Nate Silver Day 20: Survive and Advance

It’s been rough sledding for Nate as of late. England winning on penalty kicks was only the most recent insult. Uruguay are live dogs against France. We’ll see if France have any more ridiculous goals left in them Brazil looked great against Mexico. Belgium has the talent to topple them, but man did they look bad against Japan for most of the game. They rallied late, but that’s not something you want to try to do against the stifling Brazil defense. Nate’s current bankroll is $872,502.

Bankroll % Team Wager Risked To Win Result
4.67% Uruguay Advance 40717 75733 0
5.68% Brazil Advance 49558 30591 0

World Cup Scouting: What Does Sweden Even Do?

What exactly is it that Sweden do? They’re a World Cup quarterfinalist, so they must be doing something right. Their path has been relatively easy, but they also earned that path. A 3-0 dusting of Mexico in the last round of the group stage ensured they’d win their group, meaning a match against Switzerland, rather than get drawn on the stronger side of the bracket against Brazil, or even eliminated entirely. So sure, getting to the quarterfinals by beating South Korea, Mexico, and Switzerland isn’t an unbelievably difficult accomplishment, but it’s not nothing. Also they narrowly lost to Germany in the group stage after taking an early lead. Overall, their numbers simply aren’t that impressive. They’re taking 12 shots per game and conceding 15.25. The profile of those shots is a little more encouraging, since they have a positive expected goals difference of 0.42. This isn’t a Russia situation, the only team left in the tournament with a negative xG difference, and an impressive one of 0.77 at that. Usually a team with that kind of profile, a shot deficit, but a positive xG differential is a counterattacking team. And that’s true of Sweden to a certain extent. Sweden are a conservative defensive team. They like to defend deep in their own and stay relatively narrow without the ball. They don’t extend themselves to pressure opponents either up the pitch or in wide areas, instead preferring to wait and have the ball brought to them. Usually a counterattacking team will sacrifice taking more shots for taking great ones. That is, they’re happy to concede lots of 30 yard bombs as long as in exchange they’re able to break down the field and get point blank opportunities at the other end. That’s the idea behind how Sweden play. They concede way more low xG value attempts than they produce. And they produce more (although not a lot more) high xG value shots than they concede. But, that said, they don’t actually have all that impressive an attack. They aren’t particularly effective at getting great shots with their feet in the box on the counter attack. They get a whole bunch of pretty good shots, but not many of the best ones. One major problem for Sweden is that they are getting very little attacking contribution from anybody not named Marcus Berg. There’s a deep irony to the fact that Berg has yet to score a goal in this tournament given how omnipresent he is in Sweden’s attack. He’s taking 3.35 shots per 90 minutes which is ever so slightly behind Emil Forsberg’s 3.36 (it’s also technically behind John Guidetti who has played a grand total of 12 minutes). His xG/shot is an incredibly efficient 0.20, it’s second on the team to Viktor Claesson’s 0.24, although Claessen has taken only three total shots. Put it all together and you end up with an attack that runs on Berg, and basically nothing else. But, wait, there’s more from Berg. His xGBuildup, a measure of how much he contributes to eventual shots is 0.90 per 90, tops on the team. He leads the team with 12.64 touches in the box per 90. He has been, despite the lack of goals, the only sustained attacking force on Sweden this tournament. It may not be a  coincidence that Sweden has actually only scored three goals that weren’t penalties or an own goal.  

Can Sweden Beat England’s Back Three?

