A brief note of the very good stuff over on StatsBomb which I’ve been editing during the World Cup: last week I wrote about what we’d learnt about the contenders for the trophy over the first couple of games, Anushree Nande wrote about some of the stars of the group stage, and after Australia went out I wrote about why I’m sad that Sam Kerr is no longer in the tournament.
Hello, hello. I know I said that the newsletter would take it slow during the World Cup but there’s so much football that I couldn’t ignore it.
A sincere thanks to everyone who got in touch after last week’s with feedback. I appreciate not just the thoughts, but that people care enough about this to read and comment on it.
But on with this week’s. Four things this edition:
- Um, doubts about Harry Maguire being worth £80m to Manchester City
- Breaking down how Australia scored their Olimpico against Norway
- Learning striker technique from Gyasi Zardes (no, seriously)
- Defending on corners in the World Cup with Nigeria: A Sequel
Harry Maguire, for £80m?
Harry Maguire is rumoured to be on the brink of an £80m move to Manchester City and… lemme just say I’m not convinced.
I’ve heard arguments from smart people that Maguire offers something pretty damn unique in his threat at attacking set-pieces and in ball progression. Fine (although I’m still wary of his touch at times). I’m also aware that I haven’t done a deep dive on him so this is more gut instinct than I would normally like.
But. One wonders how much homegrown status is adding to the fee.
Maguire has pretty nice and light footwork, but he isn’t exactly quick. I’d prefer to check the stats on this, but I suspect there’s a significant gap in the average height of tackles that City centre-backs and Leicester centre-backs are forced to attempt.
I’m also somewhat unsure about his one-on-one type defending. There’s no getting around the fact that he’s a big unit (skeletally, and for once this isn’t being used as a euphemism for fat). It takes real elite level skill to control the body properly in situations where a wrong move by a split-second or a few inches can be all the difference.
Take this moment against Southampton at the start of 2018/19 [below]. Redmond is driving at the Leicester defence, and Maguire is pointing at (I think) Ben Chilwell to close the man down (partly because pinching into midfield seems to have been part of Chilwell’s job, partly because Maguire doesn’t want to step up to face it).
Redmond continues to drive inwards, and this can no longer be passed on to Chilwell.
At some point, Maguire is going to be forced into action, but it’s a matter of when. He does quite well to keep his feet moving however I think he commits to the challenge too early [the exact moment is below].
From here, Maguire stretches to reach the ball. Being so big, he does have a large reach, but Redmond gets around him with relative ease.
Although Redmond got around him, I think that stretch is an invite for a forward to draw a foul. Covering that much distance, the only alteration that you can make if you realise you’ve misjudged it is to stretch further or try (and probably fail) to pull out completely.
Redmond was bumped off the ball by the backtracking Nampalys Mendy (No.24) a second later, which also could have been something that a more savvy/cynical forward would draw a foul from.
The takeaway from the moment isn’t that Maguire is ‘bad’, rather that there are aspects to his decision-making in one-on-one type situations that I find questionable. On the surface, this isn’t necessarily a reason to call off the transfer - everyone has some kind of hole in their game somewhere.
But the thing with City is that I would worry that this is the type of defending that would take up most of Maguire’s workload (when he actually has to defend).
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Scoring an Olimpico
Has a goal been scored direct from a corner in a World Cup before? Probably not, until Saturday, when Elise Kellond-Knight managed it for Australia against Norway (Norway later won on penalties).
But how did it manage to find its way in?
This is a still from the corner swinging in, and there are two things to highlight.
One is the Australian player making a run past the near post and her marker, the other is what’s happening near the goalkeeper.
The ball ends up going straight through the people at the front post, which is unusual but not unheard of. The weirder thing is that the player who’s right on the Norwegian goalkeeper’s toes… is Norwegian. How does she end up there?
Below is a still from another angle, at a point a split-second before the previous one. It turns out that this Norwegian was just one of the deeper zonal markers.
As the ball came in, she moved backwards - I think aiming to be in line with the ball to clear it, but she may have been moving back onto the post. Whichever it was, her goalkeeper didn’t seem to be aware that the defender would be making that movement, because they both went to try and cover off the front post and/or intercept the ball.
If the defender had stayed where she was, she’d have cleared it. But relying on a defender to move from their spot to block their own goalkeeper probably isn’t a good strategy for trying to score Olimpicos though, I don’t think the set-piece coaches of the world will be drawing it up as a strategy anytime soon.
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Learning from Gyasi Zardes
When people want to know who are the players they should learn from, Columbus Crew’s Gyasi Zardes probably isn’t one of them. But one of his goals against Trinidad & Tobago at the weekend showed a moment you should 100% show your young strikers.
The ball is with Christian Pulisic on the wing, and our intrepid hero Zardes has been making a run across the central defender when Pulisic cuts inside.
As Pulisic cuts further inside, approaching the centre of the pitch, it becomes apparent that the run Zardes was originally making isn’t going to a) receive a pass b) be useful even if it did.
Check the timestamp, 68:19. Less than half a second later, Zardes has flipped to face the other direction…
…which means his body is perfectly positioned to receive the pass from Pulisic and be able to open his body up for a curled shot past the ‘keeper with as little time and effort taken in the box as possible.
This flip isn’t something that every striker would do when their first run doesn’t come off like they hoped, and the goal wouldn’t happen without it.
It’s also a good example to use to explain the semantics behind the term ‘lazy’ when footballers are accused of it.
We tend to think of ‘lazy’ in terms of lying on the sofa and not taking the bins out, and this kind of thing does happen a little bit in football. But, nowadays, very rarely. It’s pretty uncommon to see a player just not bothering to do a simple task (rather than not being capable to do it).
However, if Zardes hadn’t flipped his body like he did, football pundits would have still used ‘lazy’ to describe it. In these cases, it’s not a laziness like lying on the sofa, and more about not being adequately switched on throughout the match.
In this sense, it’s not quite that ‘lazy’ is something a person is, but that a player becomes ‘lazy’ through not being something. Which, semantically, is slightly different even if it broadly means the same thing.
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Defending on corners: A Sequel
After writing about how Nigeria defended well against Wendie Renard last week, they promptly conceded a goal from a corner in their round of 16 defeat against Germany.
Looking back, I’m not sure that they did change, it was more that the scheme they were facing changed. Below is a screenshot just as the corner’s being taken. 1) highlights a player-to-player coverage of a German player lurking on the edge of the box, 2) highlights the German bunch at the back post.
If we look again at Renard, the angle of her run will be much steeper, and easier for Nigeria to see coming.
But with Germany, three players lined up at a shallow angle at the back post. Their runs went through the Nigerian players’ blind sides, and you can see, as the scorer Alexandra Popp connects for her header, how the nearest player barely knew she was there.
That’s it for this week. Thanks very much for reading. I take it you’ve enjoyed it and, if you’re not currently a subscriber, please consider it. Also, please spread the word, and let me know what you think about the topics I’ve covered this week. You can get me on Twitter @EveryTeam_Mark or, if you’re getting this as a newsletter to your inbox, you can reply to this email.