Welcome to The Graphical, wherein I mine the Opta data to glean some insight about how Nashville SC’s recents games played out. Today, I throw it back to the weekend for a comfortable road win against Charlotte independence.
Manning the middle
The overall possession stats aren’t hyper-impressive for Nashville SC: the Boys in Gold had just a 51.3-48.7% advantage over the course of the game. However, as we’ve consistently seen over the course of this season, the where can be more important than the what. Here’s the combined heat map for the teams:
The game was played mostly in the midfield third of the field (as is often the case, except in the most wide-open of games), but look at that area I’ve highlighted. When Charlotte began to move the ball into the attacking third, they were unable to do so in the central areas of the field, which are much more dangerous than the wings.
Nashville’s defensive actions (right) also tell a pretty significant story about how that happened. Nashville was getting the job done with a strong line of confrontation in the central areas of the pitch as the ball progressed past the center circle. There’s an iron curtain right along that line when you break down NSC’s defensive performance over the course of the game by location.
Even though the majority of Charlotte’s possession came in wide areas from that point toward the endline, Nashville made sure the potentially dangerous areas ended with takeaways or recoveries.
The presence within Charlotte’s penalty area (top image) is also notable: both teams got the ball into dangerous areas. Nashville did a lot more of it. Even if plenty of that dark red spot is passing from Charlotte keeper Brandon Miller (and he had 34 passes originating from within his penalty area), that still shows NSC was forcing action that resulted in goal kicks, or keeping the Independence stuck in their own end, unable to progress the ball offensively.
Get lead, squeeze life out of game
There’s also something to be said for Nashville’s willingness to possess the ball rather than try to score once the lead was extended to 3-1. Here’s the NSC-only heat map after Kharlton Belmar’s goal made the lead insurmountable midway through the second half:
A lot of possession still, but extremely content to sit deep and pass it around the back just a bit.
By my count, Nashville out-passed Charlotte 191-157 after Belmar’s goal. That’s a 54.9-45.1% possession advantage for the Boys in Gold. That’s not too much better than the 53.7-46.3% margin for the entire second half, but given the teams’ respective priorities – Charlotte needed the ball in order to put it into the back of the net, while Nashville was just playing keep-away – it’s a pretty strong play by NSC.
In addition, if you count just by completed passes, Nashville’s advantage was even bigger: 165-122. That’s 57.5-42.5%. Again, not the most dominant we’ve seen Nashville be, but plenty strong enough to see out a game.
Despite spending more than half an hour basically running out the clock, Nashville SC’s final pass map was more impressive than Charlotte’s – duh: that’s how you end up with a comfortable win. One thing I found interesting, though, was how different the distribution of key passes (passes that result in a shot, whether or not the shot is made) turned out to be.
Their lone open-play cross from the wing (No. 22 in the bottom-right corner), nearly all of Charlotte’s open-play key passes went away from goal, including the lone assist of the game, Jorge Herrera’s layoff to Enzo Martinez (the No. 10 at the top of the box). Meanwhile, Nashville’s key passes were largely – though not only – moving the ball forward and toward the center of the pitch.
Key passes that move the ball from one spot into a more dangerous area tend to result in more goals than those that are essentially lateral or backward moves. A layoff can still be effective, of course (just ask Martinez), but a throughball or progressive pass tends to result in an even better shot – it means a defender is most likely bypassed, putting fewer bodies between the shooter and the goal, and it can unsettle the opposition in other ways, too. Nashville was highly focused on the latter. That’s more effective offense.
This probably isn’t hyper-meaningful, but I noticed it while tallying up the stats for the previous section, and found it interesting. All three of Nashville SC’s substitutes were perfect in their passing completion percentage on the game:
I’ve at times mentioned that Bolu Akinyode’s passing is overly conservative, but in this situation, he’s the perfect player to have available. Cameron Lancaster attempted one (1) pass in nine minutes, but given that he was essentially used as a poacher to keep Charlotte’s backline from pushing too high forward – and maybe to nick one more on the counter – that’s not a surprise.
In fact, the heat map doesn’t really shot it because the attempts to him didn’t result in touches (one was juuuust out of his reach for what would have been the cherry-on-top goal), but look at the long attempts to the center of the field in just his time on it. Nashville was trying to get him the ball over the top:
The NYRBII game probably wasn’t the time to get him on the pitch (especially given the Lasso red card, Nashville needed counter-attacking speed up top), but if Lancaster remains healthy, it’s easy to see ways that he’ll rack up some goals to end the year.