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July 3, 2019

2019 Women’s World Cup Final: USWNT vs Netherlands Odds, Game Time and Probabilities (UPDATED)

High Press 10 July 3, 2019

The 2019 Women’s World Cup final is set!

The USWNT defeated England 2-1 in a thriller on Tuesday to advance.

After 120+ opposite-of-thrilling minutes, the Netherlands topped Sweden 1-0 on Wednesday to punch their ticket to the finals.

This is the 8th time the US will face the Netherlands internationally. The Orange Army reach their first ever World Cup final in only their second ever tournament appearance.

Here’s what you need to know heading into the final game of this year’s World cup.

Women’s World Cup Finals Game Time

The 2019 Women’s World Cup final will take place between the US and Netherlands on Sunday, July 7th at 11am ET.

In the US, the game will air on FOX.

Women’s World Cup Finals Odds

For a refresher, read how to bet soccer.

Most of the money is coming in on the US to win the game. They’ve moved from -400 to -435. Netherlands has gone longer from +300 to +320.

Title futures though are as follows:

USA -435Netherlands +320

Women’s World Cup Finals Probabilities

FiveThirtyEight gives the US a 66% chance to repeat as champs.

Third Place Match

England will play Sweden for third place on Saturday the 6th at 11am ET. The game will be aired on FOX.

How the Seattle Sounders Have Maintained Contention in the Western Conference

July 3, 2019

Additional writing contribution by: Cheuk Hei Ho

For the last handful of years, we’ve known roughly how the Seattle Sounders play.

Their 4-2-3-1 is relatively straightforward. They revolve around Nicolas Lodeiro, who handles as much possession responsibility as any player in the league, and set up shop in the final third, with wingers milling about and the full backs charging forward. They aim to switch the field and create overloads.

The Sounders have managed to start the season well for once. They now sit third in the Western Conference and will be in the middle of a competitive top four. Their system is similar to what it’s been in the past, but there are always adjustments to be made and kinks to iron out. The loss of Chad Marshall to midseason retirement hurts.

Let’s take a look at how they’ve played this season and how they project for the rest of the year.

Lodeiro’s heavy role

In any discussion about the Sounders, Nico Lodeiro is at the forefront. He consistently ranks in the top handful of MLS players in touch percentage, and this season, he outpaces Jonathan dos Santos by 0.5%. 

Possession wise, he is involved in ~43% of Seattle’s open play possessions, the top three percent among all qualified attacking central midfielders. His role in the Sounders’ attack has maintained 2016 levels of importance, though he isn’t quite taking over the league the way he was back then.

But while Lodeiro remains the Sounders’ undisputed most valuable player, his contributions have waned over time. His influence on Seattle’s chance creation is worsening, indicating that he may be less effective as a creator. Seattle still relies on Lodeiro to create, as shown by the 3.2 times increases of the xG per possession. However, his influence in chance creation is inferior to a league’s average attacking central midfielder, who would boost the xG per possession for his team by 3.7 folds. Any decline in Lodeiro’s efficiency should worry the Sounders.  

It should be noted that his touch percentage is higher this year than it has been any other MLS season, despite his decreasing positive effects on Sounders’ possessions. His work rate only grows, and he will continue to keep heavy amounts of the ball, but lesser efficiency could be a by-product.

Seattle may be working to maximize the involvement of Cristian Roldan, particularly the Lodeiro-Roldan two-man game. As Roldan has grown into a high-level MLS central midfielder, his on-field relationship with Lodeiro has smoothed into a fruitful interchange. When Lodeiro drifts in and out of the midfield, Roldan fills his spot and hits incisive passes as a forward-thinking No. 8.

Roldan is involved in ~3% more of Seattle’s possessions this season compared to last year. Moreover, his involvement increases the xG per possession to ~100%, 90% better than it did last year. Interchanges between Roldan and Lodeiro have become a regular feature of Sounders’ attacks.

via GIPHY

That was not the greatest shot quality, but it is fairly representative of many Sounders’ attacks.

Roldan’s increased responsibility can explain Lodeiro’s seemingly decreased effect on Seattle’s chance creation; when Lodeiro doesn’t participate in ball movement, Roldan takes over his job. When both players start, the percentage of possessions involving only Lodeiro but not Roldan decreases by three percent while the percentage of possessions involving only Roldan but not Lodeiro increases by two percent compared to last year. Roldan, in other words, has taken noticeably more responsibility.

via GIPHY

Lodeiro, as a result, becomes less critical for the Sounders: Seattle’s possession with the attacking midfielder (Lodeiro) and the left central midfielder (Roldan) increases the xG per possession by 240% and 50%, respectively. Both scenarios rank about average compared to everyone else in a 4-2-3-1. But when combing both positions together, the xG per possession jumps to >300%, top 25% since 2016. There are some declines from Lodeiro, but the Sounders have also rerouted their attack this season.

