Category: World Cup 2014

Expected Wins 4

Republication/update:  My intent, this past year, was to update my series on Expected Wins, with EW-5 – that has changed.  After conducting research and analyses, and seeing my work published in London, England I’ve decided to rename this series Expected Losses instead of Expected Wins.

  • Why, because my data analyses is beginning to show it’s easier to track and predict losses as opposed to ‘draws’ or ‘wins’.

But to sustain the integrity of the ‘thinking process’ I’m only going to edit the first part of this article and remind folks about the previous research published:

What follows is the original, unedited post offered in November of 2014.  I think if you read this article below you may find it striking given the current conditions with US Soccer and the US Men’s National Team!

Jurgen Klinsmann made a statement the other week about his preference that players working to make the USMNT play in Europe not in America.

Lots of hoo-haw followed with opinions being thrown out there by just about everyone.

As far as I know no-one has, as yet, come up with a way to quantitatively measure which league, leagues, or competitions are higher quality.

This is my attempt to do that using my Possession with Purpose Analysis.

Be prepared for a few charts – sorry – it is what it is and a statement like Klinsmann’s deserves to have some quantitative analysis thrown towards it.

Finally, if you missed Expected Wins 3 here is a link to give you some history on this quantitative analysis.

Now for the grist, first the array of Expected Wins 4 diagrams for each league/competition I cover, Major League Soccer, English Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, UEFA Champions League, and the World Cup of 2014.

Major League Soccer – End of Season:

Major League Soccer Expected Wins Four

 English Premier League after 240 Events (120 Games):

English Premier League Expected Wins Four

La Liga after 238 Events (119 Games):

La Liga Expected Wins Four

Bundesliga after 214 Events (107 Games):

Bundesliga Expected Wins Four

UEFA Champions League after Round 5 – 160 Events (80 Games):

UEFA Champions League Expected Wins Four

World Cup 2014 – End of Competition:

World Cup 2014 Expected Wins FourSo what’s it all mean?

In each of the diagrams I highlighted in green the category that had the highest volume for all my PWP Data Points.

For example, just above, in the World Cup of 2014 the winning team had the highest volume of activity for every single PWP data point.

The same holds true for the UEFA Champions League, La Liga, and the English Premier League.

The conclusion here?  Volume speaks volumes…

Greater numbers of passes both outside and within and into the Attacking Final Third (RESULT) in MORE Shots Taken, MORE Shots on Goal and MORE Goals Scored!

In the case of the Bundesliga (an oft mentioned counter-attacking league) it’s the losing teams that offer MORE Possession and MORE overall Passes but when it comes to the Attacking Final Third it’s the winning teams who do MORE with MORE!

With respect to the MLS – a contrast to be sure.  MORE Passing outside and within, and into, the Attacking Final Third gets you LESS when it comes to Shots Taken, Shots on Goal, and Goals Scored.

Why is that?

I’d offer it’s down to playing a game that has less overall ball control from the players – in other words there is less quality on the pitch to take advantage of the MORE for MORE systematic outputs we see from all the other leagues/competitions; others may have a different view.

For me, this is an early indicator that what Jurgen Klinsmann offered is quantitatively accurate!

Before moving on here’s how all the leagues and competitions compare to each other in one diagram for winning teams:

Winners Expected Wins PWP Data Points Four

The UEFA Champions League leads all competitions/leagues in the average volume of Passes Attempted, Passes Completed, Passes Attempted within and into the Final Third, Passes Completed within and into the Final Third, Shots Taken, Shots on Goal, and Goals Scored.

If volume of activity (were?) to be a quantitative measure of quality then it’s pretty clear the UEFA Champions League HAS the highest quality of all these competitions.

And what teams comprise the UEFA Champions League?  Teams from Europe…

But there is more to Possession with Purpose than just volume; here’s how the PWP Data Relationships show:

Winners Expected Wins PWP Data Relationships Four

In looking at the percentages here’s where it gets interesting – and reinforces what I’ve felt and thought all along, patience in creating time and space in the Attacking Final Third has value.

In terms of Possession Percentage, Passing Accuracy across the Entire Pitch, and percentage of Penetrating Possession within and into the Attacking Final Third the UEFA Champions League, again, exceeds all other competitions.

Where the patience virtue comes in is when it comes to the percentage of Shots Taken per Penetrating Possession – the UEFA Champions League is lowest (14.98%).

So in returning back to the volume of Shots Taken per penetrating possession.

The UEFA Champions League has the highest volume of Shots Taken but the lowest percentage rate.

So even with the third worst percentage of Shots on Goal per Shots Taken and the second worst percentage of Goals Scored per Shots on Goal this competition still has the highest volume of Shots on Goal and Goals Scored.

For me this is another quantitative means to substantiate what Jurgen Klinsmann offered about encouraging Americans to get better by playing in Europe.

In Closing:


Is it better to play on a winning team in a league where there is less overall control of the ball, on the pitch for 90 minutes?

Or is it better to play on a losing team (for 90 minutes), against top quality players, in a league where there is superb control of the ball across the entire pitch for 90 minutes?

Which competition forces you to concentrate more recognizing that the smallest positional error will completely punish your team?

In other words…

If you were a good player and you wanted to get better, would you prefer to play in a league where there are fewer passes and a more wide open play that doesn’t stretch your talent to control the ball?

Or…. would you rather play in a league where the ball is zipping about (by over 100 to 300 passes more) forcing you, in turn, to zip about yourself to try and better manage that game yourself with your teammates?


If I were a player in today’s market there is simply no need to consider answering that question any further – I’d play in Europe OR at least strive to play in Europe!

How about you?

If you’re new to Possession with Purpose and this analytical approach read here for an introduction.

By the way – even if you feel or think you don’t need this type of data to substantiate which leagues or competitions are better today – it will provide a great benchmark in looking at how the future takes shape in MLS.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

Expected Wins V3 MLS, EPL, Bundesliga, LaLiga, WC 2014

If you’ve read these two previous articles, Expected Wins and Expected Wins 2, you know I look at how teams perform, on average, (win, lose, or draw) with respect to my primary data collection points for Possession with Purpose.

What will be added, in Version 3 (V3), will be a compare and contrast between all the leagues I evaluate in my Family of Indices.

Results of looking at the diagrams and reading through my observations should help clarify analyses like (ABAC, ABCB) doesn’t really have relevance to teams that win, lose or draw – at least not this year.  (Note – two links – two different sites published roughly the same analysis)…

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not taking a personal dig at the grueling work associated with the analyses.

It has great value, but more from a tactical viewpoint in how passing is executed, not from a (bell curve) – volume/success of passing rate – relative to possession and penetration into the Final Third, that helps a team create and generate shots taken leading to goals scored; or… when flipped, leading to goals not scored.

And as pointed out by a (shomas) on the article, that surfaced on MIT, if anything, it adds predictability to what a team will do – and the more predictable a team, the more likely the opponent can defend against them better… 

For me – I would have thought the GREATER the variation in that cycle(ABAC, etc…) the better… others may view that differently?

In addition, I think there could be more value, to the information, if it was segregated by league – more later on that…

To begin – here’s a reminder of what Expected Wins looked like in Major League Soccer after 92 games (184 events): 



The term ‘event’ is used, as opposed to game, to clarify that each team’s attacking data is include in this analyses – and that the greater the volume of data points the stronger the overall statistical analyses is; i.e. sampling 15 data-stream points is not the same as sampling 1000 data-stream points.

Biggest takeaway here is the strength of correlation these seven data points have to each other (i.e. their representation – in my opinion – of the primary bell curve of activities that occur in a game of soccer)…

In every case, in every diagram that follows, all the Exponential trends exceed .947; and in every case the relationship for the winning teams is higher than the relationship for losing teams… speaking to consistency of purpose and lower variation in my view.

