This was a Women’s Super League match low on quality, but high on drama. Liverpool Women have been on really poor form, having yet to win a game, whereas West Ham United Women came into this match on the back of a win against Casey Stoney’s Manchester United. However, there were a few things that need some tactical analysis. Liverpool started well but lacked an incisive pass in the final third, whilst West Ham got the early goal but then had to try and stop Liverpool’s constant attacks. This analysis will show how West Ham United Women pressed from the start, forcing Liverpool into errors, and how, despite struggling for points and goals, Liverpool found a way to play around them, with boss Vicky Jepson managing to tweak their tactics just slightly at half time, helping them get the equaliser against West Ham, who are of course managed by former Liverpool manager Matt Beard.

Lineups

Liverpool Women                                                      West Ham Women

F. Kitching                                                                    C. Brosnan

R. Jane                                                                        C. Kvamme

S. Bradley-Auckland                                                      G. Flaherty

N. Fahey                                                                      B. Hendrix

L. Robe                                                                        L. Vetterlein

R. Roberts                                                                    K. Baunach

J. Bailey                                                                       K. Dali

M. Lawley                                                                     Cho So-Hyun

K. Linnett                                                                     K. Longhurst

N. Charles                                                                    A. Leon

A. Hodson                                                                    M. Thomas

Liverpool started with a 4-2-3-1 formation, with forward Ashley Hodson coming in to start in place of Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, who she had come on as a substitute for in the Reds last match, a 1-0 loss against Manchester City Women at the Academy Stadium. No other changes were made to their lineup by manager Vicky Jepson. Captain Sophie Bradley-Auckland and vice-captain Niamh Fahey were again selected to play in the centre of defence. As for West Ham United, they started with the same formation that saw them beat Manchester United, managed by Phil Neville’s former England assistant Casey Stoney. That meant that Norway full-back Women Cecilie Kvamme and Germany international Katharina Baunach were again deployed as wing-backs for the Hammers. Two other changes were made though, with Adriana Leon coming in for the suspended Leanne Kiernan, and Cho So-Hyun coming into the midfield, with Alisha Lehmann missing out altogether.

West Ham ‘forced Liverpool’ to pass backwards

West Ham United Women set up with a 4-4-2 formation that allowed them to press from the front against Liverpool Women. This was clear to see from the first few minutes of the match, because whilst they wanted Liverpool to have the ball, they also wanted to force them into making mistakes with it. The images below illustrate this tactic by the Hammers, but essentially their front two of Martha Thomas and Adriana Leon were charged with closing down the Liverpool defence – but always two players in particular. They pressed the player with the ball and the player who was about to receive the ball with their movements towards them. What this did was it forced Liverpool to have no time on the ball, and to pass it back all the time.

Women's Super League 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs West Ham United Women - tactical analysis tactics
Here you can see how West Ham were quick to charge down the player in possession, and the player who would be passed the ball (circled). However, because West Ham are closing the circled player down, Liverpool are forced to play the long pass instead. The green arrow shows that long pass, which is then intercepted by a West Ham player currently out of shot.
Women's Super League 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs West Ham United Women - tactical analysis tactics
Again, Liverpool have the ball but are being forced to play backwards, because West Ham have got out quick and are closing them down. It is the same tactic, with the player in possession and the player who will receive the ball both being pressed. The player in possession is circled.

This ensured two positives for West Ham.

Firstly, Liverpool keeper Fran Kitching was a little unconvincing in her performance, and forcing Liverpool to pass back to her meant she was being put under a lot of pressure to ensure she didn’t pass the ball to West Ham with her kicks out. It also meant that whenever they went back to the keeper, Liverpool had to play long passes, which was risky as West Ham were ready for that, and long balls were intercepted by them. This happened time and time again, and it was perfect for West Ham because one thing that Liverpool did do continuously in the first half was giving the ball away fairly cheaply, so all West Ham had to do was charge down the two aforementioned players, and then wait for the ball to be lost by the Reds.

Secondly, it meant that Liverpool’s attacking quartet – Lawley, Hodson, Charles and Linnett – were being starved of service quite a lot of the time, because Liverpool were struggling to play the ball to them, and that meant that these four players had to track back and help out, sometimes to break up a West Ham move, but also to get hold of the ball and move it up towards the West Ham goal. This they did manage to do, but they needed to have a bit more composure with their final pass, and it was this that stopped them getting back into the match once West Ham had scored.

Liverpool had to track back

Another tactic that West Ham had in the first half was to use their wing-backs to cover the wide areas, thus freeing up their midfielders and strikers to only operate in the middle of the field. This meant that they could outnumber Liverpool, and dominate the first half of the match. It also meant that whilst Liverpool’s full-backs, Becky Jane and Leighanne Robe, were trying to get up the pitch a lot, they couldn’t stay up too long and had to track back to stop West Ham finding spaces in behind them. Again, this meant that Liverpool’s attackers were starved of service a little bit.