Build-up play 

In general, the Sounders aren’t a possession-dominant team, they control only ~49% of the possession per game. Building up from the back isn’t their thing; the Sounders start ~43.8% of the possessions from their initial third, right about average in MLS. Perhaps they should knock that number down even more; they create only 0.3 xG per 100 possessions from the initial third through open play, worse than 97% of the teams. They are also very careless with the ball: 3.9% of the opponent’s final third possession come from Seattle’s mistake in the buildup, the 10th highest since 2016, constituting 9.2% of xG the Sounders concede this season.

There is one saving grace: Stefan Frei’s play-making ability:


Based on his accuracy of the 12 types of passes defined by distance and direction, Frei is the 8th best among all qualified keepers since 2016. This season, his participation increases the xG of Seattle’s build-up by ~58%, top 12% in MLS. 

Seattle bases its attack on disjointing defenses and then pouncing. Transition situations offer optimal opportunities for that approach, so it makes sense that the Sounders excel at counter-attacking (and do well to prevent opposition counter-attacks); ~14% of their xG come from transitional attacks — possession that starts in their own half and finishes within 20 seconds, the 14th highest percentage since 2016. Moreover, transition plays increase their xG per possession by 48%, the fifth highest in MLS. 

The Sounders are equally good at defending in transition: fewer than 4% of the xG they concede comes from transition, the second fewest since 2016. 

There are multiple reasons for their aptitude in defensive transition. They are sufficiently tidy with the ball, completing 78% of their open play passes in the opponent’s half, 17% above average. They are also decent at attacking loose balls, hitting ~7% of their mis-passes in the opponent’s half, about 20% above average. The Sounders have another secret weapon that prevents the opponent from hitting in transition:

More than 73% of their activities are done on the flank, the third highest in MLS. Counter-attacking from the flank is always difficult: the distance is longer and the angle is more complicated.

Transition play is a theme for Seattle this year; even though their counter-pressing isn’t elite, it elevates the quality of their possessions. Counter-pressing increases Seattle’s xG per possession by ~220%, the highest since 2016. 16.8% of Seattle’s xG also comes from counter-pressing possessions, again highest in the last four years. 

In addition, they are uniquely able to push and pull opposing teams in the attacking half with methodical passing and movement. Lodeiro runs and relocates more than any other player in MLS. We’ve touched on his widespread role already — he’s at the center of everything. By the time Seattle advance the ball into the final third, they will have already battered through the opposing midfield and thus unlocked opportunities to pour numbers forward and create overloads. 

Much of their direct, on-goal production comes from the flanks. They bomb their fullbacks forward and let the wingers — particularly Victor Rodriguez, whose role only grows — feast on jumbled defenses, either by slicing inside or outnumbering opposing fullbacks. Once Rodriguez, or any other fullback or winger, finds the ball on the touchline near the 18-year-old box, they have built-in options: the crafty Raul Ruidiaz lurking around the six-yard box, Roldan making a late run at the top of the 18, and Lodeiro popping up wherever.

Because their attack is so focused on transporting the ball from Roldan and Lodeiro’s distribution to overloads on the wings, the Sounders often find success by switching play. When they hit switches, they are more than two and a half times more likely to score. Switches are a common foil against pinned defenses, and they are especially valuable for Seattle, given the ease with which they disjoint defenses and create odd-man situations. 

In addition, the Sounders cross the ball well; for all the possessions that enter the final third, crossing increases their quality (xG per possession) by ~240% times, top 3% since 2016. When they drag defenders to the overloaded flanks, space opens in the box for a striker and a winger crashing back-post. Will Bruin is great in the air. Ruidíaz may be a little short but Jordan Morris is an underappreciated header of the ball: he wins 46% of headers, better than >75% of qualified wingers since 2016. Crosses have become a focal point of their attack.

Conclusions

Even as Lodeiro’s effectiveness has hit a slight decline, the Sounders have shown significant improvement in multiple attacking areas. They are one of the most effective crossing teams in the league. They dominate the transition phase of the game. Roldan-Lodeiro interchanges spur the attacking phase of their game. 