In general terms. this is my statistical way of showing that a goal scored is tantamount to a 5th or 6th standard deviation to the right from the normal bell cuver of activities that occur in a game of soccer.

Said another way – I don’t evaluate the tail – when measuring the dog’s motion – I evaluate the dog; recognizing that the tail will follow, to some degree, what the motion of the dog will be…  and… that even if the motion of the dog is somewhat different, the tail will normally behave in the same way.

Therefore, it’s not the tail that should be analyzed – it’s the dog… others may view that differently.

Here’s the same diagram for the MLS after 366 events:


Oh… the green shaded areas are meant to show those data points that are higher for those particular categories; in other words the Volume of Shots Taken for winning teams (after 366 events) was higher than that of losing teams – but the volume of passes completed in the Final Third was higher for losing teams than winning teams…  more on that later.

Here’s the diagram after 544 events in MLS:


Note the shift – only the volume of Final Third Passes Attempted is now higher for losing teams – all other data categories see the winning teams with greater volume.

For me, what this reinforces is the issue of time and space as well as patience – three statistics never measured in soccer (publicly at least)…  again, reinforcing, for me, that shot location only has value relative to the time, space, and patience of the team in creating that time and space for that shot.

Statistically speaking, what that means, to me, is that Expected Goals; a very popular (and worthy) statistical calculation, needs to be refined if it’s to have greater value as a predictive tool/model…  I’d be interested to hear / read the views of those who work Expected Goals efforts…

Now here’s the European Leagues I’ve added to my PWP Family of Indices analyses; first up the English Premier League:


Note that the pattern, here, after 100 events, resembles the same pattern for MLS after 544 events… worthy.

Moving on to the Bundesliga:


A pattern similar to MLS after 366 events; will this pattern morph into something different as the league continues?  Possibly – the MLS pattern has changed so perhaps this one will too?

Now for La Liga:


A completely new pattern has taken shape – here “volume” speaks volumes! 

Is this unique?  Nope…  It also happens to be the same pattern as the World Cup 2014 pattern – below:


Will that pattern show itself in the UEFA Champions League?  I don’t know but we’ll find out…

So what’s it all mean? The “so-what”?

Before attempting to answer that, here’s two different diagrams plotting these data points for winners and losers  (in reverse order) for the leagues I evaluate:



Now the grist:

The red shaded areas are where the losing teams’ average exceeds the winning teams’ average in the volume of those activites – the green shaded areas are highlighted for effect.  Green shaded areas for the volume of Shots on Goal and Goals Scored indicate that those numbers are virutally the same, for winning teams, in all the activities measured…

Now, back to the so-what and what’s all mean?

For me this reinforces that the “pattern” of passing (ABAC, ABCB, etc…) that gets you into the Final Third has no relevance to the volume of Goals Scored.

And, it also reinforces that different motions of the ‘dog’ will generate the same tail wagging outputs – therefore it’s the analysis of the dogs activities that drive greater opportunities for improvement.

The averages for winners in the activities measured all behave somewhat differently – granted some patterns might be the same but the volumes are different.

And when volumes change, the game changes, and when the game changes, the strategic or tactical steps taken will change – but… the overall target should still remain the same (on average) – put at least 5-6 shots on goal and you ‘should’ score at least two goals… getting to that point remains the hard part!

Bottom line here: 

These leagues are different leagues – and the performances, of the teams, in those leagues are different when it comes to winning.

Therefore, I’d offer that comparing a striker’s ability to score in one league is completely different than an expectation an organization might have in how that striker may score in another league.

Said another way – a striker who scores 20 goals in the Bundesliga, a league that shows winning teams play to a more counter-attacking style, might not perform as well in a league like the EPL; which looks to offer that winning teams play a more possession-based style.

Perhaps??? another good example… a striker playing for a team that counter-attacks, is more likely to have greater time and space to score a goal, than playing in a possession-based team where time and space become a premium because the opponents play far tighter within their own 18 yard box.

But, as mentioned before – since no-one statistically measures (publicly) the amount of time and space associated with passing, and shot taking, we can’t peel that onion back further.  I have suggested two new statistics that may help ‘intuit’ time and space – that article is “New Statistics? Open Shots and Open Passes”: here.

In Closing:

For the future…  I’m interested in seeing how these analyses play out when separating out teams who show patterns of counter-attacking, and perhaps direct play, over teams that show patterns of possession-based football.

In addition, I’m also keen to see how these take shape when reversing the filter and organizing this data based upon whether or not a team is defending deeper, or more shallow.

The filter there will come from looking at the opponent averages for passing inside and outside the Final Third…

It seems reasonable to me (others may view this differently?) that the if a team lacks goal scoring they need to find the right midfielders and fullbacks that are good enough to create the additional time and space the strikers need in order to score more goals.

And that doesn’t even begin to address the issues in defending – which statistics continue to prove year in and year out as being more critical to winning than attacking.

Given all this information, I may have missed something – I’m always looking for questions/clarifications so please poke and prod the diagrams and analyses and comment as time permits.

Best, Chris

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

You can follow me on twitter @chrisgluckpwp

UEFA Champions League – Let the games begin…

Well, it’s started – the World Cup of League Football for most; at least in my eyes that is.

Who’s going to come out on top and who’s not?

Of course these teams are the best of the best (so-to-speak) and that means I won’t be using words/phrases like sucks, bottom dweller, or some other derogatory term to describe loser.

In other words no comparisons to Chivas USA, Newcastle (sorry lads and I did see Alan Pardew is under fire already), Levante or some other team not starting/doing well in regular season competition.

On to the Family of Indices in Possession with Purpose – but before going there a few obligatory reminders, on things past, in a competition such as the Champions League.

In case you missed it I took my possession with purpose analytical approach to the World Cup this year and here’s a reminder on how things started and then how things ended

As a refresh, the Composite PWP Strategic Index diagrams are provided below for that prestigious event:  How it started…

CPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

CPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

 And… how it ended:



Notice that the trends after Game 2 seem to be pretty consistent (in terms of what teams performed better and worse) all the way through to the final.

The overall R2 (correlation to average points scored) to the Final CPWP Index was .82; Goal Differential was .89.  The DPWP Strategic Index R2 was -.81 and the APWP Strategic Index was .65.

The Goals Scored R2 to average points was .69 and the R2 for Goals Against was -.74.

To be sure I was a bit surprised on how well the Family of Indices played out.

I’m hopeful the relationship will be somewhat near the same for the UEFA Champions League competition.

So how do the CPWP, APWP, and DPWP Indices show after Game 1?  

Well, it’s a bit earlier than the World Cup Indices but the intent here is to 1) let you know I’m tracking the Champions League this year, and 2) all the Index outputs will be made available for consideration.

CPWP Strategic Index Group Stages Game 1

CPWP Strategic Index Group Stages Game 1

Seems pretty clear that FC Porto would be where they are given the 6-0 romp over Bate Borisov.

It’s still very early days so we’ll leave it at that and just note that their were five draws.

Here’s the Attacking PWP Strategic Index offering up the first to worst team performances in Attack:

APWP Strategic Index Group Stages Game 1

APWP Strategic Index Group Stages Game 1

Perhaps a surprise in seeing Roma ahead of FC Porto?  Why is that?  

A couple of reasons and the last one, in my opinion, is the most telling one on who may proceed a bit further:

  1. Roma had 91.07% passing accuracy compared to FC Porto’s 86.65%
  2. Possession was basically equal (~67% each)
  3. Roma was 55% accurate in scoring goals based upon shots on goal; while FC Porto was 50% accurate.
  4. Roma had a 69.23% accuracy rating in having their Shots Taken end up on goal, as opposed to FC Porto (also very high) who was 60% accurate.
  5. Now for the final difference, and most telling in my view — FC Porto generated 23.53% Shots Taken per penetrating possession – while Roma generated just 11.40%.

