Netherlands vs Sweden

Netherlands vs Sweden Preview: A Tale of Two Tens

If we had been told before the tournament that Netherlands vs Sweden would be one of the semi-finals at the Women’s World Cup, we might not have been too surprised. But if we were told that they would have knocked out Japan, Germany and Canada between them on the way to the semi-final, we might have started to wonder what had happened in the competition.

Of course, the Netherlands are current European Champions and Sweden did make it through to the final of the World Cup in 2003 so these two teams are not without their pedigree. But neither side was entirely impressive in the run-up to this year’s tournament.

The Netherlands relied on playoff games against Denmark and Switzerland to cement their place and, although they qualified comfortably, Sweden also slumped to disappointing defeats to both Italy and Portugal – both teams they should have beaten comfortably – within the last year.

The comparisons do not end here. Both Sweden and the Netherlands play similar iterations of a 4-3-3 which can sometimes looks much closer to a 4-2-3-1. This ambiguity is determined by the way the number 10 functions within the system. Read More

Spain vs USA

Spain vs USA Preview: Will Spanish Chance Quality Prevent An Upset?

By the time the Round of 16 is reached in a knockout tournament, you can usually have a good sense of what to expect from a team in terms of line-up and tactics. Neither Spain nor the USA have given much of an indication what they deem their best XI to be.

Of course, short tournaments require careful squad management and, in the case of the USA, that is likely what we are seeing. For Spain, though, there is more of an uncertainty about how they should set up their team.

We have already talked about the Spanish team’s woes in front of goal. These woes have continued throughout the group stages. According to Michael Caley’s Expected Goals model, Spain have picked up one non-penalty goal from 5.7 xG in their first three games. Read More

Scotland vs Argentina

Scotland vs Argentina Preview: No Wiggle Room For Kerr

Context, they say, is everything.

On paper, Scotland’s first foray into World Cup football looks encouraging: a couple of two-one defeats against top-ten-in-the-world opposition and the chance to qualify for the Round of 16 with a good result against Argentina on Wednesday.

But scratch the surface and there are worrying tendencies which put something of a dampener on proceedings in France. In both games, Scotland rolled over in the first half, giving up two goals, one of which was a (admittedly soft) penalty. In both games, there were tactical tweaks which saw Scotland come out stronger in the second half.

And in both games, there were late goals: too late to change the course of the result. Going into their final group game, Scotland will have to avoid following the same trajectory if they are to make it into the knock-out stage of this tournament. Read More

Germany vs Spain

Germany vs Spain Preview: Unproductive vs Misfiring?

On the face of it, the World Cup is going swimmingly for those two European footballing powerhouses, Germany and Spain. With a win under their belt after their opening fixtures, both teams look to be on target for a comfortable progression into the knock-out round of the competition.

Although they face one another on Wednesday in what should be the deciding match for the group winner, a final group match against South Africa for Germany and China for Spain would suggest that both of these sides would make it through to the Round of 16.

But scorelines can be deceiving. On Saturday, Germany struggled to a 1-0 win over China in a match that China will have been disappointed to have come out of without at least a point. As Michael Caley’s xG map of the game shows, while Germany maintained pressure throughout the game, they did not translate their control into good chances. China, on the other hand, although they gave up possession and looked to counter-attack their opponents, ended up running out with the best chances in the game. Read More

Huddersfield vs Manchester City

Huddersfield vs Manchester City Preview: New manager bounce?

There may not be any sport which is drawn so magnetically to the apocryphal as football. The idea that marquee signings recoup their value through shirt sales. Pundits citing win-loss records from the last 50 years in games between two teams who are now made up of entirely different players. The idea that there is such a thing as a ‘ball to hand’ rule. And then there is the New Manager Bounce.

It seems obvious enough: you get rid of your old manager; bring in a new one; the results are almost certain to turn around at once (even if only for a short period). There is only one problem: it’s almost certainly not true.

When Omar Chaudhuri, head of football intelligence at the London-based sports consultants 21st Club spoke to Reuters about the New Manager Bounce, he was quite clear — there is no evidence that it exists:

“What we see is that when managers are sacked, a lot of the times their teams have been playing okay, but without luck. It only needs one crucial moment per game to go against you and that is the difference between three points and one or one point and no points. In most cases sacked managers are unlucky.

“It’s like calling tails five times in a row in a coin toss and losing each one. The next person calls tails and wins. It’s the same with a football manager.”

