Women’s World Cup Quarter Final Preview – Norway vs England

After previewing the round of sixteen matches, I thought I’d carry on and have a quick look forward at the quarter final matches in the 2019 Women’s World Cup. I’ll try to do them all again, but I’m not sure if I’ll be able to this time around.

After reeling off numbers of how teams fared in the group stage in the previous previews, there’s no point doing the same again, so I thought I’d give a quick look at their previous match before pointing out a few things that have stood out so far and may be worth looking forward to in the upcoming match.

Once again, I’ve made heavy use of 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.

How They Got Here

I mentioned in the round of sixteen preview that Norway didn’t have strong numbers at all in the group stage and I really couldn’t see them beating Australia based on those numbers. Of course, I was made to look stupid and Norway looked impressive against Austrlia.

In defence they did a good job of keeping Sam Kerr quiet. They had an early scare, with Kerr firing a shot just wide, but she only had 3 shots all game, with only the first having an xG above 0.1.

The timeline function doesn’t seem to like a match that involves extra-time and penalties and I’m too lazy to try and hack together a quick fix, but both sides had an equal xG after 120 minutes, mostly coming from lots of low quality shots. No one reinforces this more than Caroline Graham Hansen, who was almost a one woman attack during the game. She took 11 shots against Australia, but only one of them was over 0.1 xG.

Looking at their pass map, you can see how they line up in 4-4-2, with the midfield two, Ingrid Engen and Vilde Risa, being more defensive and allowing the full-backs to get forward and provide the width.

The difference in the average position of the wide players is also interesting, with Saevik staying wide and supporting Ingrid Wold, while Guro Reiten comes inside and opens up space for Kristine Minde on the overlap.

After not being keen on them in the group, I did like what I saw from Norway in the game against Australia. The square of the two centre-backs and midfielders offer solidity in defence and are all adept at moving the ball forward, the full-backs provide width well, while the likes of Reiten and Graham Hansen can drop into space to pick up the ball and help progress the play.

The scoreline may make it look like a routine win, but England didn’t have an easy time against Cameroon, as can be seen in the xG timeline below.

It’s worth pointing out the goal by Steph Houghton has a much higher xG value in other data, but I’m assuming this is because StatsBomb are one of the only places that takes into account the fact the entire Cameroon team was on the line for it.

While England dominated the ball, they didn’t do a great job of creating chances against Cameroon. They had just three shots in the first half, with the Ellen White goal being the only one that can be considered a good chance. It wasn’t until the game became stretched and England were already 3-0 up that they created some chances again.

England also seem to have done a good job of not conceding chances when on the ropes in games. Each game has seen England have a bit of a slump after a strong start, yet it hasn’t really resulted in chances for the opposition. It could just be luck, with a trailing leg from Gabrielle Onguene making a big difference, but the only real chance Cameroon had came from a poor backpass from Alex Greenwood.

With Cameroon having strong numbers for pressuring the midfield, it’s not a huge surprise they managed to get a chance following some pressure, particularly given the left-hand side of defence, with Alex Greenwood and Millie Bright, don’t seem as comfortable on the ball as the right-hand side. Norway don’t have as high numbers as Japan or Cameroon when looking at pressuring either high up the pitch or in midfield though, so it may not be as big of an issue in the quarter final game.

What I’m Looking Out For

England’s Right Side

I’ve mentioned England’s right side quite a lot during the last few posts, but, not only was it important at the start of the tournament, it feels as though its influence is growing in each game.

The pass map from the Cameroon match shows just how much England looked to create overloads on the right hand side with Jill Scott’s average position being that of a right-winger, while Fran Kirby was also closer to the right.

What’s also apparent from the above pass map is the influence of Lucy Bronze. Phil Neville has called the right-back the best player in the world, so it’s no surprise that England look to involve her a lot. Looking at England players with more than 150 minutes, Bronze has the 2nd most completed pass progression p90, behind Steph Houghton, and the 3rd most xA p90, behind Beth Mead and Fran Kirby.

What’s interesting, however, it that Nikita Parris has looked impressive on the right side, but hasn’t turned that into a good contribution in front of goal. It’s a tiny sample and one good chance is enough to skew everything, but, again for players with over 150 minutes, she only has the 7th highest xG + xA p90 for England.

It’d seem harsh to drop her and disrupt the flank that has been so important in progressing the ball for England – Parris does have the 2nd best numbers for pass progression received p90 – but if Neville wants to stick with Duggan on the left, to have her drop into midfield and help with the build-up there, there could be an argument for having Beth Mead on the right.

Mead’s xA numbers are skewed from the Jodie Taylor goal vs Argentina, but she also has the 2nd highest xG p90 for England, behind only Ellen White. Duggan hasn’t necessarily done badly on the left, she has the 4th highest xG + xA p90 and has played in England’s two toughest games, but England not using one of their most productive players (Mead) for the latter stages of the tournament does feel odd.

Ellen White’s Importance To England

There was some debate about who would lead the line for England going into the tournament, but Ellen White seems to have ended all the discussion with her performances, particularly her two goals against Japan.

White’s goalscoring is what grabs the headlines, her four goals in three games make her a contender for the Golden Boot, but it’s only a part of what she brings to this England squad. Her goalscoring definitely deserves praise, for those with over 150 minutes, only Carli Lloyd has a better xG p90 than White. Then, for players with more than 10 shots, only Sam Kerr manages a better xG per shot than the England forward.

White is also the only England player who takes an above average number of shots with an above average xG per shot, as can be seen on the chart below.