Why do I have that one last, when it also shows that FC Porto exceeded Roma by over 10%?

The reason why gets back to patience, along with time and space…

Roma was patient.  They statistically, give the appearance, that they waited for better opportunities to take shots (more time and space to shoot) and that reduced volume of shots, per penetration, ended up generating a 9.23% difference in goals scored.

This is type of pattern, that good teams continue to show in Possession with Purpose analysis, reinforces for me that the ‘unmeasured’ amount of time and space has as much, if not more value, than the location of the shot taken.

As a reminder – here’s three previous articles speaking to that in better detail…

On to the Defending PWP Strategic Index and the teams performing best/worst in that area:

DPWP Strategic Index Group Stages Game 1

DPWP Strategic Index Group Stages Game 1

Juventus take the top spot – even ahead of the possession and passing mad Barcelona, the biggest difference really comes down to one team defending statistic:

With Juventus, Malmo FF completed only 36% of  their passes within the Juventus Defending Final Third.

While APOEL Nicosia were able to complete 56% of their passes within the Barcelona Defending Final Third.

Perhaps this is down to how deep or how shallow the back four for each team lined up in the defending half?

Perhaps not?

However viewed it should be noted APOEL Nicosia had fewer passes attempted, in total (292) , than Barcelona had attempted in the Nicosia Final Third (303).

Wow…  Not unlike the same run of play that Barcelona sees in La Liga.  But is that indicative of a team that is going to win the Champions League?

It didn’t work last year… I guess we will see.

In Closing:

It’s only one game – and trends can never be seen with just one game.

They do, however, provide a starting point for a trend.

Best, Chris

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New Statistics in Soccer (Football)? Open Pass and Open Shot

Over my two year course of analyzing/researching team performance in soccer I’ve come across a number of general issues I have with modern day statistics in this game and think there is room for improvement.

That’s not to say most of the current statistics have weaknesses – they don’t; the majority of them have function and purpose but in considering recent discussions with others at the World Conference on Science and Soccer, plus my own analyses and that of others I sense (think and feel) there needs to be a better way to answer this issue.

Sometimes what doesn’t happen on the pitch has more value than what does happen.  And my previous article entitled with that phrase is the impetus for this follow on article.  Another article previously written (Hurried Passes) also attempts to capture more background on these potential improvements.

To begin:

  • Much of what doesn’t happen in this game is as much, if not more critical, to the outcome/result, as what does happen.
  • Question – Is there a way to deductively or intuitively measure what doesn’t happen?  I think so.
  • Question – Do you feel or think it would be better to know the consistency of a striker scoring from ‘open shots’ versus a ‘hindered’ (not open) shots? This gives you two separate attacking data points for strikers – their success rate in scoring goals from open shots as well as their success rate in scoring goals from ‘hindered shots’. I do.
  • Question – Do you feel or think it would be better to know the successful consistency of a team/ individual player being able to make an ‘open pass’ or a ‘hindered pass’? This gives you two separate attacking data points for everyone – their success rate in making open passes as well as their success rate in making passes while being ‘hindered’. I do.
  • Question – Do you feel or think it would be more helpful to better quantify and qualify team and individual defending statistics that can be used to support what did and didn’t happen? I do.
  • If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions please read on…

Potential new statistics for soccer (football):

  • Open Shot – An open shot is when the striker can take a shot, directly towards goal, with no defender within a square yard or so that can hinder, or impeded the pure technical ability of a striker to strike the ball.  This offers a number of ways to analyze a condition – 1) the team has had the skill necessary to generate and create a clean shot on goal.  2) the defending team has been put into a condition where that open shot clearly indicates they were out of position, and 3) the defending team, when ‘not’ giving the opponent an Open Shot has done their best to be in a position to deny a clear shot on goal; in other words this is a deductive way of measuring ‘what didn’t and did happen’ with respect to good/poor team / individual defending and good/poor team/individual attacking.
  • Open Pass – An open pass is when a teammate can pass a ball, directly towards any other teammate, where no defender, within a square yard or so is present to hinder that pass.  This offers a number of ways to analyze a condition 1) the team has had the skill necessary to generate and create a clean pass to a teammate, 2) the defending team has either made a consicious decision not to challenge a pass from that area (note the location of the pass needs to be graphed) or the team was not in a good defensive position to hinder that pass, 3) the defending team, when ‘not’ giving the opponent an Open Pass has done their best to be in a position to deny a clear pass to another teammate; in other words this is a deductive way of measuring ‘what didn’t and did happen’ with respect to good/poor team / individual defending and good/poor team / individual attacking.

In closing…

I truly believe more effective and efficient analysis can come from defining passes and shots as being ‘open’ versus ‘hindered’ and by doing this it creates a more effective way to filter and help better determine what statistically doesn’t happen versus how current approaches are taken to measure what does happen.

And with this approach, other ‘did happen’, statistics like tackles, interceptions, blocked crosses, blocked shots can add additional clarity on the ‘did happen’ while the what ‘didn’t happen’ can now be more precisely graphed and plotted to better track good/bad zonal defending schemes versus good/bad man-to-man defending schemes – further identifying individual performance indicators that plot strengths and weaknesses of individual performance as as well as tactical coaching performance.

From an operational standpoint it merely means adding two new statistical categories (Open Shot and Open Pass) – the current statistical categories (Shot and Pass) would merely be redefined as being as the terms associated with shots and passes that are ‘hindered’.

And yes, it will be slightly judgmental (nothings perfect and even the refereeing in this game still remains judgmental) but with modern day technology I’m sure the video analysis programs can be tuned to generate that statistic based upon the physical presence of a data dot (of the player) relative to the other player making the pass or shot… – especially with the advent of GPS.

For more explanations on this concept read here (about 2/3rds of the way through the article)…

Best, Chris

If you’re in the world of soccer statistics and you think or feel these improvements add value please retweet.  In addition, under any circumstances 🙂 please add comments, as appropriate.

COPYRIGHT, All Rights Reserved.  PWP – Trademark

World Cup 2014 Final; the two best teams? You bet!

If you’ve been following my adventures in Major League Soccer you’ll know that last year the PWP Index did a pretty good job in showing how the team performances played out in comparison to the League Tables (without) including points scored in my calculations.

To be honest, with such a small sample point I really didn’t think the PWP Indices effort would stand up against the Tournament (knock-out based style) of the World Cup.

But after taking a look at all the games (and inputting the team performance from said games) my Indices seem to hold up pretty well – wonder when Pepsi or another company that begins with “P” will consider sponsoring my work?  (just kidding – erhhh maybe not?).

Anyhow – here’s the lay of the land as it was tweeted earlier today:



NOTE:  All games are entered – and the comparison of these games does include the extra games played as the competition has headed towards the finals.

In other words Germany, Argentina, Brazil and the Netherlands all have six games worth of data.  In developing this I figured the more data points for a team the more likely their percentages would be watered down.

So for a team like Spain, who went out in the first round I figured they’d be pretty high up – well they are but the pedigree of the Netherlands, France, Colombia, Argentina, and Germany all put them past Spain EVEN with more games played!

If you’ve read my presentation at the World Conference on Science and Soccer as well as my Introduction into Possession with Purpose you’ll know my measurement methods and data source for this effort.  I can’t thank MLS enough for the publicly available data that allows me to generate my Index formulas.

Perhaps Prozone or someone else might help me obtain the data I need for all the European Leagues, to include the Champions League?

