Chelsea Women are sitting in second place in the FAWSL league standings, eagerly poised to take the top spot from leaders Manchester City. Averaging 3.23 goals scored and with only 0.62 goals against per game over the first 13 fixtures, they have made an undefeated start to the season including marquee wins over both Arsenal Women & Manchester City Women. They are on course to improve on last year’s third-place finish, challenging for the title in a close race that will likely go right down to the wire.
This tactical analysis scouting report will look at how Sophie Ingle has formed a key role in Emma Hayes’ flexible 4-4-2 system, with a focus on both her roles and responsibilities in and out of possession. Hayes clearly places high value in Ingle who has started the joint highest number of games alongside Millie Bright, Bethany England and Guro Reitan with 13.
Ingle returned to Chelsea Women in 2018 after previously representing the club from 2012-2014 before stints at Bristol Academy (now Bristol City Women) & Liverpool Women. She has made a total of 118 top-flight appearances. Ingle is the current Chelsea ‘Players Player of the Year’, was Liverpool’s ‘Player of the Year’ in 2017 and the ‘Players Player of the Year’ in 2018. She is the current captain of the Wales national team.
System and position:
During the 2018/19 season, Emma Hayes implemented primarily either 4-2-3-1 (37%) or a 4-3-3 (19%) formations. For the 2019/20 season, Hayes has shifted focus to a 4-4-2 as she aims to maximize the potential of her talented squad. Whilst ‘star’ players Ji So-yun, Fran Kirby, Bethany England, Guro Reitan and new arrival Sam Kerr may get more of the headlines, Sophie Ingle provides the foundation for the teams attacking and defensive structures. She plays predominately as one of the two central midfielders in the 4-4-2 but is a versatile player and has previous experience as both a left and central defender. The following two diagrams demonstrate the average positions of Chelsea, with Ingle (#5) the central focal point.
Key piece in Chelsea’s pressing puzzle:
Ingle positions herself to complete two defensive tactical roles when Chelsea Women are out of possession. These are to deny the oppositions forward passing lines and apply pressure to the oppositions central midfielders when defending centrally. This is highlighted by Ingle averaging 5.1 interceptions per game and 10.64 recoveries in the opposition half.
In the diagram below, the 4-4-2 systems compact shape is evident and is applying high pressure to the Arsenal defenders in possession. Within the pressing structure of Chelsea Women one central midfielder has defensive responsibility for the oppositions holding midfielder and one has responsibility for the attacking central midfielder in the strong side vertical lane. The tactical approach of Chelsea when defending against a central midfield three is often to move infield the weak side midfielder to negate the potential numerical inferiority and mark the opposition weak side central attacking midfielder.
In this specific example, Ji So-yun has moved higher from her central position and has responsibility for the opposition’s defensive midfielder, limiting their time and space to receive. Ingle’s responsibility is therefore to position herself in order to deny the vertical and deeper passing option on the ball side. From this space, she can both eliminate the passing option and contest the ‘second ball’ should Arsenal attempt a longer pass. Ingle also dominates in the air and has won 63.1% of her aerial duels over the 2019/20 FAWSL season.
Defensive balance and impact on transitional play:
Another key characteristic of Ingle and contributing factor to the overall success of the Chelsea FC Women’s system and tactical approach is the defensive balance she provides when Chelsea are in possession. This positioning is important during potential defensive transitional moments (when Chelsea lose possession). Balance is achieved by occupying central and ball side positions when Chelsea are in possession in the middle to final thirds of the field, covering teammates who have made forward attacking movements. This positional play also helps provide support in possession, discussed later in this article.
Ingle allows the front five attacking players space and freedom to attack in the final third by occupying this deeper and central space. This limits the opportunities for the opponent to counterattack. Ingle’s heat map below clearly demonstrates her primarily occupying the middle third zone and commanding this space of the field.
The picture diagram below also represents another good example of defensive balance positioning and the ability to intercept passes on defensive transition. Here Ingle sees the potential (and subsequent) turnover of possession high and has intercepted the first Arsenal pass intended for the attacking midfielder. Ingle often initiates new attacking opportunities by looking to play the first pass forward, exploiting the oppositions unorganized shape.
Spatial awareness and positional interchanges in possession:
Ingle is an astute tactical player in possession, she understands and can implement the creative positional rotations in Emma Hayes’ team very well. As part of the 4-4-2 system, Ingle and her central midfield partner have license to interchange in order to disorganize the oppositions midfield line. They are therefore potentially able to approach each situation tactically as a double pivot. However, traditionally, Ingle will be the deeper of the central players, linking the defensive and middle thirds. Ingle provides depth and short support options around the ball in order to change the point of attack or play out of pressure. This also helps with defensive transitional moments discussed earlier.
Ingle has clever movement and positional rotations to find and create space. When facing a two pressing forward system, she can drop in between the central defenders to create a 3v2 situation or to provoke pressure from an opposition midfielder higher and out of their compact shape. Ingle will often move inside when a Chelsea central defender is in possession to provide a short and angled passing option.
Below are three examples of spacing to receive with a specific focus on positional rotations. In the first example, when facing two central pressing forwards from Arsenal, Ingle has dropped deeper to receive the ball and provoke pressure from an Arsenal midfielder, thus opening space higher for Ji So-yun, Reitan or Kerr to exploit. The second example, Ingle has interchanged with the wide defender to provoke pressure from Arsenals wide forward and open space centrally for Chelsea’s left defender to exploit. In the final positional interchange example, Bright, the central defender has rotated inside, leaving space in the right central defender position for Ingle to receive a pass from the GK, receive facing forward and progress the ball unopposed.
Ingle is also an accurate passer of the ball, attempting 47.1 and completing 88.4% of simple passes and attempting 6.18 and completing 79.8% of her long pass attempts. She often plays short and simple passes in order to link the defensive third and middle thirds of the field. An area for growth is that she does average only 0.14 ‘key passes’ per game. A key pass is a pass that creates a clear goal scoring situation.
In summary of this tactical analysis scouting report of Sophie Ingle, her importance both in and out of possession for the success of the Chelsea FC Women’s team is very clear. Whilst more attacking players may get the headlines with goals and assist statistics, Ingle’s role cannot be understated in providing both an attacking and defending foundation and a balanced play. She occupies and dominates the central zone through accurate and consistent short passing, smart positional rotations, spatial awareness and by anticipating potential loss of possession.