We present the tactical analysis for FAWSL fixture held at City Football Academy Stadium. Manchester City W.F.C. welcomed Everton W.F.C. in the first fixture of the weekend.
We will focus on the tactics used by Nick Cushing to make it three wins in a row. Everton Women have now suffered three consecutive defeats in the FAWSL 2019/20. They have lost their last three games by a score of three goals to one. In this tactical analysis, we primarily zoom-in on why Manchester City Women were the dominant side. Everton Women reflected a lowly performance with relatively ineffective tactics deployed by Willie Kirk.
Nick Cushing used a 4-4-2 formation for the hosts. He made two changes with respect their lineup deployed against Tottenham Hotspur Women. Demi Stokes replaced Megan Campbell in the left-back role. Ellen White made way for Georgia Stanway to partner Pauline Bremer in the attacking line.
Man City (4-4-2): Ellie Roebuck, Janine Beckie, Steph Houghton(C), Gemma Bonner, Demi Stokes, Jill Scott, Keira Walsh, Caroline Weir, Lauren Hemp, Pauline Bremer, Georgia Stanway.
The visitors made three changes to their starting eleven. They used a 4-2-3-1 formation. Taylor Hinds flanked the centre-backs from the right-hand side. Abbey-Leigh Stringer replaced Megan Finnigan in a double pivot set-up alongside Maèva Clemaron. For the attacking midfield zone, Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah started the match. She replaced their star attacker, Chloe Kelly who was out due to an injury. New signing, Izzy Christiansen did not travel with the squad.
Everton (4-2-3-1): Tinja-Riika Korpela, Taylor Hinds, Kika van Es, Gabrielle George, Danielle Turner, Maèva Clemaron, Abbey-Leigh Stringer, Chantelle Boye-Hlorkah, Lucy Graham(C), Inessa Kaagman, Hannah Cain.
Citizens’ Acute Pressure
The women in sky blue dominated the match with an exceptional pressing technique. Barring the first three minutes of the match, Manchester City took control of the game. The Citizens started to press aggressively in numbers in the opposition’s half. Everton rarely had a chance to build their attack from the back. As a result, the Toffees were forced to use a long-ball approach to find one of their own in a pink shirt.
Manchester City’s forwards, Bremer and Stanway applied the first wave of pressure. It was, more often, Stanway who was the aggressive one amongst them. When Tinja-Riika Korpela possessed the ball, both the forwards remained inward in order to cover the CDM duo of Stringer and Clemaron. Stanway charged forward in the box, the moment Korpela passed the ball to one of the centre-backs. While Bremer blocked the passing option to the second centre-half, Caroline Weir pounced to mark Clemaron.
Jill Scott and Lauren Hemp joined Weir in the second wave of pressure. The wide midfielders were given the duties to remain slightly inverted. This allowed them to keep a check on Everton’s full-backs with an option to press the centre midfielders. It was an astute move from Cushing to shut Everton’s passage via vertical passes from their defensive third.
Moreover, City’s full-backs maintained a high-line as they hugged the touchline. This was the third wave of City’s pressing manoeuvre. As a result, it further solidified their defensive block.
The reason for City piling such enormous pressure was fairly simple. Everton used a rather compact structure to defend. Their wide attacking players, usually, remained in the inside channels. Hence, with no real challenge for City’s full-backs, Everton were locked in their own half. City’s forwards and four midfielders controlled the central and half-spaces. The full-backs patrolled the flanks. It was a foolproof solution from Cushing. Consequently, the visitors found it hard to break through and their long-ball approach was dealt with easily by City.
In the image below, observe how the forwards position themselves. Stanway has covered Stringer behind her. Bremer has Kika van Es in her sights. Weir (not in the image) is applying the second wave of pressure on Clemaron who appears free for a pass. Jill Scott has the option to keep a check on both Stringer and Danielle Turner.
Following the scenario from the above image, Stanway charges with a curved movement to press Gabrielle George who receives the ball from Korpela. Scott Turns her attention towards Turner and Weir starts moving towards the right-hand side. As a result, George is forced to use a long-ball approach.
In another instance, Everton’s centre-midfielder receives the ball. Keira Walsh acknowledges her opponent’s position and applies pressure in order to regain possession. It was again an intelligent move, forcing Everton to concede a throw-in.
City’s Wildcard: Creating Overloads
A by-product of Manchester City’s aggressive pressing technique was creating overloads to win possession. It was an essential wildcard move from the Citizens. They used it when Everton found a way through their press.
As an alternative to their long-ball approach, Everton used wide areas to build their attack. Their wide attacking options dropped in deep to help bring the ball out during such scenarios. Manchester City’s rigid 4-4-2 structure, yet again, got the upper hand here. It should be no surprise to learn that City’s full-backs took an active part in this manoeuvre.
The ideology was crystal clear. Succumb Everton on the flanks should they manage to break through the press from the wide areas.
Manchester City were quite robust in applying these tactics. City worked tirelessly to block Everton’s passing options in the centre. They hardly allowed Everton to create a threatening chance in the central zones. The statistics verify this as Everton took merely five shots throughout the match with two on target.
As a case in point, take a look at the picture given below. Boye-Hlorkah pulls back on her left flank to build the attack. She finds herself inside a trap created by Scott, Janine Beckie, and Walsh who are trying to squeeze her space.
In another instance when Everton penetrates the final third, it is again Beckie, Walsh, and Scott who overload Everton’s player in possession. This further allows City to shield Ellie Rouebeck with three defenders against Everton’s two attackers.
Manchester City used this tactic throughout the match. In the picture below, four City players are charging in to cover the space. This time it in City’s attacking third as they attempt to win the ball and create a scoring opportunity. It almost led to City’s fourth goal as Stanway’s shot went slightly wide.