So with the overall accuracy (pretty compelling it appears to me) I’ve put my Composite PWP Predictability Index to test for the final (ahead of time)…

Before offering that Index though here’s how the teams compared against each other in Attacking PWP and Defending PWP:



From an attacking standpoint Germany are top of the table with Colombia 2nd, France 3rd, and Argentina 4th.

And when witnessing that blowout yesterday is that really a surprise, perhaps somewhat, but even prior to that game Germany were 3rd best overall in Attacking PWP – behind only Argentina and Colombia.

So how about the Defending PWP Index?

Notice (below) that Brazil is 17th out of 32 teams; prior to that game against Germany, Brazil were 12th.

So while some favored Brazil – the overall team performance indicators did show that Brazil were behind Germany in both the APWP and DPWP prior to that game.

The same cannot be said for Argentina and Germany – those two split top honors as you can see below as Argentina heads this Index; while Germany is a close 2nd.



Also note, if you’re a supporter of the United States, they were much higher in this Index (21st best) than they were in the Attacking Index (5th worst).

It is worthy (and most probably realistic) that if the United States had taken a stronger attacking stance against Germany, and perhaps even Belgium, they might have been the team getting embarrassed and not Brazil!

Finally, here’s the CPWP Predictability Index:



A pretty close call; in this one Germany has the slight edge in Composite Predictability in comparison to Argentina.

Argentina is #1 in the DPWP Predictability Index (not pictured) and  Germany is 4th best.

Germany is #1 in the APWP Predictability Index and Argentina slides all the way down to 16th best.

A distinct difference in Attacking and Defending Predictability based upon previous team performance while excluding goals scored…

In closing…

The overall Composite PWP Predictability Index indicates Germany is better in attack and Argentina is better in defense; the Predictability Indices indicate the same outputs.

For me, and my PWP calculations this should make for a brilliant final this weekend!

No personal prognostications from me – my objective team performance indicators point one way in attack and one way in defense; usually in games like these the better defensive teams win…

Best, Chris

Paralysis by Over Analysis? My redux on the USMNT World Cup 2014

Sometimes there is simply too much analysis that occurs after a game of soccer…

A bit ironic coming from me but there is a point where analyzing a game or set of games, too far, leads you down the wrong road…

Four games does not a team make and four performances is simply not enough information to draw a conclusion about whether a team is better or worse than four, eight, 12 or 16 years ago.

For me – when looking at the style of football these past four years, there is simply no reasonable way to compare progress from World Cup to World Cup; I sense it’s over-analyzing the data and using it out of context.

The here, now, and future is what is important – not some time ago.

In the here and now short-passing, possession based (ground-passing game) has been a norm of sorts.

And the reasonable counter to that (when teams don’t have better passers and players with better ‘first touches’) is to yield time and space…

The Netherlands, Costa Rica, Colombia, and the United States used that approach to great effect – with three of those teams advancing (lower possession and lower passing accuracy with quick counter-attacking)…

The crux of that strategy not only includes yielding penetration into their own defending third it may also, when appropriate, mean yielding penetration up to the 18 yard box; a discrete area of space where numbers help, and the technical ability of some players can be hidden.

For those simply yielding penetration into the final third, it’s more geared to having the opponent over-committ and then leverage a quick-counter attack.

When your team is not blessed with better speed and better skills then the drop is sometimes deeper (the 18 yard box).

Jurgen Klinsmann took that approach and it almost paid off.

What Klinsmann looked to rely on was the mental emotion, raw energy, and spirit of the team taking over when the opportunity presented itself – and when going a goal down his injection of Green really inspired the team to step it up.

So for me, it’s not Klinsmann’s lack of ‘nous’ that created the need for the USA; it’s a diminished amount of players available in the United States who have that extremely high level of technical pedigree, that drove his approach.

This isn’t dissing the current team – they are all very-very good players; but just not as good as some other players in other countries.

And one only needs to see the performance of Tim Howard to know that great players (as in across the World great players) do come from the United States.

In my view (others may see this differently) that lack of ‘nous’ and technical ability doesn’t really change in the United States as long as this country (and media) remains fascinated with ‘JUST SCORING GOALS’.

This game is not just about SCORING GOALS…

I’ve said this before and I’m being redundant on purpose because I feel and think it’s important for others to understand.

It’s about preventing the opponent from scoring goals and it’s about creating the opportunities for teammates to score goals.

Goal scoring, for those who are statistics type folks, is the 3rd, 4th, or 5th standard deviation to the right of the bell curve considering all the activities in a game of soccer.

Until the professional Head Coaches in this country drive that fact home and until the mass media understand that and ‘laud and praise those players that bring those skills to the pitch’ this United States Mens National Soccer Team will always struggle to be the best in the World.

A shining example takes shape with the ESPY awards this year – who’s up for the award – all four players are ‘goal scorers’; no Besler, no Rimando, no Valeri, no Zusi, no Beckerman – where’s all those guys?

In closing… some basic statistics…

The US did not dominate possession (39.22%); why? Because they don’t have large numbers of players who are really-really accurate in passing and blessed with superb ‘first touches’.

The US did not dominate when it came to passing accuracy – they were 17th best at 80.67%; even Cameroon, who got nil-pwa were better in overall passing accuracy than the United States (81%)…

In looking at the amount of possession, in the opponents defending third, the USA only penetrated 18.52% of the time they possessed the ball and of those penetrations only 16.19% of them generated a shot taken.

So what happened to Cameroon – who played a more attack based game than the United States?

They had more possession (41.31%) than the United States, better passing accuracy, as noted (81%), more overall penetration into the opponents defending third (22.48%) and more shots taken per penetration (26.45%).

Bottom line they finished -8 on Goal Differential with nil-pwa; just how much would the media in this country accept a performance like that?

So for those calling for the US to have attacked more (or to attack more next time without the proper technical abilities compared to other top nations) bollocks.

Klinsmann knows his team and worked to maximize their output with the skills his players have.

Path forward?

It’s not all down to the media in the United States; though some need to take responsibility.

Part of that lack of understanding (in my view) is a lack of communication by professionals managing soccer in this country who fail to take advantage of the media exposure to reinforce that this game is not all about scoring goals.

MLS Soccer could do it’s job by leading the media to help others better understand the nuance of this game, and those, elsewhere, socializing the idea of sacking head coaches, strictly because of won-loss records, should do their research and offer up more substantive data than just wins and losses; just saying…

The game is about possession with purpose – do what you need to do to gain possession of the ball, move it forward, as appropriate, create penetration, create goal scoring opportunities that increase the chances of putting more shots on goal, and then… score goals.

Scoring goals is but one step in attacking football; a critical step to be sure but there’s a whole lot of other ‘stuff’ that needs to go right before scoring that goal.

The other part (and most important part statistically) is to prevent your opponent from doing just that.

Finally… for what it is worth, I thought the US Mens National Team did well this year but they could have been better.  Starting with:

  • Sacking Jurgen Klinsmann and bringing in someone who can teach the lads to build from the back and play controlled possession-based soccer.
    • All the greatest national and international teams ‘control’ the game.  Playing kick and chase is school-boy soccer; and adding Klinsmann has not fixed that.
    • In addition, the volume of tactical coaching errors and complete lack of controlled possession-based soccer, which all the greatest teams do, is telling.  Bringing on Omar Gonzalez to replace Graham Zusi in that game against Portugal was a HUGE tactical blunder.
  • Sacking Sunil Gulati – his time is past due.  We need someone to lead footy who knows footy.
  • Finally, here’s a reminder on where the USMNT finished in my Total Soccer Index:


In case you are wondering – here’s how they compared in attacking and defending (to the rest of the world) too:



I look forward to what the future holds in Russia in four years time…

Best, Chris

World Cup 2014 – Group Stages Completed; Who’s leading the PWP Pack?