Focusing on what they do well, and improving specifically at those elements, has resulted in their establishing themselves as a clear Western Conference contender. They did not sleepwalk through the first half of the season, as they famously have in the past. While Chad Marshall’s retirement hurts, they look like a lock to finish at least in the conference’s top three.

High Press Pod Episode 13: The USWNT Advance to the World Cup Final and Way Too Much Discussion About Tanguy Ndomele

High Press 10 July 3, 2019

New High Press Pod is up!

Joining Chops again is site contributor Tyler Everett. This one is pretty straight-forward. The first half is a full-on discussion about the USWNT’s 2-1 win over England and their chances to repeat as World Cup champs.

The second half is a way too lengthy discussion about Tottenham record-transfer Tanguy Ndomele.

Listen to “High Press Pod Episode 13: The USWNT Advance to the World Cup Final and Way Too Much Discussion About Tanguy Ndomele” on Spreaker.

Transfer Grade: João Félix to Atlético Madrid for €126 Million ($142.1M USD)

Chops July 3, 2019

The Deal

Who: João Félix
From Where: Benfica
To Where: Atlético Madrid
For How Much: €126 million ($142.1M USD)
Grade for Atlético Madrid: A
Grade for Benfica: B+

João Félix to Atlético Madrid Overview

While Tottenham waited 517 days in between signings, this one just felt like it took 517 days to complete. But alas, it’s finally done.

We’ve been riding with João Félix since the site launched. However, we did not think he’d ultimately end up at Atléti. This is a major coup for the club.

The 19 year-old rising Portuguese star has been labeled “The Next Ronaldo.” However, that doesn’t do much justice to his overall game or moral compass.

As we’ll do for each major signing this summer, below is High Press Soccer’s breakdown of the transaction.

Who is he?

Félix was inarguably the most sought after young talent in Europe this summer.

In 26 domestic games for Primeira Liga champs Benfica last season, Félix tallied 15 goals and 7 assists. He also had that hat trick in the Europa League semis.

While often compared to Cristiano Ronaldo, he’s got a creative flair for facilitating that CR7 never possessed. Félix finds through balls and serves key passes at an elite clip.

And yes, he can score too. Maybe not in the same predatory way Ronaldo does, but who in the history of soccer has?

His 7.5 WhoScored rating was a seasonal best among Primeira Liga forwards. Did we mention he’s just 19?

Is the price fair?

The total cost of €126 million is steep. Regardless, this is becoming a popular refrain here: that’s just the modern market.

If Félix delivers on the majority of his potential for Atleti, this is a bargain. They’re buying him before his prime years even hit. Let’s say Félix gives Atleti a Griezmann-lite 4-5 years of production and gets them consistently in the UCL knockout rounds. Nobody in the Spanish capital will complain about that €126 million.

Building in an absurd €350m buy-out clause indicates they expect him to be around for a few years and the market for marquee talent to escalate. That kind of cash is Mbappe-terrority.

If transfer market values continue to climb and he performs, they’ll be able to sell him and recoup all of that and more–or resign him for what would be his actual prime year. Even if he ends up being just OK but helps keep Atleti competitive in the UCL, the the economics are probably a wash.

This really only becomes a bad investment if Félix bombs. Given the investment and resources that will be put towards his success, the odds of
Félix being a total bust seem low.

What impact should we expect?

Make no mistake, this is a HUGE win for Atlético Madrid.

Félix’s arrival is already prompting discussions around changing Atléti’s style of play. Along with the signing of Marcos Llorente, Atléti are bringing in youth and dynamism that at times seemed lacking in recent campaigns.

Atlético Madrid should–and likely will–build the offense completely around
Félix. He’s a shape-shifter and can give Diego Simeone options on how to best deploy him.

The good news for Simeone is Félix’s best statistical position is center forward. His WhoScored rating as a #9 was 7.68. While La Liga and the
Primeira aren’t apples-to-apples as far as competition, this does out-score Griezmann.

Félix will provide a comparable same set-piece threat as Griezmann, but with better finishing as he doesn’t bomb as many long range shots as the Frenchman. In theory, this should help convert more opportunities for a traditionally offensive-needy team

The Grades

Atlético Madrid: When you consider how dire their outlook was just a few weeks ago, nabbing Félix is a game changer for the club. It resets their expectations for next season and over the long-haul. The A is well deserved. Sure, they paid full price. They didn’t have to loan him back to Benfica for a year though. And not nabbing a premium talent to replace Griezmann would’ve set the club back both to the fans and the organization at large.