While Sweden have prevailed against some defensive teams, they have yet to come up against a side like England, who they’ll be taking on in the quarterfinals. Tactically, it’s not a good matchup for the Scandinavian squad. England’s three center back formation was born to face off against Sweden’s very basic 4-4-2. One of the original reasons that the back three went out of style is there were fewer and fewer two striker systems to deploy it against. Teams have had to figure out ways of using the system while not also wasting three defenders guarding a single striker (hence ball playing center backs or fullbacks like Kyle Walker being deployed to bring attacking contribution from a wide center back position). Against Sweden though it’s simple, England will have three defenders against two attackers and can shut the whole thing down. The major battle will be fought down Sweden’s left flank, and England’s right. Despite his goal against Switzerland, Emil Forsberg has had a hard time exerting much influence over this tournament. Rather than running transition, and attacking back lines, he’s been forced into defending in his own half. Rather than arriving in the box, to get on the end of chances, or playing the ball ahead for others, he’s mostly been confined to taking pot shots from distance. Against England he’ll likely be matched up against Kieran Trippier on the wing. England need to be careful not to allow Sweden to break behind Trippier. If Forsberg is able to either blow by Trippier in transition, or receive passes behind England’s wing back and then turn and run, Sweden might be able to tilt the field in their favor. If Forsberg is running with the ball, with Berg and strike partner Ola Toivonen ahead of him, then Sweden will be able to trouble England. Trippier doesn’t need to smother Forsberg, he just needs to keep the right winger from getting by him with a full head of steam. If he does that, it’s difficult to see how Sweden will get much joy against England. Sweden’s flat formation also means it will be easier for England’s midfielders to break forward in attack. While Sweden were able to exploit Germany’s extremely open midfield early on, they did it mainly be having Berg drop deep and facilitate his strike partner running beyond him. If they try that against England, one of the three center backs will simply follow him into midfield and leave the other two with rearguard duty. That leaves England in much better stead than Germany who were left one against one at the back. Sweden’s best hope for the match is that England’s struggles to score from open play remain. Sweden will drop deep and stay narrow a strategy that will aim to shut down the spaces Raheem Sterling likes to wiggle into, and also close down lanes for the English midfielders to break forward into. In response, it will be interesting to see if Sterling pulls into wide areas looking to either create room for himself to attack the box from a tight angle or to pull defenders wide with him and create lanes for others. The bulk of Sterling’s work so far this tournament has come centrally, where he’s been doing the hard work of trying to combine with Harry Kane and the midfielders, even if it hasn’t quite come off. Sweden’s approach might mean giving Sterling a slightly different role. Ultimately Sweden are a good defensive side, who have managed to create just enough in attack to get the job done. Their attack, which is underwhelming in the best of circumstances, will likely be in for a very tough time against this England defense. The question of the match will be, can Sweden’s defense similarly stymie England? England are going to have a lot of bites at the apple though, and ultimately it’s hard to see Sweden keeping Harry Kane and company at bay for 90 or 120 minutes.   Header image courtesy of the Press Assocation

Nate Silver’s Future’s Revisited

I corrected some errors and graded all the bets for the eliminated teams. Nate is currently up 6.87%. A lot of love for England, who have the easiest path to the final they could have hoped for. Although they aren’t listed here, Nate would be very happy to see Uruguay take out France.

Belgium Not Semifinalist 415 163 0
Brazil Not Semifinalist 432 400 0
Croatia Finalist 50 717 0
Croatia Champion 3 92 0
England Semifinalist 322 989 0
England Finalist 265 2012 0
England Champion 156 2656 0
France Not Semifinalist 2498 1759 0
France Not Finalist 2000 500 0
France Not Champ 2320 270 0
Sweden Finalist 58 2300 0

 