No more draws… you’re out you’re out.  The true brutality of the game begins; if you’re faint of heart and don’t want to know how well the USA stacks up against the rest of the World in Possession with Purpose don’t read on.

I’ll lightly touch on my Attacking PWP to set the stage and then the reality of the Defending PWP and finally – the Composite PWP – it aint pretty if you fancy the United States…

To begin…



I walked through some major details on APWP in my last post so I won’t tarry here too long… a couple of things that stand out to me…

Only six teams fall below the pack of green bars up top – not a complete match but good enough when considering the ‘end state’ of PWP – come close to matching the League Table ‘without’ tracking wins, draws, and losses.

From an attacking standpoint there’s pretty solid evidence to support the USA being in a “group of death”; they ended up with the worst APWP in their group yet got through.

Not to be outdone though – there are the Greeks – they too finished lower than Colombia, Ivory Coast, and Japan.

Is the difference between this Index output and Results in the Group Stages a measurement of luck?

I don’t know but the outputs from the Index seem pretty compelling after just three games.

Now for the Defending PWP Index…



In short – the DPWP Index looks to have been much more accurate than the APWP Index; correctly ranking the top teams with just four exceptions.

For me that continues to reinforce that Defending (preventing the opponent from scoring) has more overall value than just scoring.

So how about some info behind the Index number; here’s the details on the differences between teams that advanced and teams that didn’t.

Opponent Possession: (PWP data point)

  • Teams not making the round of 16 who were in the top ten were Spain, Japan, Italy, Ivory Coast and Bosnia-Herzegovina.
  • Teams making the round of 16 who were in the bottom ten were Netherlands, United States, Greece, Algeria, Costa Rica, and Colombia.
  • Bottom line here; any approach with respect to possession can work provided the Head Coach has the right mix of players to execute that approach.

Opponent Passing Accuracy Entire Pitch: (PWP data point)

  • Opponents of the United States were the most accurate passers in the World Cup so far (87.33% accurate); perhaps another piece of objective evidence supporting how talented that Group was?
  • Other teams who faced opponents with high levels of passing accuracy, that made the round of 16, were Greece, Netherlands, Germany, Colombia, and Costa Rica.
  • The teams making the round of 16 that played against opponents with lower passing accuracy included Chile (lowest opponent passing accuracy – 76%), Brazil, Argentina, France, and Belgium.
  • Those teams “not” making the round of 16. that played against opponents with lower passing accuracy. included Japan, Spain, England, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Opponent Passing Accuracy within the Final Third: (Supplemental PWP data point)

  • Opponents of the United States were also the most accurate passers in the Final Third (76.33%); perhaps??? another piece of objective evidence supporting how talented that Group was?
  • Greece remains a bed-fellow in this category as well – opponents of Greece were also 76.33% accurate within the Greece defending Final Third.
  • Both teams were the worst in this category; and were the only two teams, in the worst top ten, to make the round of 16.
  • Might this be a good “team” indicator on how effective those team defenses were in communicating and executing their roles?  Or was it good luck or great goalkeeping?
  • On the flip side Spain, England and Ivory Coast faced opponents with the lowest averages of passing accuracy in the defending Final Third.
  • Those three teams were also in the top ten ‘best’ for this category; and the only three teams in that ‘best ten’ that didn’t make the round of 16.
  • Might this also be a good “team” indicator on how poorly those team defenses communicated and executed their roles?  Or was it bad luck or bad goalkeeping?
  • I’m not sure about the answers, to those questions, but it certainly might be a good place to start as England and Spain lick their wounds and prepare for Euro2016…

Percentage of Opponent Passes within the Final Third: (PWP data point)

  • The easiest teams to penetrate against, so far, have been Colombia, Greece, and the United States.
  • All three have seen their opponents penetrate their defending third more than 28% of the time given total possession of the ball.
  • Those three, plus Switzerland, also made the round of 16, all the other teams in the worst ten, for this category, are going home.
  • In looking at the teams with the least amount of penetration per possession we have France leading the pack at just 13.98%; with Netherlands next at 15.96%.
  • What is interesting about Holland is that their opponents possessed the ball (overall) third most (60.95%).
  • Truly amazing that with over 60% of possession their opponents penetrated just 16% of the time – can you say high pressure that was extremely well organized?
  • As for those who didn’t advance; Spain, England, Australia and Bosnia-Herzegovina were in the top ten for being stingy; the rest advanced.

Percentage of Opponent Shots Taken per Completed Pass in the Final Third: (PWP data point)

  • Algeria was the top team in preventing shots taken, per completed pass, in their own defending third (11.75%); next up was England, Iran, Australia, Russia.
  • Intriguing that six of the top ten teams in this category (Iran, Australia, Costa Rica, Netherlands, Greece, and the USA) were also six of the top ten in yielding possession and facing high passing accuracy numbers by their opponents.
  • Is that an indicator of a ‘solid’ team defensive approach within the defending Final Third (particularly the 18 yard box)?
  • I think so; another supporting indicator might be Blocked Shots; more to follow on that…
  • On the other end of the spectrum, France opponents took shots 33% of the time they completed a pass within the Final Third.
  • In other words, with just ~40% of the possession, the opponents of France were quick to take their chances… perhaps that’s an indicator that they weren’t given a lot of time and/or space?  Or is it simply down to impatience?
  • Others not yielding many shots taken, per penetration, were Chile, Argentina, Japan, Uruguay, Croatia, Brazil, Nigeria, Korea and Ecuador.

Shots Taken: (Supplemental PWP data point)

  • Spain and England faced the fewest shots taken of any teams in the World Cup.
  • Spain opponents averaged 8.33 shots per game and England’s averaged 8.67 shots per game – yet both failed to advance?
  • When they got exposed, they got exposed big time.
  • I’m not sure there is a way to quantify mental lapses but a good indicator to me that the balance of players in the back-four, for a team, is not good, is when they have high levels of possession in attack, high level of passing accuracy moving forward yet face few shots taken.
  • I talked about that in my previous post on APWP; perhaps??? this is another supporting indicator that helps point out that both England and Spain didn’t test themselves and push the fine line far enough between brilliance and boring.
  • Put another way perhaps???
  • Might this also reaffirm, that at least for Spain and England, the goals scored against were more influential in them losing than the goals scored for in winning?
  • On the flip side – the United States and Ecuador both faced over 18 shots taken per game…
  • So the United States not only faced opponents with high amounts of possession, high levels of passing accuracy, and high levels of penetration – they also faced the most shots taken – yet they advanced!
  • Is that great goalkeeping or good luck?  I think I’ve asked that question about the Americans before…
  • But before moving on – both Colombia and Greece were also in the top ten for shots faced – all the others with high shots faced did not advance.

Opponent Shots on Goal per Shot Taken: (PWP data point)

  • Remember that Colombia were in the top ten for shots taken by their Opponent…
  • Well that higher amount of Shots Taken did not translate to a higher amount of Shots on Goal – they were 4th best in the fewest Shots on Goal versus Shots Taken.
  • And a good reason why is they had the highest average in Blocked Shots of their opponent; 6.33 to be exact.
  • Brazil lead all teams in the fewest Shots on Goal per Shots Taken by their opponent; they were also third best in blocking their opponent shots.
  • In looking at the top ten; only Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia where in the top ten that didn’t make the round of 16.
  • And of the top 16 teams in this category, only Korea is in that pack who didn’t qualify for the next round.
  • A pretty strong single indicator, with the exception of Algeria and Switzerland, who were in the bottom five for this category.
  • Five goals against to France certainly didn’t help the cause for Switzerland.
  • As for the United States, Netherlands, and Greece?
  • Those three teams, where the opponent had high numbers in possession and passing accuracy, saw all three in the top 15 (defensively) for this category.
  • With the United States offering up 4 blocked shots per game and Greece averaging 4.33 shots blocked per game.
  • Netherlands, who had one of the 4th lowest shots taken against, was 11th best in minimizing shots on goal per shot taken; their blocked shots were only 2.33 per game (midway in the pack).

