This season has had a promising start for the Chelsea Women‘s team in the FAWSL with several new recruits, international players, and veterans to thank for winning 12 out of the last 15 matches they have played. A veteran of the club for the past three seasons, 21-year-old Scotland international Erin Cuthbert has had a big part to play in Chelsea’s success. Coming off the back of a successful performance as part of the Scottish international team in the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France, it is evident the key role Cuthbert plays in every team she represents.
Appearing in the starting line-up for Chelsea 12 times out of the last 14 games and in all three games for Scotland in the WWC, it is her ability with the ball out on the wing playing as a #7 or #11 and her vision to then drive central that makes Cuthbert a crucial part of her team’s attacking force.
When we look at how Chelsea like to play, it is evident that there is a huge attacking force present. With the likes of Kerr, England, and So Yun Ji to name a few, it shows that coach Emma Hayes’ plan is to attack hard and quick, and with players like these, it’s no surprise that Chelsea has 3 players in the top goal scorers for the league.
Whilst there is plenty of strength up the middle of the pitch, it is Cuthbert and Reiten who provide the attacking width for the team. Together the two has a combined 48 crosses between and 6 assists, proving how Chelsea relies heavily on their wide players like Cuthbert to contribute to play a large role in their attacking team.
Attack – Passing and Dribbling
Cuthbert has always been an attacking player whose preference is to play out wide. For both Chelsea and Scotland, her ability and comfort with the ball at her feet make her a real danger for any wide defender. This season, it has become evident that the number of times Cuthbert has both dribbled balls into the attacking third and played promising balls into the attacking third has increased significantly, making her a vital player in both teams’ attack.
As you can see from the heatmap above, Cuthbert’s areas of familiarity are wide where she then can drive in central or play the ball centrally. Being right-footed and primarily out on the right wing has massive advantages for Cuthbert. As a player with an immense ability with the ball at her feet, she thrives on the fact that she often comes up against players who are right-footed as well. What this means is that she can usually beat them down the line by placing the player on their less dominant foot. Once she has beaten the player wide, she then looks to drive central.
Not only this, but Cuthbert also possesses the ability to draw defenders out 1 on 1 and take them on as she has here against PSG in the Champions League. In the image below we can see how Cuthbert has chosen to take the #4 on 1 on 1, has dribbled at her quite quickly and then shifted the ball to her right foot (onto the defender’s left foot), and as the defender struggles to adjust to her weaker foot, Cuthbert drives straight to the goal line to then cut across to the attackers waiting centrally to finish.
When it comes to Cuthbert’s 1 on 1 ability, she has a 60% success rate of either beating them or laying the ball off to another teammate to then run and get in behind the defender – creating attacking runs that can carve teams up defensively. It is this 1 on 1 ability she possesses along with the fact that she is statistically Chelsea’s most successful dribbler for the 2019/20 season, that also makes her one of Scotland’s best on-the-ball players.
Another thing that makes Cuthbert an extreme danger while in attack is her vision to drive centrally often. With players like Kirby and England around her, her idea to create an overload centrally when needed causes many problems for opposition teams she comes up against. These quick runs inside regularly cause defensive players to question whether to follow her run and be dragged out of place, or to keep their shape and allow her to run unmarked. It is that split second of questioning these defenders do that Chelsea can find themselves in potential goal-scoring opportunities.
We can see such an example of these runs like the one she has made below to score what they are calling the goal of the tournament for Scotland at the 2019 World Cup. In this instance, Cuthbert had the ball at her feet. Rather than taking a player on down the line 1 v 1, she chose to cut her run centrally, dribble as close to the middle of the pitch as she could and found herself in enough space to take a shot on goal. This shows just how problematic Cuthbert can be when she makes these runs centrally as by doing so leaves her to be completely free in the centre.
Cuthbert also possesses statistics like having an average of 2.4 touches in the penalty area per game again, highlighting that the central runs she makes are to cause havoc for the opposition and not just to find space. An area to also note is that she is Chelsea’s player with the most recoveries in the final third. This illustrates her high work rate and determination to not only win the ball, but to win it in an area that can be great for a quick counter-attack. This again further highlights that not only is Cuthbert no stranger to the centre of the pitch, but she is also quite likely to win the ball back in that area and be a danger for the opposition.
To compliment her dribbling is Cuthbert’s passing game. In the last 14 games for Chelsea, she has crossed a total of 31 balls contributing to her 3 assists this season. The majority of these chances have come from winning the ball in the middle third of the pitch and then releasing it into the final third as either a cross or a short pass, where she averages 4.9 passes into the final third per game and 4 crosses per game for Chelsea.
In the image below we can see how Cuthbert has checked in to receive the ball for a 1-2, holds it just long enough for the attacker to make her run, draws the defender in close enough to be out of position, and then plays her pass forward to get in behind the backline, showing her vision and accuracy of her passer.
However, when we look at the number of long passes Cuthbert makes per game, she has one of the highest averages per game at 3.5, but of that only 38% of those manage to find one of her teammates – well below the team average of 47%. Being a wide attacking player, Cuthbert’s percentage of successful passes must improve in this area as she is quite influential when it comes to contributing to the attacking force of both Chelsea and Scotland.
