Women’s World Cup Quarter Final Preview – France vs USA

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

The story of France in the group stage seemed to be a team who was solid defensively, but didn’t produce a huge amount in attack and this continued in their game against Brazil. The timeline function doesn’t seem like to extra time, but you can see the xG timeline below.

Valerie Gauvin’s goal was the only chance of quality France created in regular time, but they did a good job of reducing Brazil to low quality chances as well. Again, this isn’t a surprise, France have the 6th lowest xG per shot against and the 11th lowest xG per shot for.

Looking at their pass map, the most immediate thing to notice is the average position of left-back Amel Majri right alongside Eugenie Le Sommer.

It’s also interesting how Kadidatou Diani and Viviane Asseyi are so close to each other.

France could have been trying for some overloads on the right, particularly with Amandine Henry not too far away as well, but it didn’t really feel that way when watching it.

Their goal did come from some play down the right but, as can be seen below, it feels more due to the individual quality of Diani rather than something systemic like creating an overload. You could argue Asseyi being where she is isolates Diani 1v1 vs Tamires, but she still has a huge amount to do from there.

In the end France edged a win against Brazil, but it does feel as though significant improvement is needed should France want to progress against the USA.

The USA’s win over Spain was the first time in the tournament where watching the US didn’t feel like watching the Monstars. Spain did a great job of stopping the US and may have set a good template to follow for France in the quarters.

Looking at the xG timeline below, Spain survived a bit of a flurry after equalizing, but after that the US didn’t create much at all. The problem for Spain was that they didn’t turn their ventures into the opposition third into chances, creating next to nothing themselves.

Spain also did a great job at nullifying the likes of Tobin Heath and Alex Morgan, although the latter was reportedly carrying a knock. Rose Lavelle shined from deep and Megan Rapinoe was heavily involved, but cutting off the supply of two of the front three is definitely commendable.

This is the quarter final that everyone wanted at the start of the tournament and, with USA looking human against Spain, it feels as though the excitement for it and a possible France victory has only increased.

What I’m Looking Out For

How Each Team Defends

Before starting, a lot of this section stems from this piece over on StatsBomb by @EveryTeam_Mark.

In the round of sixteen previews I was interested in how Spain would play against the USA. Spain had a high percentage of pressures in the final third in the group stage, making it interesting to see whether they’d try that against the USA and risk leaving space in behind.

In the end, despite it leading to their goal, Spain’s numbers (both percentage and number of events) for pressures in the final third were considerably less than their group stage numbers. Despite this, there is a decent argument for France to try and press the US defenders.

As mentioned in the piece linked above, the US are one of the best teams for pass completion under pressure, but with the personnel of the back four, I do think there’s reasons to be optimistic should France opt to press.

Looking firstly at pass completion under pressure compared to not under pressure, the below chart shows passes made under pressure in their own half and the pass completion difference between passes made under pressure and not under pressure (negative means better pass completion under pressure). It’s worth pointing out that this doesn’t look into how they pass under pressure, someone could have good completion but only because they shuttle it back/wide.

Crystal Dunn is one of the strange players who completes more passes under pressure, but the name worth talking about is Abby Dahlkemper. The centre-back hasn’t made many passes under pressure, but she does tend to not complete as many under pressure. This could be from going longer when under pressure, given she’s completed the most progression p90 for the USA. (I would plot the passes she’s made under pressure but I think I’ve broken something)

Then, looking at progression, you can see Dahlkemper’s centre-back partner Becky Sauerbrunn isn’t very progressive on the ball, while the right flank lacks behind the left flank in progression too.

The lack of progression on the right flank was also seen in the Spain game. USA’s Progressive passes from their own half can be seen below – fair warning, it’s a mess, but I wanted to try and highlight who made the passes.

You can see Becky Sauerbrunn only completes two passes deemed progressive, while there’s almost nothing on the right flank. The main progression from their own half comes from Dahlkemper and Samantha Mewis.

