Both sides will have the comment “could do better” next to their names on the school report for the first half of the year. For Liverpool Women, they will know that they have the quality in their side to get themselves out of trouble, and for Birmingham City Women, they will know that they are nowhere near safe. The Blues are a place and a point above the Reds, so this is a game both need to win. This FAWSL clash will be huge for them.

This tactical analysis will show how Liverpool’s attack is now a feared weapon, with it being left wanting at times in the first half of the season, as well as how their strong defence will cause problems for Birmingham. The analysis will also show how Birmingham’s key tactics will be pressing and squeezing Liverpool when the Reds are in possession, and how that has been a feature of their play so far this season.

Liverpool Women’s defence

Liverpool may have had a difficult season so far but the one thing they can be pleased with so far is their defence. Yes, they have conceded goals, but this is not necessarily down to a lack of quality – simply slight lapses in concentration at times. Unfortunately, in this league, that can be all it takes, and with Liverpool’s losses only being by one or two goals, it does show that they just need to eradicate these small moments and they will be fine.

One thing that Liverpool do which is very clever is to spread across the pitch when they have a goal kick. You can see this below.

FAWSL 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs Birmingham City Women - tactical analysis tactics
Liverpool Women use this tactic to force gaps in the opponent’s ranks, like here against Tottenham Hotspur Women….
FAWSL 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs Birmingham City Women - tactical analysis tactics
….and here against Brighton and Hove Albion Women.

What this does is force gaps in opponents’ ranks, and that then allows Liverpool to play the ball wide or long up the field, and they can then win it in the air. It is clever and is something Birmingham will need to be aware of and try to stop. But how do they go about doing that? Well, they can try to push their defence into the midfield when Liverpool have goal kicks, and then the midfield would be free to work with the strikers to mark Liverpool’s back four. This would then allow them to outnumber Liverpool Women when not in possession, which would be a massive bonus for them. Whilst this might not stop Liverpool playing long, it might mean that the ball would not be as easy to win in the air. It would be a risky tactic to use though.

Another thing Liverpool do when defending is force them to dribble the ball into the wider areas, which then becomes easier to cut out when they try to cross it into the box. How they do this is shown below.

FAWSL 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs Birmingham City Women - tactical analysis tactics
Liverpool force opponents to play the ball wide, rather than run inside with it to shoot, like here against Chelsea Women.

You can see how Liverpool’s four-person defence is organised and tightly packed together, meaning there is no way through for their opponents. This means they have to play the ball wide, and, whilst another player can then move across to receive it, a Liverpool defender marks them all the way to prevent the cross coming in. When defending, it is always easier to push attackers into wide positions than to let them cut inside and get shots away from the edge of the box. This is another thing that Birmingham will have to be aware of, especially with Liverpool’s new-found attacking prowess.

Liverpool Women’s attack

In attack, Liverpool Women have been transformed since the start of this month – specifically, when Rachel Furness signed for them. Much has already been written on her impact, but Liverpool look a completely different team with her in it. They have gelled much more, and the gaps in the middle where the striker should be have been filled.

FAWSL 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs Birmingham City Women - tactical analysis tactics
Liverpool’s attack is now much more organised, with all four players creating space and opportunities for each other.

You can see how when Melissa Lawley had possession here against Bristol City Women two weeks ago, she has three options to pass the ball to. This increases their options in attack, providing much more of a threat.

Previously, this would not have been as well organised as now because Liverpool are very capable of getting the ball into the box, but no-one makes the run into the middle of the box to meet it. This is one of the big reasons why Liverpool Women have failed to score in so many games this season.

Their formation of three attackers playing behind one striker should allow them the ability to get players into the box, but, especially with Rinsola Babajide playing, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Babajide tends to drift wide when she is deployed as the lone striker, and that leaves the box open and without an attacking player in it, which means when Liverpool are ready to put the ball into the box to score a goal, it comes to nothing. However now, they look much more invigorated and confident that Furness is amongst them.

FAWSL 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs Birmingham City Women - tactical analysis tactics
Against Brighton and Hove Albion Women, Liverpool Women were able to provide options in the box for the Babajide to pass to.

Above is the previous point in illustration, with this cross from Rinsola Babajide now having two possible destinations. Furness has made the movement into the area, but Melissa Lawley is now on the outside, ready to collect the ball should Furness fail to make contact with it. Previously, the arrow showing Furness’ movement would not be there, because no-one would have been making that run. This shows the changes that have been made to ensure Liverpool now have the best chance possible of winning matches.

Birmingham City Women will have to be aware of these two things, but again, how do they stop them from happening? Well, Liverpool have found playing the ball into the area, rather than crossing it, difficult, so if the Blues were to mark the wingers, and stop Liverpool getting crosses into the area, then they will starve the striker of service. This will then take Liverpool back to before Furness’ arrival – unable to score or create too much. This is something that has been proven in previous matches throughout the season so far.

