The FAWSL train chugged into Six Pointer Station for this one, with second-bottom Bristol City Women meeting rock-bottom Liverpool Women for the second time this season. Last time these two met, at Prenton Park, the game ended in a 1-1 draw, with Ebony Salmon scoring for the Robins before Melissa Lawley netted Liverpool’s first goal of the season from the penalty spot. However, this was a very different game, as this tactical analysis will explain. The analysis will also show how Liverpool’s system gave them an advantage in this one, whilst Bristol’s tactics played right into the Reds’ hands.

Lineups

Bristol City Women                                                  Liverpool Women

S. Baggaley                                                              A. Preuss

M. Sargeant                                                              B. Jane

F. Brown (c)                                                              S. Bradley-Auckland (c)

G. Evans                                                                   N. Fahey

P. Pattinson                                                               L. Robe

J. Matthews                                                              R. Roberts

Y. Daniels                                                                 J. Bailey

C. Wellings                                                               R. Furness

O. Chance                                                                N. Charles

E. Salmon                                                                R. Babajide

E. Hughes                                                                M. Lawley

Liverpool Women made just one change from their last match, two weeks ago away at Brighton and Hove Albion Women. Rhiannon Roberts came in to replace Kirsty Linnett, who wasn’t named in the squad at all. Winger Melissa Lawley made her 100th WSL appearance, becoming the third-youngest player to do so. For Bristol City Women, they made one change, with captain Loren Dykes missing, and forward Charlie Wellings replacing her. Scotland defender Frankie Brown took the armband in Dykes’ absence for Tanya Oxtoby’s side.

Liverpool Women’s attack

Liverpool’s attack has been the thing that has let them down this season, with the Reds unable to create too many clear cut opportunities, and then not being able to convert them even when they do get them. However, against Bristol, they managed to create quite a few good chances and actually looked like they had turned a corner. Manager Vicky Jepson wanted her side to go out and fight for every ball, and that is exactly what they did. In particular, their attacking quartet of Melissa Lawley, Niamh Charles, Rinsola Babajide and January acquisition Rachel Furness were all singing from the same song sheet when it came to pressing Bristol.

FAWSL 2019/2020: Bristol City v Liverpool - tactical analysis tactics
Liverpool Women pressed tightly against Bristol City Women at Stoke Gifford Stadium. They were on the front foot from the first whistle, which helped them to pile pressure on Bristol, and the Reds did not look like a team fighting for their lives at the bottom of the WSL.

What this meant was that, with Liverpool pressing Bristol’s defenders, the Robins couldn’t play the ball forward at all, and constantly had to move the ball backwards. It also meant that Bristol couldn’t play out from the back – something that has often caught Liverpool out this season. Instead, goalkeeper Sophie Baggaley constantly had to play the ball long, and that is where Liverpool are strongest – in the air.

One thing I have criticised Rinsola Babajide for doing too often this season is for drifting out wide to play as a winger when she has been given the central striker’s role. This often means that she forces the player who is actually playing on the wing to see very little of the ball, and have a quiet match. She did this against Bristol, but fortunately, in this one, it was Niamh Charles who Babajide was stifling. But I think this inadvertently helped Liverpool’s attack even more, because Charles’ best position for me is when she is playing as a no. 10, through the middle behind the striker, and she switched her positioning to play down the middle quite often in this match.

FAWSL 2019/2020: Bristol City v Liverpool - tactical analysis tactics
Niamh Charles likes to play in these positions, where she can move the ball forward and create opportunities for teammates. The arrow shows the pass she opted to take, which set up Melissa Lawley to create a chance here.

This is definitely her best position, and I think having her in these areas means Liverpool have an extra weapon when attacking, because of her wide range of passing.

I mentioned the attacking quartet previously, but this is an even better example of how they worked together to create opportunities.

FAWSL 2019/2020: Bristol City v Liverpool - tactical analysis tactics
Here, you can see how Liverpool Women tried to stretch Bristol City Women’s defenders apart so that the Reds could try to find gaps in between the players.

You can see how, with Babajide and Charles playing either side of the Bristol defence, it slowly stretches the defenders until gaps appear in the middle of them. That is where Rachel Furness can then run through to get on the end of any opportunities that come into the box. Melissa Lawley, who I think had her best match of the season so far, was constantly Liverpool’s creator-in-chief, helping her teammates to get shots at goal through her clever passing.