I feel like this is definitely some food for thought for France and gives them a few options of how to approach the match. One option could be to shepherd everything towards the right flank and press there.

O’Hara didn’t have enough attempts to make it onto the graph, but her numbers for completion under pressure are the worst of USA’s back four. It means the two US players with the worse completion difference are on the right, while it also means they can try and stop the progression of Dahlkemper by cutting off her options and making her go wide. Once the ball is wide they can press O’Hara, who has poor numbers when under pressure and isn’t hugely progressive.

The left side doesn’t seem to offer itself to pressing quite as much in the defensive half, with Dunn being strong under pressure and Sauerbrunn not being very progressive on the ball. However, there is an argument to press Sauerbrunn given she’s less likely to progress the ball should the press be broken.

From a USA point of view, @EveryTeam_Mark made a great case for the US pressing in his piece. France are below average for pass completion when under pressure in their own half, while having forwards who have some of the highest miscontrol rates in the tournament.

It would be a risk, as the France attackers have the ability to punish the US, particularly with space in behind, but it seems like it’d be one worth taking given the numbers from the above linked piece.

France’s Wide Play And Midfield Battle

In the round of sixteen preview I mentioned how a lot of France’s attack revolves around the wings and this continued against Brazil – as can be seen in the pass map from earlier.

France seemed to be even more reliant on the flanks against Brazil, given the positions of Diani, Asseyi, Majri and Le Sommer, and it’ll be interesting to see what they do in the game against the US.

Crystal Dunn mostly plays in an advanced right position for her club side, yet plays for the US at left-back. Dunn has been strong on the ball but is yet to be truly tested defensively. If France play Diani on the right and try to isolate her 1v1 against Dunn, they might be able to find some joy on Friday.

The left side is just as interesting for France. Amel Majri has the best pass progression p90 numbers for France this tournament, while her average position against Brazil was ridiculously high up the field. It’ll be interesting to see whether she has to adapt her game given the threat of Tobin Heath on the same flank.

Heath doesn’t have huge xG numbers so far and was completely nullified against Spain, but if she’s given space in behind due to Majri bursting forward, she may be able to hurt France.

Alternatively, there could be an argument made that she has to track Majri and it’s then harder for the US to counter with their winger being deep in their own half. If she doesn’t track back she’ll be in the better place for the counter, but could leave Kelley O’Hara with both Majri and Le Sommer to deal with.

It’s also worth pointing out that France’s width could also help the US dominate in the middle. With Amandine Henry pushing forward a bit more against Brazil, looking at the average position on the pass map from above, Elise Bussaglia could be left alone in midfield. Even Henry and Bussaglia vs the midfield three of the US would struggle, so it’ll be interesting to see how France look to make up for this.

One option could be to start Gaetane Thiney, who has the most pressures p90 for France. She could play just off of Gauvin and look to sit on the deeper lying midfielder (either Ertz or Mewis) when France don’t have possession.

France could even be narrow when they don’t have the ball, swamping the middle of the park, before looking to press when the ball is moved wide. Leaving space out wide could be risky given the strength of the wingers they’re facing, but letting the US run the midfield is equally risky.

It’ll be interesting to see how France go about using the flanks without leaving themselves vulnerable to the midfield of the US.

Prediction

I really have no idea.

The USA looked like the Monstars before the Spain game, but now see a bit more vulnerable after it. Spain nullified their attack, but couldn’t turn their attacks into chances.

France have the individuals to punish the US, but haven’t had strong attacking numbers so far, with Valerie Gauvin their only player to have above average numbers for shots p90 and xG per shot.

I’m going to lean towards a France win, a big part of it is because I would prefer them to win, but in an even game with home advantage I feel as though they may just edge it.

The individual quality of France’s attackers should test the US defence, while France are capable of stopping the US attack being so effective, particularly if an unfit Alex Morgan is started again. It’s questionable though as to whether or not France can handle the midfield of the US.

Data from StatsBomb

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