Week 3: ATL vs CHI

IMG_0242.JPGThey said not to analyze the game where Atlanta was up a man for 80 minutes. I ignored them.

Summary: Another odd match for United. The game turned twice in Atlanta’s favor in the opening 11 minutes, once with a dangerous cut back from Gressel which caromed in off of a Fire defender (1-0) after the play was started by a Joseph Martinez recovery and Villalba playing Gressel in on the right, and then second when Gressel’s ambitious interception of a throw-in and then smart through ball to Martinez forced a last man foul and a red card all in a matter of seconds, fundamentally altering the game. Gressel should have 2 assists instead of zero for those two plays — we’ll see what we can do about that further below. The home side was slightly shaky to close out the next 30 minutes even if Martinez had another great through ball chance denied, with the hosts giving the ball away in counter-ish type spaces a few times, but ultimately, comfortably closing out the half as I sprinted to beat the beer lines in stoppage time (sorry not sorry, anyone at opening day knows what I’m talking about). Atlanta came out in the 2nd half bossing the game, and cracked it wide open with a beautiful throughball from Almiron to Martinez in the 60th. At that point Chicago was in a bad spot, not able to sit back as much. Atlanta poured on 2 more including a delicious throughball from Asad to Martinez which we break down further below, and Tito’s first.

Match Analysis: Julian Gressel lovefest:

That’s the 2nd excellent performance from Gressel in as many games. Here’s his chalkboard from MLSSoccer.com which I modified to more properly credit him for the opening goal and the ball that did the sending off. He covered space well, recovered balls well, and played dangerous passes, again. Also narrowly missed a hard driven shot from deep (the red circle).

3Gressel

Match Analysis, for real this time:

Well, one of the reasons many are pouring water on this win is that we only have somewhere between 4 and 11 minutes of normal game state to take a look at. Let’s give it a go I guess.

Opening segment (0′ – 4′). Atlanta on the left. Chicago on the right:

That recovery and shot (the only official shot of the opening 4 minutes) from Chicago’s David Accam deep in Atlanta’s half doesn’t look great for the hosts– it was the result of a ball recovery from Almiron that was then turned over immediately in his own half (red backwards pass on Atlanta’s map) to the Chicago striker. ATL may not have registered a shot in this opening segment, but its opening goal was not completely unearned. Martinez wins the ball in Chicago’s half after the ball changes possessions a few times, and he’s dispossessed with Tito running on and playing Gressel in. Gressel makes the right decision and plays the ball across the six yard box — he has two attackers making runs, whether he can see them or not.

1-0 lead, before the red card (4′ – 11′)

Neither side were able to generate much more than a half chance between the first goal and the red card. A little more activity from Atlanta (left). I mentioned the red card in the intro. In my opinion and from where I was standing, it seemed like the right call. Martinez was passing the last defender, even if the non-fouling centre back was near. I know I was howling for it in the moment but not expecting it just because it’s such a big decision early in the game. There was no unbaking this cake.

1-0, (11′ – 45′)

After the elation of waving goodbye to the departing Fire defender wore off, I was worried Atlanta may over-commit and struggle to break down the compact 10 man Fire, leaving themselves open to swift counters from Accam, the one thing you cannot do up a goal and a man. I didn’t calm down until half time (which is where I’m stopping the clock on the images below). It wasn’t just the chances Atlanta was giving up (see the three in the box below, right)…

It was the turnovers in midfield troubled me the most. First, the ball recoveries and successful dribbles for Chicago in Atlanta’s half during this period of play (11′-45′):

3-cardHTrecoveries

Then, the mirror image of unsuccessful passes from Atlanta in their own half after going up a man. At the top of the image is Almiron drawing a yellow card for a good professional foul to stop a Chicago counter that looked troubling.

3-cardHTATLunssuccessfulpass
all of these green passmaps from MLSSoccer.com

A lot of the buildup during this period just seemed needlessly risky to me. I kept thinking, if you’re up a goal and a man, kill the game until half time, but they were intent to press on. By stoppage time though, I was comfortable enough to dash up the stairs and grab some beers. Anyhow, the game looked much different after the break.

2nd Half

Below are the ball recoveries (yellow triangles), interceptions (blue triangles), dribbles (green or red) and crosses, key passes, assists, and shots for the second half. Chicago (right) simply didn’t create much at all.