Pressing Issues at the World Cup

One of the tactical questions heading into the World Cup was whether the modern popularity of pressing at club level would be replicated on the international stage. The best pressing teams are a meld of intelligent positioning and trigger movements, honed during hours on the training pitch, requiring intense and sustained athletic performance. Such luxuries are not afforded to international teams, who have far less training time to drill such tactics, coupled with many players arriving at the tournament after long club seasons. A heatwave encompassing much of Europe, including many of the west Russian venues, presents another potential barrier to intense pressing at the tournament. Gegenpressing or counter-pressing is one form of pressing, where a team presses the opposition immediately after losing possession, with the initial aim being to disrupt the opponent’s transition phase and potential counter-attack. Across the English Premier League last season, 46% of open-play possessions were pressed within 5 seconds, with the trio of Spurs, Liverpool and Manchester City leading the league with a counter-pressing fraction of close to 60%. At the other end of the scale was Stoke City and West Brom at around 35%. Perhaps surprisingly, the counter-pressing rate at the World Cup through the group stage and last-sixteen stands at 59%. There are a number of contextual factors to these figures that partially explain this difference. Note the absolute figures below are per game per team. Firstly there have been slightly fewer open-play possessions available to counter-press at the World Cup (33) than in the EPL (35); fewer open-play possessions potentially means that teams are able to maintain a higher intensity, which would shift the observed counter-pressing fractions. This is borne out in the average number of counter-pressed possessions, which stands at 19 possessions in the World Cup compared to 16 possessions in the EPL. Secondly there is a significant stylistic contrast between the EPL and World Cup in terms of passing, with 66 long balls per game in the former and 59 per game in the latter. Conversely, short passes are greater (398 per game) at the World Cup than in the past EPL season (392). The greater propensity towards long balls in the EPL, especially early on in a possession, cuts down on opportunities to counter-press, while a lower number of shorter passes will act in a similar manner. The third factor is the differing priorities and incentives of a World Cup group stage and a 38-game season. The figure below illustrates the importance of considering the small sample size at play in the World Cup and how a team’s approach will vary from game-to-game. Each team is ranked according to their average counter-pressing percentage, with their individual matches shown to illustrate the variation across the tournament. This variation is further summarized in the right-hand figure, where the standard deviation across their matches is shown as the horizontal lines around each data point (broader lines mean a greater standard deviation and thus more variation).   Iceland are perhaps the best example of how a group stage spanning three matches shapes tactical considerations and can lead to misleading averages – in their first match against Argentina, they registered the lowest counter-pressing percentage of the tournament as they were happy to get players behind the ball and concentrate on frustrating their opponent’s efforts in the final third. A draw against the perceived giant of the group was a good result on their World Cup debut but subsequent matches would require them to force the issue more in search of a win to place them in a good position to advance; their counter-pressing percentage increased in their subsequent matches culminating in a very high counter-pressing rate against Croatia with a win needed for qualification from the group stage. Contrast this with a team in the EPL that is uninclined to counter-press, such as West Brom, when playing against more favoured opponents – three draws or perhaps a narrow fortuitous win would often be a more than satisfactory outcome, so sitting deep and frustrating the opposition is a sensible strategy. Such considerations apply at the other end of the scale also e.g. taking a small sample of matches against a minnow sitting deep in their own half from Spurs’ season when chasing a win would yield a selection of matches where they aggressively counter-pressed their opponent. This latter example likely explains the very high counter-pressing rate by the likes of Germany, Spain and Argentina as they found themselves in close matches where they needed to push for a win. This isn’t to say that the tactical approach of all teams at the World Cup is dictated more by game-state and qualification permutations – of the teams remaining Sweden, Uruguay, Croatia and Belgium have been quite consistent across the tournament and are perhaps more likely to employ their preferred counter-pressing intensity in their remaining matches. On the other side of the coin, Brazil, France and England have been more variable with Russia sat in the middle.

Pressing outcomes

In terms of evaluating successful counter-pressing, the gap between the EPL and World Cup is less obvious – 17% of counter-pressing possessions have seen possession won or disrupted within 5 seconds in the World Cup, which is only 1% greater than in the EPL. In both the EPL and World Cup, 10% of counter-pressing possessions have ended with a shot for the team being pressed, which results in an increased absolute rate (1.9 shots per game) in the World Cup compared to the EPL (1.6 per game). In the EPL, the most aggressive counter-pressing teams tend to also routinely win possession back and concede fewer shots during this phase (Manchester City top the rankings in both categories, with Liverpool not too far behind and Spurs performing at an above average level). Such figures are likely noisier during the World Cup given the small sample size with the trend being similar albeit less strong, with Spain and Argentina performing well in terms of disrupting possession, while being closer to average in terms of conceding shots from counter-pressing possessions. Many words have been and will continue to be expounded on Germany’s woes at this tournament, but their figures here merit a mention before turning to teams still in the World Cup. They were below average in terms of regaining possession, with a particularly woeful and damaging performance against Mexico. Toni Kroos was the thankless leader of Germany’s counter-press with Mats Hummels and Jérôme Boateng being the next most frequent counter-pressers, which seems shall we say sub-optimal and flies in the face of how other counter-pressing teams profile. Furthermore, 15% of the possessions they counter-pressed ended with their opponent taking a shot, tied for fourth-worst in the tournament. They were also tied for fourth-worst in terms of the number of shots conceded from counter-pressing possessions. Such figures are likely flattering given some of the counter-attacking opportunities wasted by Mexico and South Korea. Vulnerability isn’t a word usually associated with the German national team but that is what they were – yes, they were somewhat unfortunate to score only two goals while finishing bottom of their group but their struggles in defensive transition could have been even more disastrous against better opposition in the knock-out stages. Winning the World Cup is obviously Brazil’s priority but if they were ever going to avenge the 7-1 loss in 2014, then a last-16 clash against this German team would have been their chance.