Opponent Shots on Goal: (Supplement PWP data point)

  • Only one team in the top ten, who faced the fewest Shots on Goal did not advance, England.
  • They faced the 3rd fewest Shots on Goal while also seeing 35.26% of their opponents Shots on Goal net goals.
  • A worthy note here is that England only averaged one Opponent Blocked shot per game – and ironically enough Spain was worst – averaging just .33 Opponent Blocked Shots per game.
  • The two surprise teams kicked out of the World Cup were the same two teams with the lowest amount of average Opponent Blocked Shots.
  • Other teams who moved on that had high Shots on Goal Against were Nigeria, Switzerland, Algeria and the United States.
  • If Blocked shots has value as a supporting indicator then Nigeria, Switzerland and Algeria are more likely to lose their next game than the United States.
  • Nigeria averaged 2.67 blocked shots per game, Switzerland averaged 2.33, while Algeria averaged 1.33.
  • The USA averaged 4 blocked shots per game – sign of a swarming defense that really focuses on protecting the 18 yard box.
  • All told, the rest of the teams in the top ten in preventing shots on goal were Brazil, France, Costa Rica, Belgium, Netherlands, Germany, Mexico, Uruguay, and Argentina.

Opponent Goals Scored per Shots on Goal (PWP data point)

  • Two teams in the top ten for this team performance indicator didn’t advance, Italy and Ecuador.
  • The top team with the lowest Goals Scored Against versus Shots on Goal was Nigeria; 7.69%.
  • Others following in the top five were Costa Rica, Germany, Mexico, and Colombia.
  • Both Greece and the United States did well here; they finished 13th and 14th respectively.  Netherlands, a team who gave up quite a bit of possession, was 12th best.
  • The teams with the worst ratio were led by Australia (56.11%) followed by Bosnia-Herzegovina, England, Hondurus and Japan.
  • Brazil was actually sixth worst and Belgium was 13th worst.
  • Might that be a worthy indicator where Chile may “upset” Brazil – or, given the Index information would it really be an upset?
  • How about the United States taking on Belgium?
  • The United States are good at blocking shots – while Belgium seems more inclined to yield space ‘within’ their 18 yard box.   Does that translate to an ‘upset’?

Goals Scored Against (Supplemental PWP data point).

  • Most seem to agree that one of the single greatest indicators is goals against; in looking at the top ten Goals Scored Against Switzerland lead the pack at 2.00 (per game) for all teams that are advancing; and yes that is a bit dodgy seeing as they gave up five goals to France – but it is what it is…
  • Mexico, Belgium and Costa Rica all lead the pack in fewest Goals Against (.33) per game.
  • The only team, not advancing, in the top ten not for fewest Goals Against is Italy (1.00) per game.
  • As for Greece and the United States?
  • Both finished on 1.33 Goals Against per game.
  • Overall, nine of the top ten teams in fewest Goals Against advanced.  And only one team, in the top ten for most Goals Against, advanced; Switzerland – against France.
  • Uruguay was the other team who matched the United States and Greece at 1.33 per game.

Final thoughts on DPWP:

  • The DPWP Index is not intended to be a predictability model; not with Goals Against included; but all told the Index looks very reasonable after just three games – far exceeding my initial expectations.
  • The Correlation to the sum of points earned (R2) is -.7988.
  • The Correlation of Opponent Goals Scored to sum of points earned is -.7366
  • The Correlation of DPWP to Opponent Goals Scored is .7994
  • All told the Correlation of DPWP to Points is the best Correlation.

In closing… Composite PWP:



Bottom line here is that with just three games played the CPWP Index shows just two teams outside the ‘bell curve’.

Pretty reasonable – and while many may poo-poo Costa Rica belonging in the upper echelon they finished in the top 7 for four of the six team defending performance indicators; while facing opponents who averaged 57.58% of the ball while also completing 82.67% of their passes.

As for the United States, even when removing that late goal by Portugal in the Index analysis, the CPWP for the United States would still be in the negative (-.3120) instead of (-.3596).  I.E. 6th worst and not 5th worst; that goal did impact the results table but really didn’t impact the Indices of PWP.

In thinking about the next round…

These Indices are not predictability indices, with Goals Scored and Goals Against included they can’t be; but… it does provide a great litmus test for showing which teams (and their overall performance) are on form and ‘what form’ / ‘style’ those teams might be playing to.

Given that, there’s a pretty reasonable chance that Germany beats Algeria, France beats Nigeria, Costa Rica beats Greece, Argentina beats Switzerland, and Colombia beats Uruguay.

Toss ups (and indeed what I think will be really great games) are Chile v Brazil, the Netherlands v Mexico and Belgium v the United States.

Chile can win against Brazil given their better than average defending (and) attacking PWP compared to Brazil; in other words Chile are showing themselves to be in better form.

The Dutch have been masters at the counter-attack and are very efficient in preventing Goals Scored Against; that will be a very dangerous game for Mexico!

With respect to the United States?

They have given time and space but still seem to hold on – it’s a tactic oft used by teams who aren’t quite on the same cutting edge as others – they just simply found the right mix to advance; can that continue?

And lest it’s forgotten – when it comes to defending the 18 yard box, no other team was more effective given the volume of traffic by the opponent!

Best, Chris


World Cup 2014 – Possession with Purpose; What do the tea leaves show?

The brutal facts of World Cup results are beginning to take shape now that 2 games are completed in the Group Stage; some surprises on both ends of the pitch to be sure.

Is the most surprising of all seeing both Spain and England tossed out with the early morning rubbish? Or is it the complete surprise by many that Costa Rica have slid into the final 16?

How all that happened can probably be talked about for ages – for my Possession with Purpose team performance indicators I’ll try to keep it simple and straightforward…

To begin… most consider the attacking side of the pitch to be the most compelling side; given that here’s the Index after 2 full rounds of play in the Group Stage:

APWP After Game 2 Group Stages

APWP After Game 2 Group Stages

Bars green in color are those teams that have already qualified; while those red bars are those teams that have already been elimiated..

Pretty compelling APWP Index so far in the World Cup and tracking along with the general trends already shown with Major League Soccer.

So in peeling back the five teams who are toast – are there any attacking trends that are different from those who have already qualified and those that are eliminated?

Possession?  Hmmm…

Spain have possessed the ball (63.7%) 2nd most in the World Cup so far – and Argentina, who have already qualified are best at 70.15%.

England sits at 53% possession (13th best) while Cameroon has 39.24%, Bosnia-Herzgovina just above  39% and Australia at 41.76%

Other teams already qualified are Netherlands and Costa Rica, both have less that 43% possession while Belgium sits just below 60% and Columbia at ~47%.

So possession, in some cases, shows as an indicator and in other cases it doesn’t; just like MLS.

Passing Accuracy across the entire pitch?

The top ten teams with the best passing accuracy are Italy then Argentina, Germany, Portugal, England, Switzerland, Ivory Coast, France, Spain and Bosnia-Herzegovina.

So out of the top ten teams, in passing accuracy, three of them have already been eliminated with only one already qualified!

Others who have already qualified; Costa Rica, Chile, Netherlands, Columbia and Belguim, are all below 85% in passing accuracy – with Costa Rica being the lowest at 77.50%.

Cameroon has been 81.5% accurate while Australia is 79.5% accurate.

So no – Passing Accuracy, across the entire pitch, isn’t really a great trending indicator on it’s own.

On the other hand is there a balance that might be expected?

