Women’s World Cup Round of Sixteen Preview – Day 3

With the Group Stage of the 2019 Women’s World Cup done, I thought I’d look forward to the Round of Sixteen and check in on some of the numbers.

I was going to do a roundup of the groups, but thought I can cover similar points here as well as looking to see how teams match up. I’ve decided to just reel off some numbers (mostly xG, pressure and progression) about teams, then give a quick mention to something that seems like it might be fun to look out for based on the data, before giving a short prediction.

Like I mentioned in my previous posts, this World Cup is my first real venture into women’s football and I’m terrible with previews/predictions in general so don’t expect any predictions to be accurate, it’s just a fun thing to do.

I also made heavy use of the soccermatics (@JoeDGallagher) package and a few FC_rStats (@FC_rstats) packages (particularly the pitch) for this, which I’d highly recommend if you’re looking to use StatsBomb’s free data.

Note: I did make a slight error in the progression numbers on previous pieces (again) so some of these numbers may differ slightly from earlier ones. The method of progression looks at distance to goal compared to where the ball has been in the possession, the error ignored the possession bit.

Spain vs U.S.A.

With this World Cup being my gateway and crash course into women’s football I was excited to watch the USWNT and see the best side in the world, however, watching them has felt way too much like watching the Monstars to be genuinely enjoyable so far.

The 13-0 win against Thailand was incredible, but can’t really be used to judge the U.S., while a changed side comfortably beating Chile was a similar story. It was said the real test was the match against Sweden, but they also went and passed that with ease. The xG timeline below shows how after an early goal the result never seemed in doubt, with only a few Sweden chances coming after they were already 2-0 down.

The Thailand match would probably be enough to skew it even if they went and had poor performances against Chile and Sweden, so it’s no surprise to hear that the U.S. dominate on the xG numbers, having the best xG for and against.

Looking at passes that move the ball at least 20% closer to goal than the closest it’s been in the possession, you can see just how dominant the U.S. have been, with almost all the passes being made either in or just behind the attacking half.

* Ball moved 20% closer to goal than the closest it had been in possession to that point

There doesn’t really seem to be a whole lot to say about the U.S. so far or anything new learnt about them from the group games. They’ve done exactly as expected and are the team to beat.

Looking at individuals Crystal Dunn is a player who hasn’t been mentioned too much, with the attacking players taking most of the spotlight, but she has the highest pass progression completed p90 for the USWNT and 3rd in the whole tournament (I’ve excluded crosses for the time being).

Midfielder Samantha Mewis also combines strong progression numbers, 3rd most for the U.S., with strong xG + xA numbers. Her xA p90 is the highest in the tournament so far.

Spain only won one game in Group B, a 3-1 win against South Africa with two penalties, but have some strong numbers from a tough group, particularly in defence.

Looking at the chart below, Spain have decent numbers when it comes to progression conceded, while also having the best numbers for the completion rate of these passes.

This then converts into good xG numbers, with Spain conceding the 4th lowest xG in the tournament so far. They had even xG against Germany, but fell to a 1-0 loss, while they only conceded one shot to China and four to South Africa. Of course the attacks of China and South Africa aren’t in the same universe as what they’ll face in the round of sixteen, but it may give Spain a small bit of hope going into the game. The key passes into the danger zone they’ve conceded shows how they’ve been good defensively.

Looking at pressures, Spain also seem to do their defending high up the pitch. They have the 3rd highest percentage of pressures in the final third and 2nd least in the defensive third. They don’t have a high number of pressure events, but this is likely due to them dominating possession in each of their games so far.

Spain’s attacking numbers haven’t been terrible, having the 8th highest xG total, but they have struggled to create high quality chances, as can be seen on the chart below.

With this in mind, it’ll be interesting to see how Spain look to set-up against the U.S.. Spain have dominated possession in previous games, which probably plays a big part in why they’ve conceded so few chances. It’d be a big change for them to opt to sit back and look to soak up pressure from the U.S., but defending high up and leaving space in behind for the likes of Alex Morgan, Megan Rapinoe and Tobin Heath could be disastrous.

If Spain want to pull off an upset they’ll be hoping Jennifer Hermoso is at her best. Hermoso has been fairly quiet so far, with her only goals being penalties against South Africa, but she still has some strong numbers. She’s completed the 3rd most progression from passes p90 for Spain, which seems hugely impressive for a forward, while also having their 2nd best xG + xA p90 numbers.

Spain seem pretty balanced for progression though, not just relying on one player. Centre-back Irene Hernandez is their leader for pass progression, while in 2nd place is midfielder Alexia Puttelas.

What I’m Looking Out For

How Will Spain Look To Play?

Using WyScout numbers, Spain have absolutely dominated possession in their three games so far and it’ll be interesting to see whether they look to control the ball against the U.S.A. or retreat and play more defensively.