Quarter-final notes

Uruguay vs France: neither team has been committed to counter-pressing during the tournament so far. When Uruguay have pressed, they haven’t typically regained possession quickly but they have been excellent at slowing down attacks and preventing shots. France have matched them in terms of shot-suppression, which suggests that the decisive moments will come from other angles. Brazil vs Belgium: Brazil have sought to counter-press their opponents in their most crucial and more-even matches (vs Switzerland and Mexico), so may well aim for a similar strategy against Belgium. Discounting Belgium’s encounter with England (sorry Adnan) suggests they will also seek to put pressure on Brazil during transitions, which indicates the match will be keenly contested when possession is lost. Both teams looked somewhat vulnerable to counter-attacks during their round-of-16 matches and with each of them containing some of the best counter-attacking passers and finishers around, shutting-down or exploiting such opportunities could be key. Sweden vs England: Sweden sit at the low end of the scale in terms of counter-pressing and have applied such tactics consistently across the tournament. Given their success across qualifying and at this tournament, we shouldn’t expect a deviation from this at the quarter-final stage. England employed an aggressive counter-press against Tunisia in their opener, followed by a drop off against Panama after running up an early lead, while the Belgium game is best forgotten (sorry Adnan). Their match against Colombia saw a return to more of a counter-pressing style, although not at the same level as against Tunisia. In summary, England have been more aggressive during transitions when they’ve had the most riding on their matches and have dominated possession, so expect them to utilize such tactics against Sweden. Russia vs Croatia: the hosts have generally employed a less aggressive counter-press than their peers, with their lowest rate coming against Spain in the round-of-16. It will be interesting to see if they alter their approach against another technically gifted side. Croatia have counter-pressed at an average rate and at a quite consistent level, so it will be intriguing to see if they contest turn-overs or invite Russia onto them more with the intention of drawing them out of their defensive third. Pressing has been a perhaps surprising feature of this World Cup and contributed to the narratives around several teams, whether they be success stories or futile failures. Come the 15th of July, we’ll see how much of a role it has played in the denouement of this wonderful World Cup.

Nate Silver Day 19: But for a Dummy

Japan had Belgium by the balls, up 2-0 in the second half. Somehow. Belgium managed to rally for three goals and send Japan packing. A huge win went up in smoke. Bad times Japan. In other news, Brazil still looks like the team to beat. Belgium will take their crack at it, but they’ll need to play much better than they did against Japan. Nate is neutral in the Switzerland-Sweden game, and is skeptical England will continue their march in the world cup.

Bankroll % Team Wager Risked To Win Result
0.00% Switzerland-Sweden Pass 0 0 0
2.50% Colombia Advance 22372 35795 0

 

