02 July 2014

Visualized: USA 1-2 Belgium aet

As always, match data from Stats Zone.

There are a fair few of unbelievable statistics in here.

• 39: The most shots in a single match at this World Cup. 25 of those 39 were inside the penalty box.

• 15: The most saves in a World Cup match, by Tim Howard. FIFA has tracked the statistic since 1966, and the previous high was 13.

• 67: The most clearances in a single World Cup match. FIFA has tracked the statistic since 1966.

While Howard's 15 saves were the most impressive statistic, and the main and pretty much only reason this match went to extra time, Belgium's 39 shots seems the most egregious. That's one shot every 3 minutes and 5 seconds. That's indescribably bonkers.

Every single Belgian player except Nacer Chadli – who came on with nine minutes to play, with the USA in search off an unlikely equalizer, after which Belgium didn't take a single shot – took at least two shots and created at least one chance. I've never seen that before. Kevin De Bruyne alone created 10 chances, only five fewer than the Americans took in total. Ten! I've never seen that before either.

The USA didn't allow Belgium the possession that Germany had, but they allowed vastly more shots. Belgium are a very good attacking side, even if they haven't scored prior to the 70th minute in any of their matches. Or, at the least, Belgium have some very, very good attacking players: both as starters and subs. For the fourth consecutive match, Wilmots' changes made the difference: Mirallas contributing much more than Mertens, then Lukaku's pace and strength blowing away tired legs in extra time.

There's more than just one factor involved in Belgium taking so many shots, but my suspicion is Beckerman's absence played a key part. Klinsmann clearly wanted to bring in Cameron for height, to combat Fellaini – who was comparatively quiet for long stretches – but I doubt Kevin De Bruyne has that much space, is allowed to do that much, with Beckerman patrolling in from of the back four.

Or, a change in systems might have helped. If you look at the average position diagrams, it's concerning that Jones, Yedlin, and Zusi were that high up the pitch even though the majority of Belgium's attacking third passes and the vast majority of chances created – mainly through De Bruyne, Hazard, and Vertonghen – came on that side of the pitch, especially the inside left channel. You'd have expected one of the midfielders – probably Jones, but if not, Bradley – to help Cameron in this regard, and you'd expect Yedlin to do more defensive work, even if he (like Fabian Johnson in previous matches) was the main American out-ball in attack. See also: the paucity of tackles on that flank compared to those on the USA left. I may also just be annoyed with Jones (who, yes, had been one of the USA's two best players, along with Howard, in the group stage) for missing the target with all seven (!!!) of his shots: five off-target, two blocked, including three off-target in the danger zone.

As against Germany, as against Ghana, the USA defense mainly sat deep, but this time, allowed that insane amount of shots. And you will eventually get punished from that many shots. Portugal and Ghana each took 21, no small amount, but they were from vastly inferior positions compared to Belgium's. Germany, the side who had the most possession against the USA, took the fewest – which was a credit to the USA defense and tactics in that match (and the fact that Germany needed no more than a draw) – but they also put the highest percentage on target.

The Americans had the worst Total Shot Ratio of any side at the World Cup, by some distance. Nota Bene: TSR = Shots For / (Shots For + Shots Against). The USA took 44 shots, but allowed 94, and somehow only conceded six goals. That's a 6.5% conversion ratio. That's miniscule.

Which leads directly to praising Tim Howard, American Hero. I truly hope he got all that out of his system before rejoining Everton next season. 33 of the 94 shots that the USA allowed were on-target: 35.1%. Which is almost exactly average; the group stage average for all teams was 34.9% of all shots put on target. If not for Howard, the USA don't make it out of the GROUP OF DEATH!!!!1!, let alone nearly hold on against Belgium. Tim Howard is also 35 years old, and is by no means certain to be involved in the next World Cup, no matter the longer tenure for goalkeepers.

But despite the frightening statistics, there has been improvement from the USA under Klinsmann. Klinsmann has done well, if not necessarily as a coach, then at least as the technical director, vastly expending the USA's talent pool. Matching the result from the last World Cup, despite a much harder group and less experienced squad, is at least slightly impressive. The majority of this side should still be involved in four years' time.

It seems we've said similar following each of the last three World Cups (except maybe 2006), but there's something to build on here, and the future still looks fairly bright, no matter yesterday's disappointment.


SG said...

Great job on this one. I enjoy your stuff on Liverpool, but this is one of the few tactical analyses of this USA-Belgium game that gets it right.

Most of media including Donovon saying the US didn't come out attacking enough and therefore got punished in this one. Your stats and diagrams show that perhaps the US attacked a little too much (Zusi & Yedlin/Johnson very high and wide avg positions). Also you show Belgium did not dominate possession like some media keep repeating.

I think most viewers noticed the insane amount of space Belgium constantly found themselves in (and the resulting shots), but fail to realize this was a result of US turning the ball over with too many midfielders forward (failed attack, BEL counter).

Seems to me (and based on some player quotes after match), USA came out wanting to go right at Belgium. And this is just sort of the result you get, when you do that against a side with such incredible talent.

Very important to note how different this match really was compared to Germany match (tactically) even if the result was the same. US did not park the bus, they tried to play it straight up and were beaten badly.

Also, I wanted Klinsmann to do this before the US went out, so I'm not as sad by the result. But I am disappointed that the majority reaction seems to be that we never went out and tried to attack all tournament.

Anonymous said...

Tim Howard's heroics in goal kept the USA in that match. He played off the charts. It helped that he knew the shot tendencies of so many of Belgium's players from both Everton and the Prem. But he still had to execute and make those saves at crunch time. Big props to him.

How does Wondolowski miss that sitter in front of goal in the 93rd minute that would have been the winner and sent the US to the quarter's? All he had to do was focus/ concentrate on the ball and make clean contact. He was only maybe 6 yards out with Courtois out of position. The both Dempsey and Jones fail to convert big chances in the last 15 minutes of the 2nd OT to tie the match up.

Yes, the quality of the Belgium's in attack blew the US players off the park. We just couldn't cope with their quality and technical capabilities.

We still could have/should have won the match in regulation with Wondowlowski converting that easy chance. And, then again we should have tied and taken it to pens in the OT. Can't ask for more than that.

Hard for me to imagine that Klinsmann and these players got out of the group. Our best quality players are Bradley, Dempsey and Altidore. Dempsey couldn't make it at Spurs, Altidore wasn't even starting at Sunderland, and Bradley is very average in the middle of the park. Of course, Altidore got hurt early, just making an observation on the general quality of the US team.

We got a little fortunate against Ghana, scoring on the late corner and Dempsey actually exhibited a bit if quality on the early goal. Portugal, we started slowly, and played well once we came out of our shell and started to play with some confidence. I thought Bradley had a good match even though he got dispossessed way too easily for Portugal's late equalizer. Then the center backs should have been better able to defend Ronaldo's cross. Against the Germans we just got steamrolled. They had too much quality and found it way too easy to maintain possession. If they bad an urgency to their attack for the entire match it would have been 3 or 4 - nil. Low and his boys would not have been cool with doing that to Klinsmann.

The 2002 World Cup, the US outplayed and should have beaten the Germans to reach a winnable semi-final match against South Korea. That should have been our tournament. Oh well. We'll see how we do in Russia after Putin enlisted the help of Bin Hamamm to help them purchase the rights from FIFA. This way the Russians could keep their "hands clean".