In other words, do some teams have so high of a passing accuracy percentage that it reflects a negative on their game?

Put differently – are they trying to play too simple?

Passing Accuracy within the Final Third?   

The team with the best passing accuracy in the final third is Bosnia-Herzegovina (77%); the third worst team is Costa Rica (48.50%).  Where does Argentina fit in – 7th best – while England are 3rd best and Spain 10th best.

Columbia is 9th best, Belgium 11th best, while Netherlands and Chile are 23rd and 26th best respectively…

So again, no particular trends but does the same question apply?

Does a higher passing accuracy indicate a simplicity in the attack that represents the passes are ‘too’ simple and not creative enough to cut the fine edge between brilliance and boring?

Moving on to penetrations into the final third based upon passes attempted/completed inside and outside the final third…

The teams moving on are as low as 29th and as high as 6th best; the teams that have already been eliminated are as low as 27th and as high as 7th – mostly this team performance indicator is spread throughout the entire group.

The real difference begins to take shape when Shots taken versus Completed Pass in the final third are reviewed; here’s the tale of the tape in this team performance indicator.

The two teams with the best passing accuracy and best possesssion (that are eliminated already) happen to be 3rd and 8th worst in creating shots taken per possession in the final third (Spain and England).

So where they have high levels of possession and even higher levels of passing accuracy they have a huge drop in team performance when it comes to generating shots taken from penetrations.

So yes… perhaps the simplicity of some team passing activities is translating to a simplistic approach in shots taken; i.e. those two teams were simply too cautious in taking shots.

As for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Cameroon and Australia – all those team are in the top ten in shots taken per possession within the final third – so for those teams perhaps it’s more about them trying to over-perform and make up for weaker passing skills?

And as for the teams who have already qualified – well, Costa Rica and Netherlands (both low possession based teams) are on the higher side in this indicator – 32% and 26% respectively.

What is happening there is that those two teams have got the right balance and appropriate skill sets to ‘crush the opponent’ with minimal energy… balance…

On the other end Chile, Columbia, Argentina and Belgium are all in the bottom half of this indicator – again indicating that they two have the right balance of possession with the intent to penetrate and score…

By the way – just like Major League Soccer – teams that have won, or won and drawn, average fewer shots taken, per possession in the final third, than teams that have lost (18.77% to 20.14%).

Next up – Shots on goal versus shots taken… 

Like MLS, teams that have won or won ‘and’ drawn average 37.90% of those shots taken being on goal – whereas teams that have lost average 31.56% of those shots taken being on goal.

Leading the pack are Netherlands at 67.87%; while Cameroon is at the bottom – 9.73%.

The odd one here is Argentina – and that match against Iran didn’t help – they had 21 shots taken with just 4 on goal and one goal scored.

Otherwise the pack is spread about pretty equally.

Goals Scored versus Shots on Goal:

And… just like MLS, teams that have won or won ‘and’ drawn average 43.13% of their shots on goal as goals scored while teams that have lost average just 15.07% of their shots on goal as goals scored.

In Closing…

Below is the Defending PWP Index followed by the Composite PWP Index:  Same legend holds true; red bars = eliminated and green bars = qualified next round; Orange = undecided.

DPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

DPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

CPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

CPWP After Game 2 Group Stages

Pretty clear that the teams eliminated are coming out on the negative side of the CPWP (Attacking PWP – Defending PWP).

Teams doing well that (should?) advance – given the CPWP Index numbers (although) this is not a predictability model with goals scored included…

Group A  = Brazil with a slight edge to Mexico over Croatia?

Group B = sorted…

Group C = Ivory Coast over Japan?

Group D = Italy over Uruguay or does Suarez nail the Italians like he did England?

Group E = France and perhaps Switzerland given Hondurus probably don’t even belong to begin with?

Group F = Nigeria?

Group G = USA and Germany or does either Ghana/Portugal slide in?

Group H = Algeria or does Capello bring Russia back from the graveyard with a win?


Best, Chris





Taking on Portugal… USA – Sunday…

There is quite a bit of information to consider in how difficult this game will be – I’m not sure I’ll scratch the itch about everything but here’s some information I think has relevance for those who intend to watch the game this Sunday.

To begin…


The correlation of possession percentage to average points taken in the World cup after yesterday is (R2) .37 – in other words there is no real correlation between possessing the ball and winning – or for that matter drawing.

And maintaining possession wasn’t the issue against Ghana – it was lack of passing accuracy – and that led to poor possession.  So as others may ponder or offer that the US needs to add another midfielder in lieu of Altidore they may want to reconsider.  Perhaps if put this way it may be better understood…

The USA accuracy in passing against Ghana was 73% – fourth lowest of all teams in the World Cup.  Said differently; given the poor level of passing accuracy it is ACTUALLY better for the USMNT not to pass the ball more in the midfield – as more passes in the midfield – with a poor trend in passing accuracy – means more opportunity for the opponent to get a quick counter-attack that is more likely to result in a goal scored against.

A bit cynical but perhaps more accurate?!?


The formation that averaged the highest amount of possession percentage so far was the odd one labeled a 4-2-1-3; run by Croatia in their 4-nil thrashing of Cameroon.

Next up in the formation scheme with the highest possession percentage was the 5-3-2; which when in attack usually takes the form of a 3-5-2.  Both Mexico and Argentina have been very effective in that approach.

Third in the overall formation scheme is the 4-2-3-1 (also the most popular formation).  And, oddly enough, the amount of possession percentage that teams have had running that formation gets as high as 70% (for Nigeria) and as low as 29.75% (for Iran)

Another oddity is that the team most successful in running the 4-2-3-1 is Columbia; they have six points in two games – and their average possession percentage for those two games is 46.84%; again indicating that the 4-2-3-1 is not indicative of a game where midfield possession has value.

And the team with the most possession, in the 4-2-3-1, is Nigeria (70% possession) and they could only muster a draw against another team also running the 4-2-3-1; Iran.
If anything – this ‘formation’ is highly deceptive and it really doesn’t indicate – or even hint at meaning that the team running it will have more possession in the midfield.

The Diamond 4-4-2:  

So far three teams have employed this ‘formation’ and both Uruguay (game #2) and the USA (game #1) won their games with less than 38% possession.

In both cases – both teams were playing against other teams known for possession-based play in the 4-2-3-1  (Ghana and England).

So what about Chile, the other team to employ a Diamond 4-4-2; they ran that formation in game one against Australia and took three points while having 66% of the possession.

As for Portugal – they ran a 4-3-3; which – if you follow soccer pretty closely – is a very close cousin to the 4-2-3-1; a primary difference for some folks is whether or not the Head Coach wants to advertise playing a single pivot central defending midfielder or a double pivot central defending midfield pairing.

Viewed either way it usually means there is one true forward on the team and any number of multiple players who can act as a #10 or #8.

Bottom line here is that the formation that is publicized, prior to a game, really has no bearing on what style of approach a team might take.

An approach – keep it simple…  

The less some players have to think about on the pitch – the better.

In other words instincts built up over time (repetitive training) suggest Klinsmann will run Dempsey up top with another striker/forward; whether it’s Wondolowski or someone else really doesn’t matter.

The key is keeping it simple; if the player can afford to think less about positional play that opens the player up more to think about creating and using spaces (knowing) that his partner will be near-by — and vice versa.

The Midfield…

In looking at the first game it seemed pretty clear that the lone attacking midfielder (really) was Michael Bradley.

Bedoya added value in attack but his presence was more about defending the midfield and supporting the back – four; recall that the real wide right pressure actually came from Fabian Johnson and Graham Zusi after Ghana had equalized.