It feels as though England really need to try and have their wingers and midfielders take more shots. Jill Scott is the only player with an above average number, but they tend to be low quality, while midfielder partner Fran Kirby has only taken one shot all tournament. Mead is the pick of the wingers thanks to a good xG per shot, but none of them look great here.

White’s attributes off the ball also set her apart from her England teammates, as well as most other players at the tournament. The below graph shows White’s pressures in the final third and the pass progression received p90.

England do send quite a few long passes into White, which explains the progression numbers, but she tends to be strong at receiving the ball with her back to goal, whether it’d be to feet or in the air, and look to bring others into play. It offers England a decent outlet, knowing if they’re under pressure when trying to build from the back they can look long towards White.

Caroline Graham Hansen

This point probably doesn’t need expanding on with almost all of Norway’s attacks against Australia flowing through Caroline Graham Hansen, but it’s still worth talking about. She was an injury doubt going into the round of sixteen, but ended up playing all 120 minutes of the games and never looked like she had any kind of hindrance.

Despite her influence, as mentioned earlier, the majority of her shots do tend to be low quality. Looking at those with 10 shots or more again, Hansen has the 4th lowest xG per shot, with most of her shots coming from tight angles, as can be seen below.

It’s also worth pointing out she hasn’t been Norway’s most productive player for xG contribution this tournament, with Karina Saevik having the top spot and Hansen slightly behind in 2nd.

It feels as though her dribbling ability may be able to hurt England in transition, as she has the 4th most attempted dribbles p90 in the tournament.

I’m a big fan of Keira Walsh’s, but she isn’t exactly a ball winner. Despite having the 4th most pressures p90 for England, she has the least defensive actions (using attempted tackles, interceptions and ball recoveries) p90.

It may not be too bad of an issue, the pressure numbers indicate that she could shepherd Graham Hansen wide to have more low quality shots, but if England are caught with players forward, leaving Graham Hansen space to run with the ball, she could punish England on Thursday.

The Norwegian Square

As mentioned earlier on, Norway’s two centre-backs and central midfielders tend to create a square when they build-up play, allowing the full-backs to get forward and provide the width.

It’s a tactic I quite like and can be seen very early on in the game against Australia.

It allows them to do quite a few things. As already mentioned, it gives the centre-backs protection which allows this full-backs to get wide and then pin back the opposition wingers.

It also helps give them an overload when the build-up play and look to get the likes of Reiten and Graham Hansen on the ball in dangerous areas, who can drop into the half space areas and receive the ball to feet.

England tend to look to create overload in wide areas, while Norway do it in the centre. It seems a fairly tough thing to combat and it’ll be interesting to see how England look to approach it.

In the above clip the Australian left-winger is drawn inside, which creates huge space out wide for Moe Wold, but in the end Risa turns and looks to play centrally.

One option could be to push the England midfield forward and have (presumably) Jill Scott and Fran Kirby right on Engen and Risa to stop them from playing out, while having the wingers block passing lanes to the full-backs. I’m terrible with these diagrams, but something like this:

However, the problem then becomes the space in midfield should Norway progress the ball. The likes of Reiten and Graham Hansen will drop into little pockets of space behind Scott and Kirby and if they can be found, it’s a great chance for Norway to get forward.

If Reiten gets it, she could be followed inside by Bronze, creating the space for Minde on the overlap. Or Hansen could drift into the right halfspace area and bring Walsh with her, removing any protection from the back line and only needing to beat Walsh in a 1v1 before being able to run at the centre-backs.

Alternatively, England could have the wingers come narrow and press and have the midfielders stopping the balls through to the advanced players, leaving the easy ball out to the full-backs as the outlet. Again, I’m awful with the diagrams, but something like this:

When the ball is played to the full-backs, the ball side midfielder could press and try and stop progression inside to the likes of Reiten or Graham Hansen.

Again, it’d be a risk though. If Norway push it to Minde on the left and Scott presses, it opens up space in the middle for Reiten or Graham.

Like in the Australia game, there’ll be times when it is the midfielder who steps up and others when the wingers come inside and press, it’s just about determining which one is best at the time. @EveryTeam_Mark wrote a great piece about pressure in the World Cup so far, featuring a great bit on how the Norwegian centre-backs pass when under pressure and how England could look to use that.

As you can probably tell, this more tactical area isn’t a strength of mine, but I am looking forward to seeing what England do without the ball and how they look to stop the service to the likes of Graham Hansen and Reiten, particularly as Norway don’t seem to mind going short or long from the back.

Karina Saevik

After mentioning the defensive square, the attacking full-backs and the likes of Reiten and Graham Hansen dropping into pockets of space, one player I haven’t mentioned is Karina Saevik. The 23-year-old has only started two games for Norway, but she’s put up some impressive numbers in that time.

She has Norway’s highest xG + xA p90, 3rd highest pass progression p90, 2nd most attempted dribbles p90, most pressures p90 and 2nd most defensive actions (using the same actions as above) p90.

With England’s left side not seeming as strong as their right side, Saevik could be an important player for Norway, should she start.

Prediction

It’s a tough one to call.

Norway didn’t have great numbers in the group stage and didn’t create chances of great quality against an often criticised Australia defence, but they feel as though they could cause England some problems on Thursday – particularly with their midfield and attacking full-backs.

England have some good numbers, but have survived a few close scares at the back and don’t have many players generating a lot of shots.

I’m going to say England will win and set-up a huge semi-final with the winner of the United States and France, but I don’t feel all too confident in saying that.

Data from StatsBomb

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