Being an attacking wide player, we can’t forget to look at Cuthbert’s shooting ability. As mentioned before, an area where Cuthbert feels most comfortable is out wide and then generally tends to run centrally with the ball. Still, due to the versatility of her as a player, Cuthbert also does manage to find herself starting her runs centrally often. With 3 goals to her name this season and being ranked third in the number of shots taken for Chelsea, you would expect her shooting statistics to be quite high.
When we look at the numbers, however, what is noticeable is that while she tends to put herself in some great positions and find some hazardous places on the pitch, the accuracy of her shots is quite low in comparison to the rest of the squad. With a total of 23 shots taken this season, and only 10 being on target, it leaves her shot on target percentage being quite low at only 43% which when we compare to the team average of 51%, is well below average. It is quite surprising when we look at the number of expected goals Cuthbert should have accumulated this season being 1.17 only to be beaten by England with 5.51.
Defensive – Off The Ball
While it is no secret that Cuthbert is excellent on the ball and has exceptional vision, here we will look at how she defends. Due to the way Chelsea plays a 4-4-2 and that coach Emma Hayes tends to encourage their #2 to push high in attack, it means that often Cuthbert may need to drop deeper than usual to cover. Usually in defence, however, she is often standing quite high to provide a target person for Chelsea to hit when trying to get out of danger.
She also tends to slide very centrally when the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch as we can see below. Here, Chelsea tries to compact the field as much as they can and get numbers around the ball when in defence to make it hard for the opposition to play out, meaning Cuthbert slides all the way to the centre of the pitch from her wide position as shown below.
Being a wide player, however, when the ball is on her side, she does quite often come up against players 1 on 1. Cuthbert is quite good at getting her body into a position where she tends to force her opponent down the line or back towards their own goal as we can see below which tends to be a position that often isn’t preferable for them. In this instance, she has dropped n to defend, positioned herself on enough of an angle to leave the attacker no option but to play backwards.
When we look at her stats, it’s no wonder that she wins an average of 10.6 duels per game. This implies that she needs to have good knowledge of both attacking and defensive roles, and while she’s confident in attacking 1 on 1s, she also needs to know how to defend them comfortably too.
While her percentage of winning duels is reasonably high, it seems most of these occur while in attack. It’s winning them in defence that can be an area for improvement for the Scot. In the 2019/20 season for Chelsea, Cuthbert has only managed to successfully win 57% of her defensive duels for the side, which again when compared to players like Kerr or even Reiten, is significantly lower.
While Cuthbert is primarily an attacking player, it is imperative to be able to not only win the duels in the attacking half of the pitch as the way that coach Emma Hayes tends to play her 4-4-2 formation that involves overlapping runs throughout each game. When this occurs, it is vital that Cuthbert drops in to cover the space left by the #2 or #5 when they make their attacking run into the middle or final third, otherwise it leaves a considerable amount of space for teams like Manchester City or Arsenal who tend to counter-attack quite quickly the chance to break away down the line.
Not only does she need to fill that space, but she needs to win the ball back. The way Hayes utilises her #7 and #11 in her formations means that they need to have the ability to cover the area 18 yard box to 18-yard box and to be intelligent enough to be able to know both their own attacking and defending role along with the #2’s or # 5’s defending role too.
Another area to note too when breaking down Cuthbert’s defensive play is her ability to win aerial duels. While primarily these kinds of contests are critical to be won by defenders, it is also crucial to win them in the middle of the park if possible – an area that can definitely be improved for Cuthbert. While it is worth noting that Cuthbert stands at only 163cm tall, her success rate for aerial duels is only 46% which again when compared to some of the others on the team is significantly lower.
These types of duels can be essential when keeping in mind that many teams tend to play wide, and often these build-up plays can start with a long punt by either the goalkeeper or a defensive player. Not being able to win these challenges in the air effectively can put a team at risk and if a team does identify that this could be an area of weakness, then it could cause a significant amount of danger.
It is also worth noting that defensively, this statistic being low is also a concern because as mentioned earlier, Cuthbert quite often drops into a defensive role to cover as the result of a forward run made by Chelsea’s #2 and #5. If Cuthbert doesn’t possess the ability to win those aerial duels in defensive third positions, it can really cause quite a lot of problems for Chelsea and can leave oppositions with chances towards goal. Up the other end of the pitch, however, not winning these challenges can also inhibit Chelsea’s attacking chances.
While Chelsea does tend to put their through balls through quite low and usually along the ground, on the odd chance a ball is played over the top, not being able to win that ball can cost Chelsea a promising goal-scoring opportunity. By refining her ability to win these aerial duels, Cuthbert can massively improve her team’s defence along with greatly benefitting their attack.
From this analysis, it is the combined ability, confidence, and extensive football knowledge that Cuthbert possesses that makes her a real powerhouse for both Chelsea and Scotland. It is her versatility and comfort not only out wide but also centrally that makes her a great tactical option in any team she represents. Being lucky enough to have players like Kerr and England at her disposal at Chelsea means it makes their attacking presence well and truly felt. While only being 21 years old, it is clear that Erin Cuthbert has skill beyond her years and is a player that will only excel even further throughout her playing career.