Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I mine the Opta data for insights into the most recent Nashville SC game. Today, a comeback win in the Nutmeg State.
Nashville SC got off a bunch of shots. In fact, 32 shots was not only a club record, but 33% higher than the previous club record. There was plenty of offensive build, even if it didn’t necessarily mean a huge scoring output.
That’s 11 shots outside the box, yes. But it still means 21 from within the Hartford penalty area. The areas of those shots are also dangerous, beyond just the proximity to the goal. Only about four of them (from top-to-bottom, the ones inside the penalty area from wider positions, from Ropapa Mensah, Daniel Ríos, Taylor Washington, and Lebo Moloto) came from angles that reduced the amount of net upon which to shoot.
In xG terms, Nashville had a very productive outing. Per Speedway‘s Ben Wright, NSC had nearly 4.0 expected goals, and that’s… pretty darn good. Given that the club has elite finishers at its disposal this year, more often than not that’s going to be an even higher scoring output than the three goals Sunday.
11 of the shots were ultimately on-target (meaning 21 were off, something Gary Smith lamented after the contest), so there’s room for improvement there… but Hartford keeper Frederik Due – who I’d actually roasted as an inferior keeper in the preview (oops) – had a heck of a contest, as well.
Eight saves on 11 shots faced (72.7%) is a pretty nice day no matter what. Take into account that only one of them cam on a shot from an easier-to-handle angle, and only one of them came on an attempt from outside the box, and that’s an impressive outing. You can see he made stops at each post and the top of his six-yard box, as well.
While this additional evidence isn’t quite enough for me to say he’s superior to Jacob Lissek, who he replaced between the pipes (Lissek has had the majority of his work on the road, all of Due’s success has come at home, etc.), certainly he’s a solid keeper who should see even more success as the defense in front of him continues to improve.
When using the odd backline, Nashville continues shift its implementation. Every example of a back three includes times when the formation looks more like there are truly five at the back, and other times when it looks like just the three centerbacks or playing defensively.
Last season, there was a bit of a tilt toward the former, and the more frequently we see a back three in 2019, it’s looking more and more like the latter: the wingbacks are being deployed as pure modern midfielders, rather than stay-at-home defenders who feature on the occasional foray into the attacking third. In fact, Taylor Washington and Kosuke Kimura hardly needed to be in their defensive zone at all Sunday – in part because of the inability of Hartford to advance into the attack through the run of play, sure, but notable nonetheless:
Having very wide players in the offensive third with two strikers (and an attacking midfielder) did mean plenty of crossing, though. Nashville SC had more success than you’d typically expect – 43.6% of crosses were completed – so they weren’t dissuaded from lumping the ball into the box… and did so an astounding 39 times.
“But Tim,” you doth protest, “there be confounding factors!”* Indeed, there are. Nashville took 12(!) corner kicks, completing six of them, with three leading directly to shots. Still, 27 open-play crosses is a lot, and it’s due to a combination of factors, not least of which is Nashville SC setting up its offense in a way that’s cross-dependent.
With the wide attacking talent available on the roster – Kharlton Belmar, Alan Winn, even Ropapa Mensah can be deployed out there rather than as a pure striker – this won’t always be the setup. Certainly on the day, it played its role. Crosses did not, however, lead directly to any of the three goals (and crossing is considered one of the less effective ways to generate offense, though it looks dangerous so it’s an easy rut to fall into), so there’s certainly more evaluation to be done in the film room.
* I do not know why I did a ye olde english and/or pirate voice for this bit. Let’s roll with it.
Darnell in the middle
Gary Smith’s decision to go with a back three at the same time he had two centerbacks unavailable (Bradley Bourgeois due to yellow card accumulation, Ken Tribbett due to calf injury) meant a little bit of ingenuity was needed to fill out the lineup. Justin Davis, while primarily a fullback, has been a left centerback in odd and even backlines, so slotting him in there was no issue. Darnell King, on the other hand, had yet to play on the interior for Nashville SC.
At 5-8, 174 pounds, he may not be the physical archetype for the position. However, he’d played there (and just about everywhere other than goalkeeper) in San Anotnio last year, so he has some experience. His first foray for NSC went… extremely well?
He did an extremely good job of staying home while re-setting a high defensive line. You may worry that a guy used to getting up the pitch as a fullback would drift out of position when played elsewhere. However, he was location-sound, didn’t commit a foul all game, was pretty good distributing to Liam Doyle or pushing the ball forward. One short pass not completed in a dangerous area (the red square near the corner of Nashville’s 18-yard box) was actually a Hartford pass that he intercepted and didn’t direct well one-touch.
His offensive contributions, on the other hand, were limited to a single headed shot from a corner kick. He was purely a centerback in this one.
I do think he provides enough offensively that playing him regularly as part of a back three is probably wasteful of some of his other abilities: he was No. 2 on San Antonio FC’s 2018 squad in assists, and among the top in chances created despite the positional… nomadry… described above.
Justin Davis on the other side did get upfield a little bit more (as is his style), and of course is the left-footed corner taker, facilitating some of that. With King able to operate as a stay-at-home RCB though, there is a little more flexibility, especially with Liam Doyle as a sweeper.
The intensity of a high press is sometimes hard to quantify: forcing a turnover can manifest itself as a tackle or interception, but it can also look like an opponent’s inaccurate pass that sails out of bounds, with no pressing player credited statistically.
So, what I’m getting at here is I feel like both visually and statistically, we saw quite a bit more high pressure than we had… probably since the Swope Park game May 11? Certainly the quality of an opponent plays into just how hard Nashville is comfortable pressing (and Hartford’s style – relatively stout at the back but questionable possessing the ball in their own end – makes it a little easier to justify and execute). Even from the Opta chalkboard, you can see an increased intensity of defensive actions in the opponent end.
That’s attacking players and central midfielder onlys (wingbacks not included). Five actions by Michael Reed, a ton of recoveries of loose balls in the attacking end, and plenty of turning defensive plays into quick offense. Against a team that probably doesn’t have the horses to punish you on the other end, the benefits are well worth the costs.
What did you see from the game?