With England naming a young squad for the SheBelieves Cup in March – made even younger with Alessia Russo replacing the injured Lucy Bronze – there’ll be plenty of players looking to stake a claim for a place in the side.
The cup may not be as competitive as a World Cup or European Championship, but this may be to the benefit of the young players. They can gain experience against top sides in games with less pressure but still with something to play for.
Two players who will be looking to gain more experience at international level are Everton’s Chloe Kelly and Man City’s Lauren Hemp. The pair are having strong seasons with their clubs and after the injury to Beth Mead, will likely get a chance to start at some point in the US. So, what can England expect from the pair?
Chloe Kelly – Everton
Kelly grabbed headlines earlier in the season thanks to two great goals within a couple of minutes of each other – as well as going into the first international break as the league’s top scorer. It’d be easy to hear this and assume she was just running hot and her numbers would likely tail off over the season. That hasn’t really been the case though.
Kelly has the 5th highest xG per 90 in the league. She only trails the quartet of Bethany England, Pauline Bremer, Vivianne Miedema and Ellen White.
Her shot map is quite strange, particularly with that corner goal. She’s happy to take long shots and if she’s shooting centrally it’s either from the six-yard box or edge of the area with almost nothing in between. You can see with the totals in the corner that she’s running hot, but at least she’s running hot with good underlying numbers.
Even with plenty of shots outside the box, she’s still maintained a respectable xG per shot. There aren’t many more high volume shooters like her who have a better xG per shot. The only significant ones are Miedema, England and White, who all play centrally.
If there is one area of her xG production that has a few question marks, it’d be her consistency. Though I’m not too happy with how I’ve looked at this, so I wouldn’t put much weight into it.
I wanted to look at how xG differs in each game she’s played. With a small number of games, one strong game can pull the averages and per 90 numbers right up. It’s an extreme example, but if two players both play every minute of every season and both maintain an xG of 0.33 per 90, but one posts 0.33 xG every game while the other has a game with 1 xG every 3 games, there does feel like a difference between the two.
There are a few problems with how I’ve looked at this though. It looks at games rather than minutes, but with Kelly starting every game she’s played and only being subbed off once, it shouldn’t affect her numbers too much. Then it looks at it compared to the player’s average, but the average is going to be influenced by outliers so it’s not that strong of a method. But I did find bits of it interesting, so I’ve left it in.
After a bit of messing around, I decided to use z-scores for her xG production in each game. Z-scores look at the relationship between values and the mean, so a z-score of 0 is level with the mean. Her xG z-score by game can be seen below. (To be honest, the z-score stuff doesn’t really add much, but it just made it easier for me to compare with other players when I was looking at it)
Those three outliers pull her average up and account for 69% of her xG production this season. It means 69% of her production has come from just 17.6% of her games (not minutes). In six of her twelve games this season she’s produced less than 0.2 xG, which is under half of her per 90 value. It’s not that you expect her to produce as much as the three outliers more often, but you’d like to see more in the six games where she produced little.
With that being said, given she’s only 22-years-old and not playing for a dominant side, you expect some fluctuation. The fact that she’s put in performances with the kind of production in the three outliers is still hugely encouraging – particularly as two of the three games were against Reading, who are one of the stronger sides in the division.
Elsewhere, her xA doesn’t jump off the page, but she does have some strong numbers when looking at how dangerous her corners are. It may just be the result of small sample, as she takes less than 2 per 90, but only Carla Humphrey from Bristol City has a better xA per corner (who also takes less than 2 per 90).
I’ve also changed how I look at progression. Whereas before I was looking at distance rather than the number of progressive passes, I’ve gone back to looking at the number.
Each method has pros and cons. Doing it by number means you have to set a threshold which feels arbitrary. So I’ve set the threshold as 10 yards but, while it’s unlikely, a player could progress the ball by 9.9 yards multiple times a game and not pop up as being progressive. However, doing it by distance has the drawback that players who regularly have the ball will keep it slowly ticking up even with fairly insignificant passes/carries, which can inflate the numbers.
Unsurprisingly given she’s an attacker, Kelly doesn’t make many progressive passes, but she does have the 10th highest progressive carries per 90 in the division and 9th most carries into the box per 90. (Something which @jair1970 tweeted about in the Premier League recently)
With her putting in some strong performances across the season, Kelly deserves a chance to showcase her ability in the SheBelieves Cup. She can offer a nice alternative to the injured Beth Mead on the left as a player capable of generating shots and carrying the ball into dangerous areas – though her creativity falls behind the Arsenal forward’s.
Lauren Hemp – Man City
Despite being just 19-years-old, this is Lauren Hemp has had a few seasons in the WSL already. Since the switch to the winter league, she’s had a season with Bristol City, scoring 7 goals, before joining Manchester City in 2018. She played towards the backend of last season but looks to have made the left-wing slot her own in 2019/20.
Starting with her xG production, she has some strong numbers. Looking at both xG and xA, there’s the previously mentioned quartet of Bethany England, Vivianne Miedema, Pauline Bremer and Ellen White well ahead of everyone else, before you have a group of players contributing around 0.5 xG + (open play) xA p90 – which both Hemp and Kelly belong to. Hemp’s xG per 90 isn’t as strong as Kelly’s, but her xA per 90 puts her pretty much level with the Everton forward for total xG production.
Hemp isn’t a high-volume shooter but makes up for it by having a strong xG per shot.
While there’s a trade-off in quantity, it is impressive for a wide player to have such a strong xG per shot value. Some of this may come as a result of City’s system. With a lot of their play going down the right, Janine Beckie’s crossing is often utilised, which means Hemp can look to move into the box to try and be on the end of crosses.
Like Kelly, there is a question about consistently producing a strong xG output. With the lower shot and xG numbers, it shouldn’t be too surprising, but in 7 of Hemp’s 13 starts she’s managed 1 shot or less. City have a lot of attackers capable of generating shots, which may play a part, but only managing 1 low-quality shot in over half of her starts for such a strong team doesn’t seem too encouraging. However, again like Kelly, she’s only young and it’s far from a cause for concern at this point.
Looking at her ball-carrying ability, Hemp really shines. She has the 2nd most progressive carries per 90 and the 6th most carries into the box per 90. The (messy) plot below shows how she’s adept at carrying the ball from deep, but most of her progressive carries come from getting the ball out wide and driving towards the corner of the box.
The City youngster has also put up some strong numbers when her side are out of possession. Man City are one of the most active teams in the final third which has an impact, but Hemp has the 4th most pressures for her side, behind only White, Bremer and Jill Scott.
Hemp also has the 2nd most possession regains (successful tackles, interceptions and ball recoveries) from counter-pressing actions in the league (those that come within 5 seconds of an open play turnover) – only teammate Caroline Weir has more of these regains than Hemp. If England want to defend from the front, Hemp will be a useful player to have in the side.
Not only does Hemp have some strong numbers both with and without the ball, but she also has another thing going in her favour – she’s left-footed. At the moment all of England’s wide options are right-footed. Hemp is the only attacker who can offer some natural width on the left, while also being able to play as an inverted winger from the right. It’s something that can help give England a bit more variation in attack, particularly depending on who lines up at full-back.
Hemp had some substitute appearances for England towards the end of 2019 and will likely be handed her first start in the SheBelieves Cup. She’s a player who could benefit England in the games against the top sides. Her activity off the ball will be welcomed, while her direct running will be useful should England look to counter.
Without players like Beth Mead and Fran Kirby, England are definitely missing some creativity in the final third, but both Hemp and Kelly are two exciting prospects for England’s attack and will likely have a good chance to prove that in March.