Almiron’s pinpoint throughball to Martinez came off an interception and a great timed run through the heart of Chicago’s defense. It wasn’t so much that the turnover created a numbers-advantaged break. Martinez simply confounded the centre backs and Almiron found him with precise timing. Martinez calmly rounds the keeper again (twice in two goals) and not for the last time….

The one good chance for Chicago came in the 67th minute (3-0), an early cross to a half-marked Accam who had good positioning on Pirez for the header. Well saved by Kann. This doesn’t worry me too much. 11tegen11’s excellent passmaps and expected goals materials for this game below. A lot has been said about the high possession figures and pass %s, but I think the most important thing is the chances comparison in the second half.

Highlight: The 4th goal, Asad’s throughball to Martinez is worth breaking down since it’s similar to Almiron’s 1st goal last weekend in that it was created through fluid movement on the left side during a sustained buildup phase. Very pretty (even against a wounded team).

First, the ball is played out wide left to the right-footed Asad, and what do know about right-footed Asad? Aside from being the surprise of the season for me, we know he likes to come inside from the left. Chris McCann provides the “underlap” setting this whole thing up. That blurry guy heading towards the corner flag is him.gifAsadstartAs Asad takes his first touch to come inside, Atlanta already has a 2v1 and a nice pocket of space between the right fullback (who has gone with McCann), and the centre back. Almiron notices this and looks to move into the space (I think Martinez probably likes it himself and considers occupying it as well), but wait…3gif almiron moves into spaceAs Almiron moves into the half space, the nearest CB holds close to him, which provides Martinez what he needs, space in behind. Notice Peterson chilling on the right and occupying two Chicago Fire players, for no reason whatsover. This helps things. Also of note: Asad immediately has line of sight into the danger area, whether it’s going to be Almiron or Martinez who receives the ball.3gifmartineznoticesMartinez makes his run and Asad looks up again and sees the better option. As you watch the highlight of this play, notice the pace he puts on the ball, not only the required amount to thread the many defenders, but also a cue to Almiron that the ball is not for him but for someone else, if there was any doubt.3gifasadpass To control the driven pass and round the keeper in one touch is something special.3gifconnectionIs that “something special” finishing skill or Luck, statistical variance, the hot hand?…It’s a difficult question, but to me, any narrative that attempts to suggest Atlanta’s success to date is unsustainable because of their “clinical finishing” (implying primarily “chance”) so far is unfair. Either we need to recognize that for whatever reason Atlanta is repeatedly creating 1v1-on-the-keeper situations for their striker and that these chances are crazy good or we need to admit that finishing is something Martinez is better at than the average forward. We might need to admit both these things. After he rounds the keeper for the third consecutive goal (3 in 2 games), I’m not saying this pace will persist, but any insistence that these games should be draws and Atlanta is just lucky seems wrong.

The part where I went way too long but I don’t have the discipline to edit:

I think of #finishing as both broader and narrower than “goals minus expected goals” (the metric most commonly associated with it)– broader because I enjoy Mike Goodman’s discussion of finishing as possibly being several subskills all wrapped into a thing we sometimes call “finishing” (i.e. more than just the physical ability to convert a given shot profile into a goal) — but also narrower, because to me, finishing isn’t something that encompasses all shots. Finishing is what happens (or doesn’t) in the 18 yard box or in otherwise “good” scoring situations. I don’t think half volleys from the D (like Almiron’s last week), or curlers from 25 yards out (like Feilhaber’s this week) should be factored in in any way to something like “goals minus expected goals” to track finishing. When finishing is evaluated, or its existence as a concept proven or disproven, players should neither get credited nor penalized for “converting” (or not) those types of chances – and I realize that’s got some sample size problems. Admittedly, Martinez’ sharp angled finish on the above play is an odd place to launch into this treatise (speaking of sample sizes, 3 games), but perhaps his #finishingskill was on display not when he rolled the ball in from Upside Down dimension at Bobby Dodd, but instead the finish was the moment he touched the ball on this play (when he turned a rocket of a pass deflected out for a goal kick into an open net chance from an acute angle). Or, perhaps this is all statistical noise and Josef Martinez and David Accam and Carlos Bocanegra all have the same finishing skill.

 

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