On February 23, the fans of FA Women’s Super League witnessed one of the high-class games of the season. Manchester City Women played against Chelsea Women in the Academy Stadium where the crowd witnessed a six-goal thriller. In this tactical analysis, we shall analyse the different systems and tactics used by Manchester City Women and Chelsea Women in one of the best clashes of FAWSL.
Mahon’s team lined up in their regular formation of 4-4-2. Chelsea Women maintained their formation of 4-4-2 which had sealed them a victory against Liverpool in their previous fixture.
Manchester City Women: Roebuck, Beckie, Houghton, Bonner, Stokes, Scott, Walsh, Weir, Hemp, Stanway, White.
Chelsea Women: A.Berger, M.Mjelde, M.Bright, M.Eriksson, J.Andersson, E.Cuthbert, S.Inge, Ji-So-Yoen, G.Reiten, S.Kerr, B.England
Let’s dive deep into the analysis of both the teams.
Tactical analysis of Chelsea Women’s initial game plan
Man City and Chelsea were one of the strongest attacking teams this season. Both the team managers knew that they had to keep the ball under their foot to stay away from danger. Manchester City Women’s high press was one such tactic of City to win possession immediately.
Hayes’s tactic of making the central midfielders play deep and in between the two forwards of City helped Chelsea to sneak in passes through White and Stanway to escape their press. In their build-up play, both Bright and Eriksson played wide attracting each of Man City’s striker to create a hole in between them. The full-backs were even wider near the touchline, comfortably giving options to the centre-backs.
From the above picture, one could see the gap between White and Stanway and ball being played in between them. Even if Walsh or Weir had rushed, it would have been a comfortable pass to the full-backs from Chelsea’s midfielders.
Very often it was Ji who played a deeper role, making sure she stands in the spaces between two players. Man City couldn’t do anything but just watch their high press go in vain.
One can see from the above mass map, that more number of passes from their defence was to the centre. It was from here the ball was then distributed to the wings. Even though Chelsea succeeded in escaping the press, Man City’s defence in mid-third denied them from attacking through the centre. Chelsea Women were forced to distribute the ball to the wings to attack.
With the wingers combining with the attack, Chelsea attacked in a formation of 4-2-4 where Ji stayed deeper to slow down the counter-attacks. It was Ji in the 39th minute brought in the equaliser from a rebound.
Sam Kerr played front, with England, dropping back to connect with the midfielders. But this very often leads to a situation were Chelsea Women being outnumbered inside the penalty box.
One can see that at the time of the cross, there are only two Chelsea players inside the box. Whereas Man City are numerically strong inside the penalty box, denying Chelsea from creating opportunities.
On the other hand, Chelsea too pressed high to win back possession immediately. But the only difference was, they succeeded. Chelsea choked Man City right in their own defending third and made it hard for Man City to enter the mid-third, as it shows in the image below. As a result, Man City was forced to opt for a long ball and push from the wings.
Analysis of Ji So-Yun’s role in Hayes’ tactics
Ji, the number 10 for Chelsea Women played a very crucial role in connecting the defence and the attack. She was given more of a free role, as she was free to move around the centre to receive passes from their defenders. Whereas Ingle played in front of Ji and kept shifting positions with her whenever necessary.
Ji was fast in switching sides and quick to position her in the gaps. Her performance was the most influential on the pitch. Her role became very important when the area was small and the players were more. Man City’s effort to force Chelsea to play the long balls were in vain as Ji made sure she always positioned herself in the gap.
Manchester City Women struggled to notice her presence as she was intelligent enough to position herself behind them making sure she goes unnoticed and more importantly unmarked.
Controlling Chelsea’s midfield, She had a successful action percentage of 80% which is more than anyone in the team. Apart from her tactical role, she also hurt Man City when it came to defending. She had a success rate of 100% in defensive rules, causing severe damage to City’s transition to attack.
The responsibility on her shoulders were massive ones to carry. The tactical approach from Chelsea was great, but Ji’s continuous running in all directions drained away most of her energy and lead her to make mistakes towards the end.
Analysis of Manchester City Women’s solid defence
It was the brilliance of Ellie Roebuck and City’s defence which saved the day for them. Even though Man City let Chelsea slip away from their high press, they made sure Chelsea found it hard to bypass their mid-third. In City’s initial transition to defence, they adapted a formation of 4-4-2 which slowly turned into a 5-3-2 with either of the striker pressing from behind.
This tactic from Manchester City Women forced Chelsea Women to attack from the wings despite escaping the high press and having the ball in the middle. Looking at Chelsea’s pass map earlier in our analysis, we could notice that many balls have been distributed to the wings from the centre.
Deciding to play five defenders in the defending third, Man City succeeded in making the defence compact. Two out of the three goals that Chelsea scored were from outside the penalty box. This is because playing five defenders in the back they outnumbered Chelsea in the box making it difficult for them to score goals which forced them to shoot from outside.
Even then, there were a few mistakes from the City defenders which is when Roebuck came to the rescue. Chelsea had taken 15 shots which is two more than City and out of which nine were on target.
Roebuck’s saves saved the day for Man City. We could see four saves by her in the corners of the goal. These saves are no routine saves to any keeper. We should also take into account she had injured her eye and yet went on to save a few shots.
Tactical analysis of the tactics used in the second half
With both the teams going into the dressing room with a score of one each at the end of the first half, it was sure that the second half was about to get interesting. Both the teams began attacking early but, both the teams have learnt from the first half. This time Man City made sure Chelsea doesn’t escape their high press and had marked Chelsea’s midfielders. They also made sure the wide play of Chelsea’s centre-back doesn’t cause spaces between the strikers, as they decided to stay close to prevent Chelsea from playing through the centre.
This tactical change by City left Chelsea with no other option other than playing long. Which eventually dissolved their attacking nature in the first half as they couldn’t keep hold of their possession. These long balls were won by the City players and Chelsea struggled which resulted in Kerr dropping down to help their midfielders win these air duels.
Chelsea too made their tactical changes. Realising that they were outnumbered in the opponents’ penalty box, Chelsea switched to a formation of 2-4-4 while attacking.
This tactical change stood as an advantage for Man City has the corridors were exploited by them. Man City who had made only four crosses in the first half, incredibly had made more than 10 in the second half. On the other hand, Chelsea’s performance dropped.
After Man City’s second goal, Chelsea Women were struggling until the team captain found the net in the 68th minute. Chelsea went on to lead the game six minutes later from a brilliant strike by England.
On the other hand, Man City’s attacking proved lethal in the second half with more number of key passes and forward passes than the first half. Attacking in a 3-3-4 formation as told before Man City threatened the keeper quite often but failed to find the net which includes a penalty miss by Stanway minutes before Chelsea took the lead.
Manchester City was clearly the better team in the second half but was unlucky. The key to Man City’s second half was that they made more recoveries in the opponents half and countered immediately. Their formation of 3-3-4 while attacking helped them to keep the attacking third crowded and helped them make more recoveries.
Man City’s recoveries have improved in the opposition third in the second half when compared to the first half explaining the success in their tactical changes.
In just a time span of 16-minutes, four goals were scored. One of the most thrilling match in the FAWSL history ended with both teams sharing a point each.
In our tactical analysis, we looked at the various tactics used by Chelsea Women and Manchester City Women. The tactics used by both the teams proved to be successful. The attacking nature of both the team is what that made the game even more beautiful. The question to which team is better could have been answered if the season had resumed. With Chelsea trailing behind Man City with just one point, the season was called off.
It’ll be interesting to see the same fixture in the next season as both the teams would be waiting to prove who the best is.