Benfica: The Portuguese champs ideal situation would’ve been the Manchester City bid–get the full price, but get Félix back on a one year loan. They had the leverage. Regardless, this is the kind of sale that could reap long-term rewards for the club if the money is properly re-invested. They were always going to be a top table team domestically, but they can build squad depth to make some noise in Europe now too.

Tactical Notes on Polarizing USWNT and Areas of Improvement for Finals

July 3, 2019

The USWNT advanced to the 2019 World Cup final by the skin of their teeth. The 2-1 win over England was a rollercoaster of VAR, a penalty save, and time-killing.

England was not the US’s toughest opponent — France was. The final against either the Netherlands or Sweden should not be as difficult as the quarters and semis were. But this is a knockout tournament and anything can happen.

Two of the US’s best players (Megan Rapinoe and Rose Lavelle) nurse tricky hamstring injuries, though both players have indicated that they will be healthy by Sunday’s final.

Some tactical notes from the wild win over England and how the US can improve as they head into a pressure-packed final. I’ll end with some final notes on the importance of the team in general.

Tactical notes

Phil Neville wins the strategy game over Ellis

US coach Jill Ellis did not play her best strategic cards. She set the US up in a base 4-3-3 and allowed England to control the tempo of the game, playing heavily up the right flank through star right back Lucy Bronze and searching for diagonal switches. Too often, England disjointed the US with interplay down the right flank followed by a switch to a wide open Beth Mead. They created their goal through such a pattern of play.

The US’s biggest weakness became a leaky midfield. Without strong ball-winning and ground-coverage down the spine, Ellis’s team allowed England to transition possession into the attacking half too easily. Passes into advanced midfielders (like Nikita Parris, who was influential) unlocked meaningful attacking sequences. 

Julie Ertz has to be better as the US’s defensive midfielder, and whoever plays alongside her — most likely two of Lavelle, Lindsey Horan and Sam Mewis — have to be stronger. The US have to be smarter with their pressing triggers and trapping. Much of that falls on Ellis.

Credit to England’s Phil Neville for setting his team up for success.

2. Improvements in possession

England would not have controlled the game to such an extent had Ellis designed a more effective possession shape. When the US took the ball in their defensive half, they spread wide and trusted the center backs to carry the ball forward and lead distribution. Lavelle, who has good vision and ideas, should be on the ball deeper. The full backs have to have more of a role.

It was bizarre watching the US set up when Becky Sauerbrunn or Abby Dahlkemper had the ball. The formation was an exaggerated 4-3-3, with the midfield barely visible. Ertz ranged forward consistently, which works only when the US actually get the ball forward. They did not do that well enough.

To possess the ball, you have to have a discernible midfield. Ellis appeared overly concerned with the flanks, which makes a fair bit of sense against an English team that loves its overloads and switches, but the way she set the US up with the ball resulted in low-percentage long balls. There has to be more meaningful possession.

3. US destroys opponents in transition.

The US thrive in transition play and counter-pressing. Losing the ball in your own end against the USWNT is death. The wingers are skillful and Alex Morgan is a cerebral hold-up striker, particularly when she finds the ball in tight spaces around the 18-yard box. Tobin Heath, despite a subpar performance against England, is arguably the US’s best overall player, and disintegrates hopeless defenders off the dribble with regularity. The US will combine and overlap with ferocity, and whip deadly crosses into the box once they’ve thoroughly disjointed you. 

Whichever team the US face in the final will be at a real and noticeably talent deficiency. All of the US’s opponents in this tournament have been. Against England, talent won out.

4. Press good, but Rapinoe was missed.

Starting Christen Press on the left wing proved a downgrade to Rapinoe, though Press did score the US’s first goal. Rapinoe is a better passer and connector, and was scorching hot heading into the semifinals. Press sometimes misses passes and runs. She does track back well and did in this game.

5. US good and killing the clock

It will be interesting how aggressive Ellis is willing to be against the Netherlands or Sweden. The US’s 4-1-4-1 defensive shape (which sometimes looked like a flat 4-5-1) was conservative, and Ellis designed it to flummox a possession-happy England. It mostly succeeded in that goal.

That defensive set-up proved helpful once the US resorted completely to time-killing mode after Alyssa Naeher’s heroic penalty-kick save. It was bold to carry the ball to the corner as early as the US did, but it worked, and England barely generated any meaningful chances late in the contest. France ran into similar problems.

Major Implications

Let’s take a moment to recognize the pressure on this USWNT team.