On the one hand, it’d be fun to see someone go toe to toe and try to really test the backline of the U.S., but, with the threat at the other end of the pitch, it feels unlikely. Spain could look to keep the ball as a more defensive measure, but that too seems a risky strategy with the pressing and counter attacking ability of the U.S..

Either way, it’s going to be interesting to see what Spain do on Monday.

U.S.A. Corners

I haven’t delved into the world of set-pieces like others have (@From_the_wing and @EuanDewar in particular), but the U.S. have the highest xG from corners so far and it seems to be something they work on, rolling out a few set-piece routines in the opening game against Thailand.

Spain have defended well so far but they’ve only conceded 4(!) corners in their opening three games, so it’ll be interesting to see how/if they cope with U.S.A. when it comes to set-pieces and corners in particular.

Prediction

It’s hard to see anything but a U.S.A. win. I’d quite like to see an upset, it’d not only be fun to see, it’d also feel like it’d blow the rest of the tournament wide open, but it’s tough to see it happening. Spain struggled to make good chances but had some good defensive numbers, however, it’s hard to see anything happening other than the U.S.A. steamrolling through them and meeting France in the quarters.

Sweden vs Canada

After saying it was hard to judge the U.S. after the group they had, Sweden are in the exact same position. They cruised through the two games they were expected to cruise through, before losing the game they were expected to lose.

Looking at the graph of xG and xG per shot above, it looks they didn’t create many high quality chances, but looking at the xG timelines and danger zone key passes of their matches, I think it’s more the fact they took so many shots it dragged down the average, rather than an inability to get chances in good areas. As can be seen by their key passes into the danger zone.

There really isn’t a whole lot to say about Sweden after the group they had, but one thing that’s interesting is how they have the highest proportion of pressures in the final third. It does stem from the first two games, with their percentage against the U.S. being a lot lower than their average, but they could opt to press higher again against Canada.

Again, because of the opposition, lots of Sweden players also shine for having good numbers for progression. Chelsea defender Magdalena Ericsson is one, which shouldn’t come as a surprise as she also has good numbers for her club, while Nilla Fischer and Sara Seger are the team leaders for progression.

Further up the field Kosovare Asllani has been passed fit and will be the player they look towards to make things happen, having strong numbers for both progression and xG + xA p90, as evidenced by the below graph.

Canada only conceded two goals in the group stage, both in their final game against the Netherlands, while having the 6th lowest xG conceded in the tournament so far – which is impressive considering the group they were in.

They were the only side in Group E to keep Cameroon’s attack quiet, having just 0.1 xG, before having a comfortable win against New Zealand (like everyone else in the group did), racking up an xG of 2.3 and reducing New Zealand to 2 low probability shots in the process.

Their loss against the Netherlands was fairly close, as they created some decent chances in the second half, with Beerensteyn’s goal being the difference in both goals and xG.

What’s interesting is Canada have the 2nd highest xG per shot conceded, behind only Jamaica, but looking at the xG timelines it seems it’s because Beerenstyen’s chance skews it so much, plus a decent value shot in the first half for the Netherlands.

Supporting Canada’s strong defence is their strong progression numbers. They conceded the 4th least progression and had the 2nd best numbers for the completion rate of these passes, which can be seen on the graph from the above game when talking about Spain.

Canada had the 3rd lowest pressure numbers in the group stage, but this is likely due to them seeing huge amounts of the ball during their opening two games.

Going forward Canada have some pretty good numbers, having the 7th highest xG so far and, looking at key passes into the danger zone and progressive passes, they don’t seem to have a reliance on a particular flank or method of creation. You can see below, while it’s mostly from the flanks, there does’t seem a bias towards either flank.

Despite just two key passes into the danger zone from corners from above, Canada had the 2nd highest xG from corners during the group stage. With the U.S. finding some joy from corners against Sweden it’ll be interesting to see if Canada can follow suit.

Sophie Schmidt has been Canada’s player with the most completed pass progression so far, while full-back Ashley Lawrence is second. Looking at xG numbers they seem to be fairly well balanced, Nichelle Prince has the best numbers, but didn’t feature in the toughest game vs the Netherlands. Christine Sinclair is 2nd, while Janine Beckie has the highest xA p90 in the team.

What I’m Looking Out For

Kosovare Asllani

Asllani has been huge for Sweden so far, having strong numbers when it comes to both progression and xG + xA. Sweden will likely need her to be at her best if they want to progress to the next round.

Canada’s Attack

While I spent more time talking about their defence, Canada seem to have a lot of attacking options. Christine Sinclair is the obvious name, but all of Sincliar, Nichelle Prince and Janine Beckie have put up good numbers this tournament, while 21-year-old Jessie Fleming has impressed, but not quite turned that into as big xG + xA numbers.

Prediction

I honestly have no idea. I’m leaning towards Canada, thinking it’ll be even but Canada’s attacking talent will see them edge it.

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