World Cup Autopsy: Germany Never Replaced Bastian Schweinsteiger

And now it is four out of five. After their uninspiring loss to South Korea, Germany joins the previous defending champions from France, Italy, and Spain to exit the World Cup in ignominy. In truth, the Germans were a bit better than their results suggest. To emerge from three games in which they took 73 shots (including 52 in the penalty area) and produced 5.5 xG with only 2 goals to show for it can be chalked up to some amount of bad luck and small sample size theater. The inability to connect on an early chance in any of the three matches also prevented them from taking advantage of game state and forced them to spend 90 minutes attacking against 9 or 10 defenders. In a different simulation, perhaps we’d be looking at a different result. And yet, Joachim Löw and the German management team could have done a better job setting the team up for success. The 23-man roster for 2018 features many of the same players as the roster from four years ago, albeit older versions of themselves. But two players stand out as missing from the roster—Bastian Schweinsteiger and Philipp Lahm were critical contributors, and while Joshua Kimmich has done a decent job replacing Lahm, Germany never settled on a replacement for Schweinsteiger. Schweinsteiger suffered for fitness throughout that tournament, but was nevertheless an automatic selection beginning with Germany’s third match. Playing in a midfield three alongside Toni Kroos and one of either Philipp Lahm or Sami Khedira at the 6, Schweinsteiger presented the perfect blend of positional play, ball progression, and incisiveness alongside the other two. By 2014 Schweinsteiger had evolved into a player who was assured, yet progressive in possession. His contribution to build up reduced Germany’s overreliance on Toni Kroos, and allowed Kroos to be a more dedicated contributor in the final third of the field. His defensive steel and positional nous also allowed Kroos the freedom to pull the strings in midfield. With 2.35 tackles per 90 in the World Cup, Schweinsteiger was a major deterrent against counterattacks, especially when paired with Lahm or Khedira. Entering the group stage, replacing Schweinsteiger’s contributions was the biggest issue facing Germany. Löw had three potential midfield options at his disposal, with Ilkay Gündogan, Sebastian Rudy, and Leon Goretzka all providing reasonable, if inferior, facsimiles for some of Schweinsteiger’s skills. Curiously, Löw’s initial solution to filling this hole was to not bother trying. Against Mexico, Germany set up with a midfield of Kroos and Khedira, both four years older than the previous World Cup, both with less protection. The result was a 1-0 loss that could have been far worse had Mexico completed their numerous 3v1 counterattacks. The lack of protection afforded the Germany center backs was evident, as Mexico broke time after time against a fractured and imbalanced German squad. Germany put very few Mexican actions in middle of the pitch under pressure. After going down one goal, Löw doubled down on a lack of midfield stability by substituting Khedira for a center forward and playing the infamously immobile Kroos as the lone midfielder. Mats Hummels elucidated just how frustrating the set up was as a center back after the loss. “If seven or eight players attack, then it’s clear the offensive force is greater than the defensive stability. That’s what I often talk about internally, to no effect. Our cover wasn’t good, too often it was just Jerome and I at the back,” he told reporters after the game. As a response, Khedira was dropped and replaced by Sebastian Rudy, a potential Schweinsteiger replacement. But Rudy’s shortcoming is in his build-up contribution. As a pure 6, he’s not the passer or creative player that Schweinsteiger was, and he had little impact on the game in the 30 minutes in which he played. Before an unfortunate cleat to the face removed him from the equation, Rudy’s sole contribution to the game was 17 passes (with all but three sideways or backwards). He managed a grand total of 5 pressure events, and didn’t record a tackle, interception, blocked pass, or blocked shot. Gündogan’s introduction again provided a new option. The City player is more assured in possession, playing over 85 passes per 90 minutes at over 90% completion for Pep Guardiola this season, but he lacks the defensive solidity of Rudy or Schweinsteiger. In 60 minutes, Gündogan was his normal passing self in possession, but certainly didn’t solve the problem of Germany’s soft underbelly. Thanks to a Toni Kroos wundertor (that offset his critical error enabling Sweden’s goal), Germany survived. But their midfield had still been sliced open, and a poor Swedish counterattacking team featuring two strikers in their 30’s had managed to create 1.10 xG off of a mere 7 shots. Having seen little success with either Rudy or Gündogan, Löw reached into his bag and pulled out the final nominally-central midfielder on the team against South Korea. Leon Goretzka is closer to a classic 10 than Rudy, Gündogan, or Schweinsteiger, completing fewer than 40 passes per 90 minutes for Schalke this season at a rate of less than 80%. His insertion was Löw’s further insisting that he need not replace Schweinsteiger—Goretzka played out wide while Özil occupied the 10 role. Again, Germany looked vulnerable on the break, and they were finally knocked out thanks to a marvelously inane mistake from Kroos on a stoppage time corner kick. In three games, Germany tested out three double pivots—Khedira-Kroos, Rudy-Kroos, Gündogan-Kroos—in the middle of the park. Despite oodles of possession, none successfully controlled the game against three teams that, on paper, were significantly weaker. While an alternative world might have seen their attack produce enough to see Germany through regardless, their frailty out of possession is likely to have been fatal against a stronger, knockout round opponent.