They’ve ruffled plenty of feathers this tournament, from celebrations against Thailand and England to Rapinoe’s political activism to the enduring fight for equal pay. Everyone expects them to win, and plenty may delight in their losing — curmudgeonly Brits, and hardcore Trump supporters who hate Rapinoe, and men who refuse to accept equal pay.

A loss in the final should not diminish their multiple worthy fights, but in the brutal, volatile world of public opinion, a defeat would undoubtedly be devastating. Primarily, it would be used as ammo by opponents of equal pay. However flawed (both morally and economically) arguments against equal pay are, they will hang around. 

The pressure mounts on a team that is becoming a phenomenon. It is not often that we see an international side this controversial and polarizing. The spotlight will be on when they take the Lyon field for the World Cup final.

Transfer Grade: Tottenham Acquire Tanguy Ndombele for £56.5 Million ($71.1M USD) – A Deal 517 Days in the Making

Chops July 3, 2019

Who: Tanguy Ndombele
From Where: Lyon
To Where: Tottenham
For How Much: £56.5m ($71.1M USD)
Grade for Tottenham: C+
Grade for Lyon: B

Tanguy Ndombele to Tottenham Overview

January 31st 2018. 517 days.

That’s how long it has been since Tottenham Hotspur have bought a player.

That purchase, Lucas Moura, helped propel them to an unlikely Champions League finals run this year.

Can new Tottenham record-breaking transferee Tanguy Ndombele have a similar impact?

Who is he?

Tanguy Ndombele is a 22 year-old midfielder (mostly a 6 but can be attacking) from France.

He played for Lyon last year, tallying one goal and 7 assists in 31 games. He’s excellent with the ball at his feet (seriously, he’s an absurd dribbler), penetrates well and is an accurate passer (nearly 90% passing success rate).

Without seeing the data, my gut is his xG is greater than his actual goal count too. There’s a finisher in there, even if he doesn’t score much / at all.

Ndombele has been on most of the “top young transfer targets in Europe” lists all year (more on this later).

In theory, this is exactly the type of purchase that Spurs need to make.

Is the price fair?

This is the most Tottenham has ever paid for a player.

The initial reports a week ago pegged Spurs paying £65 million ($82m USD) for the 22-year-old. The final reported deal today has the number at £56.5 million with the potential for £8.5m in bonuses (so basically £65 million if fully paid) to Lyon.

While £56.5 upfront is certainly better than £65 — are there more productive midfielders on the market than that? The talent is there, but at that price, is the production?

What impact should we expect?

This is really difficult to say as of today.

First, a lot depends on if Christian Eriksen is staying or going. If Mauricio Pochettino needs to replace some of that offensive productivity, that could mean a more front footed role for Ndomele.

Spurs need some backline support, and a solid #6 isn’t a bad way to help plug a leaky defense. But Ndombele has the skill set of an attacker.

Second, Ligue 1 players can take some time leveling up on their fitness when coming to the Premier League. And adjusting to the physicality. Look at Fabinho’s phasing in at Liverpool last year. How long will it take Ndomele to meet the physical demands of going from a weak domestic league to the best one?

So…who knows? My gut says two things:

  1. Ndomele is going to frustrate the hell out of Spurs fans for awhile, and
  2. If anyone will figure out how to put Ndomele in a position for success before the season ends, it’s Poch.

The Grades

Given how much shit Spurs have gotten for not buying anyone for 517 days, it’s really hard to crap all over this. But here goes!

One one hand, Spurs need depth. Anywhere and everywhere. Remember back in January when pundits thought it was a “three-team race” for the Premier League title? Then injuries hit Tottenham and they dropped, erm, 27 points off the top of the table?

Spurs really needed to solidify their backline. If Tottenham was going to make any real charge at the top 2 in the Premier League (stop laughing), improving their defensive quality would’ve been the best route.

However, if Eriksen is out the door, getting any talent to replace him in the mid helps. Regardless, the price Spurs paid and the likely return they’ll see from Ndomele this season almost feels like they were peer pressured into doing this transfer.

Also, for as much hype as there was about Ndomele as a top young talent–who were Spurs bidding against here? Did you hear any other clubs diving in on Ndomele? Griezmann, de Ligt, Felix…every big club in Europe was after them. But Ndomele? Bueller? Bueller?

As for Lyon, this is easy. Had they gotten the £65 million all up front, they’d have gotten an A. Still, extracting £56.5 million for a guy who tallied 1 goal and 7 assists for you is worth a solid B.

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