Man City: Intelligent Movement & Quick Transitions
Everton, ostensibly, maintained a medium defensive block. They majorly used 4-2-3-1 formation, albeit, Willie Kirk sporadically opted for a 4-5-1 or even a 4-4-1-1 in defence. Irrespective of the formation, the Toffees used a compact structure to defend. This, initially, denied City a chance to create threatening chances.
In order to open spaces in Everton’s defence, City used a clever passing trap. Nick Cushing used Everton’s compactness in his team’s favour. The Citizens were shrewd and incisive in moving the ball from centre-backs to full-backs. They fine-tuned their build-up to find a clear channel for vertical passing options.
The idea behind this move was to drag Everton’s compact unit on one side and quickly turn the ball in the other direction via a centre-back to a full-back or send a long-ball down for a forward. They used this strategy to catch Everton off guard. When Everton’s back four were difficult to breakthrough via a long-ball, City used their positional intelligence. A forward often dropped deep to break open the defensive unit of players. This is when a corresponding wide midfielder capitalized and used the space to drive forward. City’s full-backs, especially Beckie, played a crucial role here.
In addition to their slick movement, City were quick in transitions. The moment City won the ball, they launched an attack. They used quick successive passes to restart the attack and put the ball in the final third through a combination of vertical passes and long-balls. The reason for City thriving in this system was a lack of threat around their full-backs. Everton defended narrowly and hence, City made use of both, space and time.
Look at the first example below. In the tenth minute, Beckie passes the ball to Bremer who pulls deep. The German forward drags Turner with her which opens space for Scott. To launch the ball in the final third, Bremer gives the ball to Walsh. Finally, Walsh releases a through-ball having already spotted the space ahead of Scott.
In the second example here, Beckie is quick to spot Stanway who is charging through Everton’s last line of defence. With Clemaron filing the left-back duties in Turner’s stead, Stanway has a better chance to beat her in this zone.
The next one is a quick transition from City. It took them around 23 seconds to transition and put the ball in the final third. City won the ball and restarted their attack through the centre-backs. Weir receives a long-ball who then feeds Stokes on the left. Bremer has acres of space ahead of her to exploit and Stokes wastes no time to supply the ball.
The last one below is a combination of quick transition and City opening space, surpassing Everton’s last line of defence. City regains possession following Everton’s throw-in. Lauren Hemp controls the ball, fighting-off Everton’s pressure. Gemma Bonner is fed the ball which is then delivered to Beckie via Houghton. Finally, (in the next picture) Beckie moves a few yards on the half-line and delivers a diagonal cross. Although Taylor Hinds mistimes her header, Hemp is quick to react in that space to receive the ball. This move ultimately led to City’s opening goal.
Everton’s Ineffective Pressing
Apart from their defensive frailties in their own half, Everton also failed to press effectively from an advanced position. The reason, as we have explained above, was their use of a compact structure in City’s half.
Moreover, they used a 4-2-3-1 shape or even a 4-5-1 to press. This isolated their striker at the head of attack. As a result, Hannah Cain had to bear the burden to move in all directions to apply pressure. This gave City acres of space in their own third to build the attack. City took advantage of this and used width for exploiting Everton’s press. Even Ellie Roebuck was used as a passing option with the centre-backs splitting wide. The full-backs could comfortably sit in an advanced position on the touchline.
Kirk used a rather tepid approach with respect to the intensity of the press. Their wide midfielders surged forward to apply the second wave pressure. However, there was a lack of support from the centre-midfielders in that zone. This was probably the reason which allowed City’s full-backs to thrive in their territory.
City used Bremer and Stanway as the attacking duo up front. They possess an exceptional quality to run between the defenders and break the opposition’s last line of defence. This appears to be the prime reason for Everton’s opting for a medium block. On the contrary, the Toffees should have piled pressure on City’s build-up process. It was Everton’s slack pressing that cost them three points.
In the image given below, Everton are sitting in a compact 4-5-1 structure. Cain is the only attacker applying pressure from the front. This allows City to move the ball from Houghton to Beckie via Walsh. Further, Everton’s narrow shape provides an ample amount of space for Beckie to carry the ball forward.
Again, as shown in the picture below, City finds space in their build-up. Cain applies pressure on Roebuck who has Houghton and Beckie as viable passing options. Additionally, observe the distance between Beckie and Boye-Hlorkah. There is also room for one of the centre-midfielders to drop in and collect the ball. Essentially, this gave sufficient time for City to bring the ball forward using vertical passing options.
In the final example here, Cain is caught up between City’s passing channel from the back. Roebuck joins the scene for a smooth passage of the ball to Beckie. Also, Everton’s wide attackers, Boye-Hlorkah and Kaagman are nowhere near Cain to press. It was Graham and Clemaron who later arrived to apply the second wave of pressure on Beckie. Basically, Everton were slightly disorganised with respect to their structure.
Manchester City Women earned a well-deserved victory. Nick Cushing was spot on with his tactics. City dominated the game with 58% possession of the ball. Their xG dynamics, too, speak for their domination. They scored 2.93 on the xG scale which lies 0.07 points below their actual tally of three goals. Everton, on the other hand, had 0.39 xG score. The Toffees bagged one in the dying minutes, courtesy of Stanway’s own goal.
City’s astute tactical and organised gameplay was the key difference. They pressed with high intensity, used clever movement to break lines and wasted no time in transitions. No wonder City had 0.46 attacks per minute and made 28 recoveries in opponents half compared to Everton’s stats of 0.19 and 16, respectively. The Citizens largely ran the show.