Nate Silver Day 18: Death By Shootout

It was a brutal day for Nate as both Spain and Denmark went down in shootouts. That sets up an intriguing matchup between Russia and Croatia, but we’ll get to that later this week. Nate’s bankroll dipped just under $1M, holding at $998,978. A Brazil win would put it back over $1M, but the real swing is Japan-Belgium. Nate has had faith in Japan all tournament. A win would be enormous, but much more likely Nate will end the day down $100K. That’s like when you sail the full-Kelly seas.

Bankroll % Team Wager Risked To Win Result
1.00% Brazil Advance 9990 2220 0
10.64% Japan Advance 106324 604981 0

 

Kylian Mbappe Arrives on the Biggest Stage for France

Before facing Argentina, France hadn’t come close to reaching the heights that neutrals had hoped for. Given the ridiculous amount of talent at Didier Deschamps disposal, it seemed criminal that they had only scored three goals in their three group stage matches. They didn’t even top 12 shots in a single match. What France lacked in attacking spark has been mostly made up with a stingy defensive setup, but the fact that France have been good doesn’t make it less disappointing that they hadn’t been able to kick it into a higher gear in attack. Even after scoring four goals against Argentina there are still a lot of questions left unanswered about France’s attack. Although the goal outburst did make two things crystal clear.

  • France can attack open space against a poor transition team like Argentina, which is a much different proposition than asking them to create dangerous attacks during possession play
  • Kylian Mbappe is a freak of nature when given even the slightest of openings

That second point isn’t illuminating and it’s definitely not high level of analysis, but it is awesome. Until they faced Argentina, France’s uninspiring attack hadn’t created enough instances where Mbappe could run and turn successful individual battles against a defender into dangerous moments for his teammates. Argentina’s porous defensive structure and Mbappe’s amazing gifts set the stage for a headlining performance by France’s wonderkid. It was clear from the start that whenever Mbappe had the ball with his back to goal Argentina would try and pressure him into either a dispossession or a backwards pass. This was even more prevalent when Mbappe received the ball in a wider position near the sidelines where a pressing Argentina defender could use the sideline as an extra defender, making it difficult, even for someone as explosive as Mbappe, to maneuver. It wasn’t a perfect plan, but it did keep Mbappe relatively in check early.

The problem for Argentina was that those moments didn’t occur nearly enough. France operated in a 4–3-3 defensively, keeping the forwards tucked inside to prevent easy penetration into the middle of the field. This meant that whenever France had the ability to create counter situations, Mbappe’s was in a more central area, not out on the wing. There might not be a player more dangerous when given access to the middle with a full head of steam. Mbappe’s two most electrifying runs in the first half resulted in a free kick near the area and a penalty drawn.

https://gfycat.com/ShallowGregariousInganue

It was quite odd watching Argentina devise an attack that was clearly meant to dominate the wide areas and create crossing opportunities despite having Lionel Messi in a central role. Unsurprisingly Argentina only completed two of 21 attempted crosses the entire match. This allowed France to do what they’ve done for the entirety of the tournament: stay compact and occasionally feel frisky enough to try and create transition opportunities by funneling the ball through the center of the pitch.

When France tried to play slowly through the back, Mbappe would try and find ways to migrate into vacated space between the lines of Argentina. There was one sequence in particular just past the halfway point of the 1st half which was illustrative of this. He receives the ball but has to stretch fully to control it with his back to goal, which provokes two Argentina players to put pressure on him. After some ball circulation from Paul Pogba, N’Golo Kante and Samuel Umtiti, Mbappe meanders into the open space and gets the ball with ample time to turn and release Benjamin Pavard with a pass. Though these 18 seconds of play didn’t even lead to a shot generated by France, Mbappe’s awareness off-ball allowed France to at least create a momentary scare.

https://gfycat.com/CompleteNeedyDotterel

With all that said, Argentina only conceded five shots through 60 minutes of play, and two of them were the penalty by Antoine Griezmann and the golazo from Pavard which made it 2–2. They were bending a lot but, even accounting for the two goals, they hadn’t done much breaking. Any scenario where a team with as much attacking talent as France doesn’t get an open play shot inside the box for such a prolong period of time is a win. This is what France’s shot map looked like through 60 minutes of play.