Bristol City Women’s general play

As far as Bristol City Women were concerned, it was a combination of Liverpool’s defending and their own tactics that let them down in this one.

Tactically, I think their defence got it wrong against Liverpool Women. They were too narrow at times, and that played right into Liverpool’s hands. The Reds may not have the most potent of attacks, but they do like to get the ball wide to Melissa Lawley and Niamh Charles, who tend to be their first-choice wingers. What this means for defences is they have to keep players marking the wings, in order to stop Liverpool Women running in behind them. But that is exactly what happened.

FAWSL 2019/2020: Bristol City Women v Liverpool Women - tactical analysis tactics
Bristol City Women’s defensive structure was too narrow. With Liverpool Women using their wingers to create width in every game, this meant the away side had an advantage simply by doing what they always do and getting the ball in behind the opposing defence via the wingers.

Whilst this is quite late on in the game, it did happen quite a few times throughout it. If Bristol City Women had been a little more spread out and held their line, then Liverpool may have struggled to get too many chances because they would have been forced to cross from very wide areas, and that is then much easier to cut out for the defenders.

In attack, they actually didn’t do much wrong – it was more down to Liverpool Women’s defending that meant Bristol were unable to do much here.

FAWSL 2019/2020: Bristol City Women v Liverpool Women - tactical analysis tactics
Liverpool Women’s defence has been their strength this season so far, and they proved again why they don’t concede too many. Every time Bristol City Women tried to attack, they were shepherded out wide, and Liverpool could then cut out the attempted cross. They also ensured that the supporting Bristol players couldn’t join the attack by marking them, as shown.

You can see how Bristol is being forced to play out wide, and Liverpool are happy for them to have the ball in these situations. This is not the first time that Liverpool Women have done this either. Against Chelsea Women in December, it was the reason that Chelsea had no luck at Prenton Park, and the match ended 1-1. In fact, the Reds’ defence has been their best asset this season, and it’s things like this that have meant that whilst they may not score many goals, they don’t concede too many either. Bristol may have been at fault for their defensive tactics, but this bit was purely down to Liverpool’s tactics.

Rachel Furness

Finally, Rachel Furness’ impact at Liverpool Women has been huge. She seems to have added to the attack what Liverpool needed and were missing. Furness is a player who can play on either wing, but also, crucially, down the middle as a no. 10, which is where I think she would be best placed for Liverpool Women going forward. Earlier in the season, especially when Babajide was playing as the striker and drifting wide, it left the goal area completely empty of any attackers, and that often meant that when Liverpool created a chance, there was no-one to cross to, and the move petered out. Now though, Furness is happy to slot into that role, as she did here against Bristol City Women.

FAWSL 2019/2020: Bristol City Women v Liverpool Women - tactical analysis tactics
Rinsola Babajide has drifted over to the wing, and in the first half of the season, this would have caused Liverpool issues. Now, though, Rachel Furness fills the gap in the middle of the attack.

Furness will be a hugely important player if Liverpool Women have any chance of staying up, and I would call her signing a masterstroke by Vicky Jepson. She is versatile and, as she proved against Bristol, has goals in her. The thing that I was most impressed about though was her leadership on the pitch. Liverpool’s captain and vice-captain are both central defenders, and so in attack, they have lacked someone to take control and keep everything very tidy, and that has shown at times this season. Furness is not afraid to point around and tell her teammates where she wants them, and she is obviously up for the relegation fight.

Conclusion

This was a hugely important result for Liverpool Women, and hopefully, it will give them confidence that they can score goals and win games, and can survive relegation. They are still not the complete package, but one thing there has always been in the squad is talent – and now it is starting to show a bit more. However, on the flip side, Bristol City Women are now the league’s bottom side and will need to work very hard to get out of the relegation zone. They currently have a goal difference of -29, and as the analysis has shown, their defensive tactics and structure are what is mostly causing this. Next week, they travel to Tottenham Hotspur Women, in what is looking like a really difficult match, but one they have to get something in. Liverpool Women’s next game is at home to another team in trouble, Birmingham City Women, who are currently a point and a place above them in the table.