And remember a wee bit ago – Klinsmann wanted ‘game changers’ to be available on his bench – Zusi was a game changer; not a soldier…  if you run the game changers through the normal run of the game they get tired and can’t add that value when others are tired…

Next up was the tandem of Jones and Beckerman – the good thing here was both players are used to playing narrow and both players could rotate into a double pivot or, individually, control a single pivot system – flexibility….

And with Beasley, out wide left, and Johnson, out wide right, the speed of those fullbacks allowed Jones and Beckerman to drop deeper to clog the middle when Ghana had the ball.

The challenge, in all that, was dealing with crosses – as expected – in that narrow formation – Ghana offered up 38 crosses; with none of them ending up being an assist.

So what about Portugal?

In their game against Germany they offered up 21 crosses – and like Ghana – none of them ended up being an assist.

They have a stud up top named Ronaldo; all hands on deck for this guy – but perhaps the greatest danger he offers is his ability to create space for others.

A tighter back-four with support from the Midfield should help minimize those open spaces; but if the USA commits too many players behind the ball they, then, minimize their counter-attacking opportunities.

And lest it’s forgotten, that first goal against Ghana really came from a quick penetration (when the Ghana defense wasn’t set) – exactly the type of scenario you look for in a counter-attack out of the Midfield…

In closing…

Klinsmann will go with what he thinks best suits the scenarios he wants to work from in beating Portugal.

However viewed it is likely he goes with simple, strong and steady to start the game and then, flash-and-dash with perhaps some panache, to finish the game, depending on score-line.

For me that means two strikers starting the game – perhaps Wondolowski, this time, to pair with Dempsey?

More to follow…

Best, Chris


World Cup 2014 – Possession with Purpose – Nearly done with Round 1…

Draws – bollocks – teams are out to score goals – 43 of them so far – and there are still two games left in Round 1 of Stage 1 – but are the teams scoring the most goals really that dominant?

For many that’s a silly question but seriously – are there trends behind all those goals that might point to who’s advancing to the Finals and who isn’t?

I’ll look to try and answer that and a few others things – for now here’s my traditional Attacking PWP Index racking and stacking the teams against each other.


Attacking PWP - Stage 1 Round 1 World Cup 2014

Attacking PWP – Stage 1 Round 1 World Cup 2014

Netherlands is up near the top but the most comprehensive attacking display rests with Argentina – why?

  • 60% possession
  • 90% passing accuracy
  • 12 % penetration (patience)
  • 20% shots taken per penetration
  • 17% shots on goal
  • 100% goals scored per shot on goal

Others near the top are Chile, Germany,  and France – interesting that only the Netherlands had less than 50% possession – critical counterattacking and almost demonic in shooting – 71% of their shots taken were on goal  and 50% of those shots went in – no team, so far, has been more brutally perfect in having shots taken hit the target.

Oddly enough the next team who was best in their brutal precision were the United States – converting 50% of their shots taken into shots on goal – pure purpose in penetration – especially when both the USA and Netherlands had less than 38% of the possession.

As for the Germans – a Red Card taints their statistical outputs a wee bit but really – can anyone not expect them to win their group – the Yanks will have something to say about that but their critical game comes next against Portugal… sadly a team more likely to bow out given injuries and Pepe’s head butt.

As for the early World Cup doormats – well Iran and Hondurus really hold up the bottom – Iran had just 29.75% possession with 72% passing accuracy while Hondurus had a startling 28.71% possession with just 8.25% of their total possession within the French final third – can you say Détruit?

In looking at the overall correlation, after most teams have completed their first games, of Attacking PWP to Points is (R2) .79; pretty strong after just one game; how that holds up is hard to say but it’s reasonable to begin with.

Before moving on – a comparison, if you will, 19 of 28 teams have exceeded 80% in passing accuracy so far – in MLS just seven of 19 teams average greater than 80% passing accuracy.

So not only are the skill levels higher than MLS (as expected) but they are higher by at least one to two orders of magnitude – and that should have been evident in the USA win against Ghana.

All told the USA are 3rd worst in passing accuracy across the entire pitch; and in the bottom half when it comes to penetration per possession.

As noted by Alexi Lalas after the game – it was beautiful – and he’s right – given the considerable difference in skill levels between the USA and Ghana it really was beautiful to see the Americans win…  now – can Klinsmann get that to happen again?

In looking to answer my initial question…

I’d offer that a strong trend exists where teams who pass well – win… 28 events so far (14 games) and only four teams with passing accuracy greater than 84% have lost, Nigeria drew and the others, all nine, won…

Unlike the MLS, at least for now, the greater the number of shots taken means the greater number of shots on goal and goals scored – but by a slim margin – of the top 14 teams in shots taken per penetration just seven of them have gone on to win their first game.

But the best indicator is Shots on goal versus shots taken – 10 of the 14 teams who did that the best won their first game; one team drew and three teams lost – so passing accuracy is not the best indicator at this time but it clearly shows relevance…

In case you were wondering the top 14 teams in passing accuracy within the Final Third have won nine times and lost 5 times – slighlty less effective as an indicator but almost as strong as overall passing accuracy.

Perhaps ESPN begins to offer up more individual and team data on passing accuracy as these games continue?

Moving on to the defending side of the pitch…

There’s a hard line to draw here on the defending side of the pitch – are the great defending statistics more a reflection on how big the skill gap is between one team and another or is it down to a smothering approach that shuts down the opponent?

I’ll try to answer that question but first here’s the overall Defending PWP Index…

Defendind PWP Stage 1 Round 1 World Cup 2014

Defending PWP Stage 1 Round 1 World Cup 2014

Somewhat deceptive to say the least – Nigeria are best at the moment but their opponent was Iran?  I didn’t watch the game but rumor had it they simply didn’t belong; still they got one point and Portugal didn’t…

That said a different twist on this one – to put this into perspective I have filtered out all the teams that were below 85% in passing accuracy to try and guage the best of the best – so-to-speak.

When doing that there are just 12 teams who faced opponents with >85% passing accuracy; of those 12 teams the one with the lowest DPWP Index was Germany at 1.9898.

Next up were Argentina, Italy, and the Netherlands, every other team who faced an opponent who exceeded 85% in passing accuracy lost!  So for me the high water mark of a top team is one who faces an opponent with > 85% passing accuracy and wins…  Germany, Argentina, Italy and the Netherlands.

To begin to compare other teams by this Index, at this time, would be speculation – the only other notable piece of info I see of value is looking at the teams who ceded possession and still won.

Of the 14 teams that all fell below 50% in possession four of them won – the Netherlands, the United States, Costa Rica and Columbia…  Kudo’s should go to the defensive coordinators for those teams – at least for now!

In closing…

Here’s the Composite PWP Index after last night’s games:

Composite PWP Stage 1 Round 1 World Cup 2014

Composite PWP Stage 1 Round 1 World Cup 2014

As France sits atop the CPWP; Hondurus sits at the bottom – to say the least the French completely dominated Hondurus; to be blunt France more than doubled the output of Hondurus in every category, total passes (653 to 263), final third passes (190 to 47), shots taken (20 to 4), shots on goal (5 to 1) and goals scored (3 to 0)…

The Correlation of CPWP to Points (R2) so far .86; pretty strong – so we’ll see how well that holds up.

In considering early sleepers that many in the United States might overlook there is Chile, Columbia, Mexico, Ivory Coast, and Switzerland; still sleeping but ever dangerous are Brazil.

The odd ones out include England, Spain, Uruguay, and Portugal – wins in the second round of Stage 2 are must’s for those teams.

For me Bosnia-Herzegovina seems pretty dangerous as well.

I thought they played a very strong game against a very powerful Argentina – 85% passing accuracy, with roughly the same amount of penetration, speaks volumes for that team and given how poorly Nigeria played against Iran, it’s not unrealistic to see them progress out of the Group stages.

More to follow…

Best, Chris