But, between the 60th and 70th minute, things just got silly. Mbappe’s first goal came from a deep cross by Lucas Hernandez. Before the cross, Pogba receives the ball in space with both Blaise Matuidi and Griezmann making runs from very deep areas. This allows Pogba to hit a wide open Lucas Hernandez to set up the crossing situation. With a three against two at the heart of the box in France’s favor, Mbappe makes a run from right to left into the penalty box to collect the loose ball and use his ridiculous ability in tight areas to get a shot off and make it 3–2.

https://gfycat.com/ZestyTangibleAtlasmoth

Mbappe’s 2nd goal was a brilliantly worked goal on the team level that showed the upside of France’s attack, while also making you wonder why these moments haven’t happened more often throughout the tournament:

  • Hugo Lloris receives the ball, France have a 4v2 to start off possession, with Kante dropping deep to give Lloris an easy pass to move the chains and get past the first part of Argentina’s defense.
  • Kante makes a nice pass to Griezmann that bypasses the Argentina midfield into their backline. Griezmann dropping deep to receive the ball attracted an opponent to pressure him, allowing Giroud to run into the vacated space and become an inviting target if Griezmann makes a good layoff to Matuidi.
  • Matuidi receives the ball and makes a nice pass to Giroud. All of these actions occurring meant that Argentine defender Nicolas Tagliafico would have to react and try to close down Giroud. As long as Giroud doesn’t mess up the pass, it’s a one against one for Mbappe against the goalie even with the late pressure by Federico Fazio.

https://gfycat.com/KindAnxiousIndianpalmsquirrel

These 10 minutes finished off what was left of a sputtering Argentina side, one that allowed Mbappe the space needed to destroy everything in his path. If the first half showed Mbappe’s freakish intersection of athleticism and coordination, then the second half showed the intellect that he possesses which makes him the entire package. It’s scary that he’s only 19 year old.

Kylian Mbappe could have stunk up the joint this entire tournament and it wouldn’t have changed the fact that he’s still the premier young talent in world football. He has a combination of skills and athleticism that come along once or twice in a generation, but even the curmudgeons among us can’t help but admit that it’s cool that Mbappe got to show out on such a big stage. I wasn’t even four years old when original Ronaldo tore up the 1998 World Cup (pre final), and it’s awesome that people of my age and younger will be able to wax glowingly about Mbappe’s performance in a similar manner that generations prior were able to with Ronaldo. This isn’t to say that Mbappe’s the same level of supernova talent that Ronaldo was, but it’s clear that his future is ridiculously bright as long as his health doesn’t betray him.

As for France, what lies ahead in the quarterfinals is a matchup with Uruguay that could end up being a defensive rock fight with few shots and fewer good scoring opportunities. There are still major questions to be asked of France regarding their title winning prospects, and it’s hard to see Uruguay make the same mistakes that Argentina did over that fateful 10 minute stretch in the second half. But the mere existence of Kylian Mbappe means that France have someone who can conjure up moments of brilliance with greater frequency than almost anyone else that’s left in the competition.

  Header image courtesy of the Press Association

Nate Silver Day 17: Denmark or Bust!

A rough day of exciting futbol sliced Nate’s bankroll down to $1,123,532. Whether or not in increases or falls will come entirely down to whether or not Denmark can slow the Croatian juggernaut.

I should note that this is one of the most absurd goals I’ve ever seen:

https://screengrabber.deadspin.com/benjamin-pavards-incredible-french-wondergoal-in-extre-1827259170

Bankroll % Team Wager Risked To Win Result
2.32% Spain Advance 26066 7577 0
8.77% Denmark Advance 98488 231448 0