Read More

Southampton vs Manchester City

Southampton vs Manchester City Preview – A Tale of Two Cities

It was the best of teams. It was the worst of teams. At least as far as the Premier League table was concerned.

It was Matchweek 16. Southampton had just lost 1-0 to Cardiff City and found themselves in 19th place – level on points with Fulham who were sat just below them.

At the other end of the table, Manchester City had fallen to Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea, having been unbeaten in the league before that. Liverpool had managed to sneak ahead but, as everyone was saying, every team has to lose at some point and Chelsea seemed as likely a team as any to inflict first blood on Pep Guardiola’s team. City were still the overwhelming favourites to take home the Premier League trophy at the end of the season.

Since then, the tables have turned: recently-appointed Ralph Hasenhüttl has reversed Southampton’s fortunes, seeing them victorious against Arsenal and Huddersfield in his first four games in charge. Read More

Leicester City vs Tottenham

Leicester City vs Tottenham Preview: The shifting press

It’s funny how the momentum seems to shift from game to game in the Premier League this season. Of course, in part, this comes from the media need for interest to be generated across a 38-game season. But in this case, the artist formerly known as the Top 4, now imaginatively titled the Top 6, has something of a turbulent feel to it.

Take Spurs, for example. Going from a 3-1 win over London rivals Chelsea to a 4-2 loss to London rivals Arsenal (via a 1-0 win over Inter in the Champions League), it’s hard to know exactly how we should be viewing Mauricio Pochettino’s team.

Not that a team is only as good as it’s last game. In many respects, Tottenham’s loss to Arsenal can be traced to a failure in its ‘diamond’ pressing system to account for Arsenal’s ability to use width. Read More

West Ham vs Manchester City

West Ham vs Manchester City Preview: What hope the Hammers?

Previewing Manchester City games is like reading Romeo and Juliet for the first time: you know how it ends even if you don’t know how it will quite get there.

Pep Guardiola’s team are favourites to take home the Premier League trophy again this season. If you doubt this fact, then maybe the data will convince you. Take, for example, expected goal (xG) values from the 12 games so far this season. Of the top six teams, Manchester City are the only side who have consistently produced a greater xG for than their opponents have produced against them.

West Ham vs Manchester City Premier League Preview

If this isn’t impressive enough as it is, City’s average xG For – hovering, as it is, just below the 3 xG per 90 line – has only been bettered by Manchester United in one of their games so far (against Bournemouth away). Guardiola, then, is producing an average xG For better than Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United have managed in 11 of their 12 games. Read More

Arsenal vs Liverpool Premier League Preview

Arsenal vs Liverpool Preview: Will regression decide the outcome?

With over a quarter of the season gone, it may seem odd that, when Arsenal and Liverpool clash on Saturday evening, there still remains uncertainty about how good either of the sides are. But neither of the opponents from Matchday 11’s most intriguing tie have lived up to the sort of numbers they have been posting in the Premier League so far this season.

In many respects, Arsenal are to this season what Manchester United were to last season. Despite finishing second in the league last year, Jose Mourinho’s United scored nine goals more than their expected goals (xG) values suggested they would, conceding 15 goals fewer than the same metric projected they should have conceded. As any statistician worth their salt will tell you, over- or under-performance against xG values is unsustainable in the long run and, lo and behold, this season, Manchester United find themselves regressing towards the norm with wild abandon. Read More

Southampton vs Chelsea Premier League Preview

Southampton vs Chelsea Preview: From ‘good Napoli’ to ‘good Chelsea’

For anyone who had caught much of Napoli during the past three seasons, the arrival of Maurizio Sarri in the Premier League during the summer promised to be something of a treat. With his eponymous Sarri-ball, the former investment banker had been beguiling aficionados of Serie A for whom Sarri’s high-energy pressing and breakneck transitions had almost seen them topple Juventus at the end of the 2017/18 season.

However, lest it was assumed Chelsea would be re-created in Napoli’s image under Sarri, he was quick to qualify the fan’s expectations of Sarri-ball 2.0.

‘I don’t want to do another Naples,’ he said earlier in the season. ‘I want to do a good Chelsea. I have to adapt myself to the characteristics of this championship and of (my) players. I am studying my players.’

Of course, in speaking of ‘my players’, Sarri was not entirely correct in differentiating between Napoli and Chelsea. For he had brought one player with him who would be the rock upon which he would build his new church in West London: Jorginho. Read More