Whilst this was not directly the reason for West Ham’s goal, the wing-back tactic was. It came when they managed to counter-attack from a Liverpool corner. Whilst the goal itself is not an important detail, the way it was scored is interesting to see. When a team counter-attacks against you, it is important to run back correctly. By that, I mean that defenders have to run back in a way that ensures all available attacking spaces are covered as best as is possible. Liverpool Women weren’t able to do this, and again it was the exceptional Cecilie Kvamme on the right-hand side who provided the cross that the goal came from. As you can see in the image below, it was clear that had Liverpool spread so as to try and slow the Hammers down, it is possible that the goal may not have been scored.

Women's Super League 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs West Ham United Women - tactical analysis tactics
This shows the press of the West Ham players again, but also shows how West Ham used their wing-backs to add increased width to their attacks. The green arrow shows the path of the Liverpool pass. The black line demonstrates how, from Liverpool’s point of view, they left the space open. This is actually the buildup to the Hammers’ goal.
Women's Super League: Liverpool vs West Ham United - tactical analysis tactics
Continuing on, the gap on the near side of the pitch has now been exploited by West Ham’s wing-back Cecilie Kvamme, who has now advanced up the pitch and is ready to cross in, from which West Ham score through Adriana Leon.

Reds’ forwards ‘interchangeable’

Liverpool’s attack was being creative, and the image below shows how they were always in close proximity to each other, always working together. They were interchangeable as well, with each player capable of being in the centre forward position. This was important for the Reds, because whilst one or two of them had to track back to get the ball, the others could continue to stay high up in West Ham United Women’s half, ensuring that the Hammers still had to be wary of going for an all-out attack. Liverpool created so many chances, and would have scored had they had a little more composure when making their final pass.

Women's Super League 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs West Ham United Women - tactical analysis tactics
This shows how Liverpool’s four attacking players – Melissa Lawley, Asley Hodson, Niamh Charles and Kirsty Linnett – were never too far from each other when Liverpool were on the attack.

But whilst the Liverpool attack only needed to find their shooting boots for the second half, and be a little more clinical, the real work to be done at half time was how the Reds were going to make the transition of the ball from defence to attack much better, and that is why I think the following tactic was introduced to Liverpool Women’s game plan, and also what it gave them.

Jepson wanted Reds to ‘play around West Ham’

Reds manager Vicky Jepson clearly wanted the Reds to be more able to play around West Ham, and as such, Ashley Hodson was withdrawn after 67 minutes, and pacy forward Rinsola Banajide was subbed on. Now, they had more pace in attack, and Banajide was now being used on the left-wing, with Niamh Charles seemingly in the striker’s position which Hodson had vacated. Due to this injection of pace in attack, when Liverpool had the ball, they could move the ball up the pitch even quicker. It also meant that left-back Leighanne Robe didn’t need to advance up the pitch as often as she did in the first half, because now there was a winger who did that job for her. That meant she could concentrate on defending, especially since it was her wing that West Ham had run up to score from in the first half. This essentially was Liverpool’s way of trying to shore up their defence and to try not to concede again by closing down the spaces where West Ham had been harming them from.

The other thing that changed was that right-back Becky Jane was given more license to get forward and help out in attack, as were all the players in fact. It seemed as if Vicky Jepson had told her team to not sit back and try to stop West Ham’s wing-backs from getting in behind them, but to go on the attack and help out the quartet at the front by giving them more options to move the ball around to. Clearly, their intention was to attempt to stretch West Ham United Women a little more, and try and find a gap to shoot from. With Jane going further forward, it meant that Liverpool could now concentrate all their attacking players in the middle of the box, with Jane providing the ammunition for them to get on the end of. It definitely made the difference, because Liverpool were more incisive and creative, and their goal was scored because there were more options in attack, so West Ham had more players to mark, and they forgot to mark Niamh Charles.

Women's Super League: Liverpool vs West Ham United - tactical analysis tactics
Right-back Becky Jane (circled) was given the freedom to play more forward in the second half. Rhiannon Roberts’ pass to Jane is marked by the arrow, and it was this move and this tactic that led to Liverpool’s goal.
Women's Super League: Liverpool Women vs West Ham United Women - tactical analysis tactics
This shows how Liverpool created the goal. Becky Jane’s start point is marked by the cross, where she passed the ball to Melissa Lawley. The blue arrow marks Jane’s run after the ball has been passed, and her new position is in the blue circle. The black arrow is the path of the ball towards Lawley, and the England winger is in the black circle ready to cross it into the box, where it was touched in by Niamh Charles.

Conclusion

When a team is struggling for goals, let alone points, it’s easy to drop heads and for confidence to ebb away. But here, Liverpool Women showed that they are still fighting and still giving their all every single week. They are currently bottom of the WSL, with just two points, but a single point from safety. Therefore, if they keep pushing, and playing as they did here, then they can absolutely ensure another season in this league. As for West Ham, I think they will be disappointed with not taking the win here when they know they could have got all three points. They will also be aware, however, that with Liverpool playing so well in the second half, they did well to not lose this one, and a point apiece is probably a fair result for both teams.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #16: December 2019

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