can say its faced a test like this in the tournament, and this could be a fantastic fight in Qatar.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for England vs France.


How to watch England vs France live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Saturday, December 1
Stadium: Al Bayt Stadium, Al Khor
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

England will look to Harry Kane, though the question remains who will flank the Tottenham center forward. Marcus Rashford’s been very good but Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden got the starting spots against Senegal and it paid off for Southgate.

Kylian Mbappe has been borderline unstoppable and will test Harry Maguire, John Stones, and friends and Antoine Griezmann pulls the strings in behind and Aurelien Tchouameni continues to strengthen his reputation in the center of the pitch.


England quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 5
World Cup titles: 1 (1966)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA
Coach: Gareth Southgate
Key players: Harry Kane, Jude Bellingham, Jordan Pickford

France quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 4
World Cup titles: 2 (1998, 2018)
World Cup appearances: 15
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (Won Group D)
Coach: Didier Deschamps
Key players: Kylian Mbappe, Raphael Varane, Antoine Griezmann

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Croatia vs Brazil: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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World Cup-savvy Croatia stands in the way of stylish Brazil’s pursuit of a sixth World Cup crown, and the pair promise a complex match-up on Friday in Al Rayyan.

Match 58 of the 2022 World Cup kicks off the quarterfinals as Neymar leads Tite’s star-studded CONMEBOL powers into a match against the 2018 runners-up.

STREAM CROATIA vs BRAZIL LIVE

Croatia got past Japan in penalties and will now dream of the two wins that could set it back in the final where France could again be waiting for a juicy rematch.

Croatia needed penalties to get past Japan in the Round of 16, while Brazil pasted South Korea 4-1.  Croatia has never beaten Brazil in four meetings, losing at the 2006 and 2014 World Cups.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Croatia vs Brazil.


How to watch Croatia vs Brazil live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 10am ET, Friday, December 9
Stadium: Education City Stadium, Al Rayyan
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Croatia’s Dominik Livakovic was fantastic in penalties versus Japan to get here, but Luka Modric continues to do the things that get Croatia out of trouble and puts the opponents into heaps of it. Josko Gvardiola has arguably been the defender of the tournament, and the 20-year-old looks to test his mettle again against the Selecao.

Pick a Brazil player who’s failed to impress and you’ve achieved a mighty feat. Neymar’s been fantastic when healthy while RIcharlison is in serious pursuit of the Golden Boot. Alisson Becker flexed his muscles once or twice versus South Korea and figures to be busier as the competition continues to heat up in Qatar.


Croatia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 12
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 6
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Zlatko Dalic
Key players: Luka Modric, Andrej Kramaric, Mateo Kovacic, Josko Gvardiol

Brazil quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Coach: Tite
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker

Follow @NicholasMendola