The other thing they could try is to watch Furness in the no. 10 position, and Niamh Charles on the wing, as these two are Liverpool’s most creative players. Both like to play more centrally, and so drift inside to play balls through the middle to the players further forward. Charles in particular has an eye for a long-range pass, whilst Furness tends to get in those areas and shoot. Marking them could, again, grind Liverpool’s attacking gears to a halt.

Birmingham City Women’s tactics

As far as Birmingham City Women are concerned, they have their own tactics which are incredibly effective. In their last match against Liverpool back in November, they squeezed the defenders to the extent that there was no space for the Reds to move around and pass in. What is meant by this is seen below.

FAWSL 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs Birmingham City Women - tactical analysis tactics
Against Liverpool Women, Birmingham City Women closed down the spaces so the Reds had nowhere to go.
FAWSL 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs Birmingham City Women - tactical analysis tactics
At goal kicks, they again closed down Liverpool Women’s options.
FAWSL 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs Birmingham City Women - tactical analysis tactics
Here, Birmingham City Women again close down the player in possession and the space in front of her.

Birmingham hunt in packs when out of possession, as shown, and shut down the spaces very quickly.  It doesn’t matter who they are playing, either, or which area of the pitch the ball is in – they will surround the ball and force the opponents to play the ball backwards. You can see that, when the opponent is in possession, they instantly swoop around the player and stop them being able to play the ball forwards.

In the third image, you can see how Birmingham have got two players marking the Liverpool player in possession, and a third player is cutting off the possible run forwards. This is very clever defending from Birmingham, as it gives them an insurance option as well – should the opponent escape the trap that the Blues have set, they won’t be able to cross or pass into the box, because this third defender will cut off their advance.

FAWSL 2019/2020: Liverpool Women vs Birmingham City Women - tactical analysis tactics
Against Arsenal Women earlier this month, Birmingham City Women surrounded the attackers and ensured they couldn’t offload the ball.

Above, you can see how Arsenal Women are advancing forwards, but they can’t pass the ball because Birmingham have sprung another of these traps on them. Whilst this time, the image shows how there are ways out of it, the idea is still the same. Birmingham can now move inwards on the attacking player and take the ball off them, before moving it up the field again.

This is almost their signature move, just as Liverpool’s is too defend by making the pitch as big as possible. As has been shown, it is also really effective too, and was the main reason why they got their win against Liverpool Women earlier in the season. Liverpool will need to up the tempo of their passing in order to avoid being caught in these traps, because the alternative is that they will be caught in situations similar to the ones shown above.

Lineups

As far as lineups go, Liverpool will be expected to start in their favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. The usual back four of Becky Jane, captain Sophie Bradley-Auckland, Niamh Fahey and Leighanne Robe will be expected to start once again. Rhiannon Roberts and Jade Bailey have made the two holding midfield roles their own in recent match weeks, and in attack, it tends to be Melissa Lawley, Niamh Charles, January signing Rachel Furness and Rinsola Babajide who make up the attack. Furness’ impact has been discussed above, but Babajide and Lawley, who were both struggling to get themselves into matches, have been particularly beneficial of her arrival.

In particular, last time out against Bristol City Women at Stoke Gifford, Lawley had her best match this season, and that was because she now has someone in the middle to get on the end of her crosses, which is her strength. Earlier in the season, she often found that there was no teammate to get on the end of her crosses, and that is something that Furness, who was the beating heart of everything good about the Reds against the Robins, has added to the team.

As far as Birmingham City Women are concerned, the main focus of their team is Lucy Staniforth, with the England international arguably the first name on the team sheet for the Blues. Rachel Williams is expected to start in attack, with Abbi Grant alongside her. Another of Birmingham’s stars is one of the best left-backs in the league, Adrienne Jordan, who will be a big threat to Liverpool Women.  She makes overlaps and dominates the left-wing, freeing other players up to play more centrally. This means that instead of Birmingham having two central attackers, they have more than that, and that is one way that they could perhaps nullify Liverpool’s goal kick threat. This could cause Liverpool Women a lot of problems, as she is not an easy player to mark or to stop, and she puts plenty of good balls into the box for the likes of Staniforth, Williams and Grant to get on the end of. Other players expected to play include Lucy Skipp and Chloe Arthur, both of whom are midfield goalscoring threats to watch out for.

Conclusion

This is going to be a really interesting game to watch because it features two sides who can both be considered as “fallen giants”. Liverpool Women are former league champions, whilst Birmingham City Women finished last season in fourth place. Now both are struggling and in a relegation battle. However, both have tactics that can be used to force a win, and it will be intriguing to see how both use them, or if they cancel each other out, which is a distinct possibility.