This tactical analysis will focus on the contrasting systems and tactics used by Brighton & Hove Albion WFC and Tottenham Hotspur FC Women during the FAWSL fixture between the two teams at Broadfield Stadium, Crawley. Both teams entered the game struggling to score goals with Brighton totaling 11 goals in 14 games (0.78 per game) and Tottenham managing only 14 goals in their 14 (1 per game) FAWSL league games previously. This fixture proved no exception with Tottenham finishing 1-0 winner’s courtesy of a 69th-minute penalty by Rianna Dean.
Brighton finished the game with an xG score of 0.76 and in comparison, Tottenham finished with an xG score of 1.16, proving the final score an accurate indication of the balance of play when looking into the quantity and quality of chances created.
The tactical analysis will focus on the initial high pressing tactics implemented by Brighton and how this matched against Tottenham’s built out principles. The focus will also be on a specific influential player for Tottenham, Ashleigh Neville and finally the key incident in the game (red card) and the subsequent tactical impacts of this.
Brighton began the game in a 1-4-4-2 system that matched up against a 1-4-2-3-1 system from Tottenham. The red card to Le Garrac on 30 minutes forced Brighton into a 1-4-4-1 system for the remainder of the game which will be discussed in detail later.
Brighton: Walsh, Barton, Kerkdijk, Williams, Le Tissier, Green, Simpkins, Bowman, Nilden, Le Garrec, Whelan.
Tottenham: Spencer, Neville, Godfrey, Filbey, Worm, Green, Percival, Leon, Davison, Addison, Dean
Initial high Brighton press vs. Tottenham build out play
The game began with Brighton implementing high pressing tactics in a 1-4-4-2 structure. Tottenham in comparison remained consistent to their possession and build out play principles and 1-4-3-3 system. The two different styles of high pressing/territory principles of play (Brighton) vs. build out/possession orientated principles of play (Tottenham) can be seen in the total possession stats from the game. Brighton were in possession for a total of 42% compared with 58% from Tottenham.
Tottenham Hotspur FC Women created a free pass from the GK, Rebecca Spencer, by splitting the central defenders deep and very wide, positioning outside the penalty area. This attempted to force the two central forwards of Brighton to cover a larger distance horizontally. If the Brighton pressing player was slow to press or positioned too central, a positive first touch was taken forward by the central defenders (Hannah Godfrey and Anna Filbey) to eliminate the first line of pressure.
However, Brighton were generally successful in disrupting the buildup play by forcing Tottenham to pass initially very square from the GK. The receiving player, therefore, did so underneath the pressing two forwards with little space to run with the ball forward. Brighton were then able to use this initial pass into the central defender as the pressing trigger. The two central forwards would attempt to half the field. Combine this with tight making that limited the shorter passing options into the pivot players or closest wide defender, Tottenham were forced to attempt passes into crowded areas around the wide forward or central attacking midfielder position. These areas, due to the distance/time taken from the passer also allowed Brighton time to move into good defensive pressing positions.
Brighton in comparison were not committed to building out possession, playing longer passes from the GK, Megan Walsh, and focusing on keeping the territorial play inside Tottenham’s half of the field. Tottenham, who pressed from the front with 3 forwards, utilized the left forward, Angela Addison and right forward Lucia Leon infield and pressing towards the central defenders of Brighton. Brighton were not comfortable or did not recognize the potential 2v1 using the wide outside channels. The two differing styles of GK distribution can be seen in the two graphics below which show the total number of attempted short & long distributions by each GK.
Influence of Ashleigh Neville
One specific player who has an interesting tactical role within Tottenham’s approach is the right defender, Ashleigh Neville. Neville, who has appeared in 13 FAWSL games this season was a constant attacking threat to Brighton on Tottenham’s right side. She provided passing and support options both in the build out play but also attacking from the middle into final thirds of the field. As evident in the below graphic, Tottenham focused their attacks on the right side vs. virtually zero on the left.
Tottenham were able to create 2v1 situations, especially when initiating attacks on the left before changing the angle to the right side. The 2v1s were created by the right forward, Lucia Leon, positioning very high and infield, thus fixing the wide defender of Brighton. The result of this was creating space for Neville, who was positioned wider and past the left midfielder of Brighton, Amanda Nilden, who positionally was required to be compact and in the central zone. The diagram below shows the average position of the Brighton players, clear is the space available on the left side of Brighton and able to be exploited by Neville.
Neville is also a competent dribbler, able to run with the ball into midfield and central zones when the forward and more vertical passing option down the line was eliminated. Neville utilized attacking on the dribble by bringing the ball into central areas for a combination. Neville attempted the third-highest number of dribbles in the game and was equal first in number of touches inside the opposition penalty area, tied with Angela Addison.
Brighton down to 10 players
The sending off for two yellow card offences, on 30 minutes of Brighton player Lea Le Garrec, had a clear influence on the game and both teams were required (or able) to adjust and tactically reorganize for the 11v10 situation.
With Brighton now in a 1-4-4-1 system, this had large implications for the way they were able to press from the front, now with only one as opposed to two central forwards. In the example below, Brighton player, Emily Simpkins is responsible for pressing both central defenders. Anna Filbey and Hannah Godfrey were, therefore, able to be more patient in the buildup play, utilize the 2v1 and create a situation where one of them had time and space ahead to progress the ball forward. Brighton introduced substitute Ini-Abasi Unotomg at half time in an attempt to maintain high pressing and due to the new requirements of the now one central forward having to cover more horizontal space. Her isolation during the second half, however, was highlighted by having zero touches inside the opponent’s penalty area.
Although Brighton were able to apply less pressure higher up the field, Tottenham dropped the wide defender on the left-hand side deeper during the second half when in possession, thus creating a flatter defensive line of three and an asymmetrical build-up shape. The left central defender would ‘fix’ the Brighton central forward, looking to create a 2v1 on the right side and a central defender with space to receive forward.
Brighton remained compact through midfield, however, and were not drawn out by the positioning of this deeper wide defender. Brighton also pushed the two central midfielders onto the double pivot of Tottenham, eliminating this short passing option. As a result, Tottenham found it difficult to exploit the numerical superiority 3v2 in central midfield and played more direct passes into the forwards.
Not only was the pressing from the front tactics of Brighton impacted by the red card, but we can also see implications in possession and a difficulty providing support to the central striker. This subsequently impacted negative transition (loss of the ball). Brighton initially started with two central forwards who could work off each other, combine centrally. But, due to the red card, now in order to create numbers around the central forward, for both combinations and to win the ‘second ball’, the wide forwards narrowed, especially on the left side As you can see below, during negative transition, with the wide forward of Brighton forced to support central, Tottenham have a 2v1 along the right-hand side.
In conclusion to this tactical analysis for the FAWSL game between Brighton & Hove Albion WFC and Tottenham Hotspur FC Women, we can see two different approaches to the game and principles of play. An asymmetrical build out play was implemented in an attempt to both draw out the opposition and push a defender in to midfield. Also evident is the impact a sending off has on the game and the tactical implications of playing with either a player down or an extra player. The victory for Tottenham pushes them higher up the standings with Brighton continuing to look to stay out of the relegation zone. While the hope of Champions League football remains unlikely the team have the foundation to make it in the upcoming season.