Welcome to The Graphical, in which I mine the Opta data for insights as to how Nashville SC’s most recent result came about. You can also see more conventional game coverage from the big win here at For Club and Country, and don’t forget to vote in community player ratings before the deadline, coming tomorrow or Wednesday.
An even matchup
Nashville ASC dominated on the scoreboard, but not nearly as much in the basic stats of the game:
NSC (on the left) had a marginal advantage in possession and duels, but Atlanta United 2 won more aerial duels, intercepted more passes, and had more corner kick opportunities than Nashville.
They committed fewer offsides than NSC as well, though there are multiple ways to interpret that. First, it means Nashville was working hard to get forward (particularly on the counter when Atlanta was caught with defensive personnel upfield). However, it could also point to a lack of discipline, which you might expect from an ATL UTD 2 that was undisciplined in several other ways. Overall, it probably ends up being a wash.
So Nashville won in other ways
Yeah. Obviously, it’s possible to dominate in the relatively basic stats and still lose (Nashville SC had just done it a few days earlier against Indy Eleven). Playing a relatively even game in the stats and still coming away with a 3-0 win isn’t that out of the ordinary. So how did Nashville manage to not only find an advantage, but enough of one to win the game comfortably?
One way was by winning the ball farther up the pitch. Here is a look at each team’s defensive actions (minus clearances, which definitionally are going to happen close to the defense’s goal):
There’s not too much of a difference where on the field the key defensive events happened… but when you ignore the goalkeepers (44 in green is Justin Garces, 18 in black is Matt Pickens), there’s quite a bit more help in the box defensively on Nashville’s end. Obviously, you don’t want to have to be defending in your own penalty area a lot, but plenty of NSC’s success in 2018 has been attributable to the keeper not having to do it all on his own. When the game ends in a shutout, there’s little complaint about that pack-line being a result of constant pressure from the opponent.
Then, look at the other end of each graphic: Nashville doesn’t have a concentration more positive defensive actions as they enter the offensive third. However, they seemed to be far more comfortable converting that immediately into offensive pressure to get dangerous chances on net, whereas Atlanta’s slightly greater volume of shots taken wasn’t as impressive:
Six from outside the box compared to Nashville’s three, none from within the penalty area inside the width of the penalty area (Zone 3 for all you xG-heads). You can fire a lot of shots and still end up with none of them having a particularly high likelihood of going in: Nashville was doing that through the first three or four games this season. Atlanta did it Saturday night.
Alan Winn has been working his way to full fitness, working his way toward full health after a foot injury early in the year, etc. It’s understandable why he hasn’t been starting lately (especially when you take into account that he’s still learning the professional game a bit). He was good in this one, though:
He still has a tendency to drift the width of the field, but in this one he didn’t make his way all the way across (where he goofs up the spacing sometimes). He was able to be a menace in the opposing box, was consistent along his wing to provide lateral width, and dropped into his own end for some defensive actions or to come to the ball.
A speculative shot from wide (a header, so it’s hardly damning that it was off-frame) and a couple incomplete passes in areas where Atlanta could potentially make some danger. Yes, those are negative, but I’d say the assist, goal, and otherwise flawless day passing make up for that.
“He came off because he’s not had bundles of football,” Gary Smith said. “He had a terrific hour and it was time to really inject some energy.”
Get up to 90-minute fitness so there’s not the late fade (or expectation of a late fade), and there’s a lot to work with.
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