Home > Forwards, Midfielders, MNT Lineups > Donovan-Dempsey-Davies Up Top? Not so fast.

Donovan-Dempsey-Davies Up Top? Not so fast.

One of the experts we follow has proposed a 4-3-3 lineup against Spain with the top line of Donovan on the left, Dempsey in the middle, and Davies on the right.

Thanks to the statistics provided by FIFA, we know that’s probably not a workable lineup for a couple reasons.

First, Davies likes to hang out in the middle of the field.  (Davies heatmap)

Second, while the expert suggests that Donovan could use his speed on the side against Spain’s flanks, the statistics from the group stage suggest that Donovan has a propensity for passing from left and, it could be inferred, is less inclined to go at defenders from that side.  (Donovan passing tendencies) (Some have claimed that Donovan is more comfortable driving into the area from the right but we don’t have stats on that.)  If nothing else, it is strange that Donovan passes so much from the right side in the middle of the field (18) but that his passing drops off significantly once he crosses into the attacking third (5).

Third, Dempsey shoots often, but is not putting a high percentage of his shots on goal.  Dempsey leads the team in shots taken, but only three of his nine have been on goal.  Davies has less than half of Dempsey’s minutes and has two shots on goal (four shots total).

Fourth, Dempsey appears far more willing to pass from the sides than in the middle:  when in the attacking third he’s made only 5 passes in the middle and 27 from the sides.  (Dempsey passing tendencies)  If we want to encourage Donovan to take shots, it might be better if he were forced toward the right, where he is less likely to pass and perhaps more likely to drive.

Fifth, although Dempsey has been criticized for being slow to get back and defend, he ranks third on the team in the number of tackles made (4) and behind only DeMerit (6) and Gooch (5).  And he’s second only to Michael Bradley in distance covered in the tournament.

Sixth, to go back to the Casterol Index, he’s the second-best midfielder in the tournament in terms of creating opportunities for his team to score.  Although it may not be clear to us what he’s doing, there is some evidence that he is being more successful in the midfield than experts and fans have given him credit for.

On the other hand, we know that Dempsey feeds Davies — Davies has received 13 passes from Dempsey — and Donovan.

In fact, although Davies has only been on the field 106 minutes (far less than many other probable starters for the US), Dempsey’s gotten him 13 passes.  Only Donovan (14) has received more passes from Dempsey.  For whatever reason, it seems like there’s a connection between Dempsey and Davies.  And whatever lineup can maximize that should create more chances for the US.

But Donovan doesn’t feed Davies — Davies has received only 5 from him (who most often targets Bradley and Dempsey).  (Donovan’s passing tendencies and Davies’ passing distribution).  So, there’s a logic to a line that Donovan <—-> Dempsey —-> Davies.

Additional support for the proposed lineup:  Dempsey’s goal did come when he moved forward late in the Egypt match, so perhaps if we did not ask him to cover so much on defense, he would improve his shooting percentage.

Ultimately, as the team showed against Egypt, when the U.S. comes to play, you can throw most of the statistics out the window.  But until then, we’ll take the most educated guesses we can.  And based on the numbers before us, we feel comfortable saying that:

  1. Donovan shouldn’t be placed on the left unless you want him to provide service into the area — he probably won’t drive into the defense from that position;
  2. Davies is more likely to put a shot on goal than Dempsey;
  3. Davies prefers to be in the center of the field; and
  4. if you want Davies to get the ball, Dempsey has to be around to feed it to him.
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