Midfielders are the backbone of any football team. Connecting the team’s defence to attack is vital and such a task is never easy. Arsenal and Chelsea are blessed to have two of the best midfielders on their side namely Kim Little and Ji So-Yun, who make the role of being a midfielder look easy. In this tactical analysis, we shall perform a player comparison analysis between these two midfielders in the FAWSL.
Both Little and Ji have been a part of the PFA FAWSL Team of the year 2019 as midfielders. In this analysis, we shall compare these two players based on their stats and tactics.
Little and Ji, both aged 29 have been vital as midfielders for their clubs’ success in the past. This season they have adapted well to the tactics of their managers and have performed well. Ji playing 999 minutes this season has occupied the central role for Chelsea in their 4-4-2 formation. Whereas Little playing 56 minutes more than Ji, has been a flexible midfielder. Fitting in as a right midfielder in the formation of 4-4-2(17%) and a central midfielder in the formation of 4-2-3-1(79%) she has given her best every time she’s on the pitch.
From the above profile, one can see that both the players have almost the same values in all metrics. However, Ji has managed to have better stats than Little in a few metrics with a very less difference. Looking at the heat map one can identify the central role these players take on the field. Both moving around in the attacking third to support the play, Little is found to be supporting the defenders more than Ji does.
Both the players are like any other midfielders in the world, but the character they possess with the ball under their feet is what that makes the difference. The reason why these stats are like this will be analysed in the upcoming sessions in our tactical analysis.
Analysis of Kim Little and Ji So-Yun’s role in the team’s defensive play
Both Little and Ji So-Yun have led the team’s defence in the middle. While both had their tactics to defend their team, their common goal was to win the ball. Little has been more active than Ji in supporting the defenders. Playing in the formation of 4-2-3-1 she has a tactical role to hold back and support the defenders. Her intelligence in finding voids and filling the gaps has been a huge asset to Arsenal this season.
Her spatial awareness has helped in this tactic of the team. Arsenal’s defence often tends to spread if the ball is played to the wings. Little on knowing that opponents take advantage of this space is clever enough to accelerate and fill in the void.
Apart from filling the void, she also positions herself in such a way to win the ball if her supporting defender gets beaten.
Positioning herself in such a way that she’ll quickly be able to close down the opponent if the first defender gets beaten has been very good and helped her win important duels just like in the above picture. With a defensive duel of 4.7 per match, Little has a success rate of 67% explaining how well calculated her duels are. This explains why her number of recoveries per match is high. However Little has a very less success rate on aerial duels which is in contrast to Ji’s success in aerial duels.
Ji, on the opposite, isn’t a very big fan of supporting the defenders in depth. She plays a box to box role and helps the team counter by winning the second or loose balls. Defending only in the mid-third has helped Ji make 4.95 recoveries in the opposition half per match out of her 7.47 recoveries per match.
Defending in the mid-third, Ji is cautious not to rush in making those tackles as she knows if she gets beaten then the ball reaches the defenders. Instead, Ji presses the opponents forcing them to either pass back or make lateral passes which helps Chelsea settle and also slows down the opponents game as seen in the above picture. This pressing sense of hers has helped Chelsea to make recoveries in the attacking third and also favours their tactics of the high press.
The high press system by Hayes’s team which forces the opponents to choose the aerial route is often won by the midfielders which explain Ji’s success rate in aerial duels being 73%.
Ji not only presses the opponents high but also chases them down causing continuous pressure. This nature of her chasing down the opponents create pressure and make the opponents commit mistakes or take hasty decisions. This has been her key in making those match-saving recoveries.
Realising the danger the opponents could cause if they enter their final third in a counter-attack, Ji also makes those tactical fouls to slow down the game in the middle.
Both Little and Ji have their unique role and tactics in supporting their team’s defensive phase which explains the variation of stats in the metrics above. However, we should not forget that Little has been more active in the defending third than Ji who likes to win the ball in the mid-third.
Analysis of Kim Little and Ji So-Yun in the team’s attacking play
One common trait of both these players is to exploit the spaces in the field. Little loves to take it slow by passing to the nearest person to move the game forward. On the other hand, Ji loves those aerial routes to exploit spaces. Even though they both have contrary methods, they have succeeded in achieving their aim.
Little’s dribbling ability has been a great advantage to her style of attacking. With 2.8 dribbles per match, she has a success rate of 78.8%.
Along with her dribbling ability and her speed being a plus, Little has been able to exploit and gains the ground by dribbling the ball into free spaces all by her like in the above picture. Due to which she attract the defenders which leads to space creation and if not she wins the fouls in those crucial areas in front of the goal.
Unlike Ji, Little as a midfielder in the formation 4-2-3-1 supports the attack and also combines with them. She enters the opponent’s penalty area and occupies free space helping the team in outnumbering the defence.
We could see Little herself thriving into the penalty area to meet the cross. As said above she occupies those spaces and gains the advantage of the field. This helps the team to have a numerical advantage over the opponents and enhances their opportunity of winning the balls inside the box.
As Little prefers to combine with the attack than support them from behind, her crosses into the penalty area per 90 is less. Other such metrics that value her pass is comparatively less when compared to Ji with an ignorable difference. But edges over Ji in a few attributes like expected goals per 90 and shots on target per 90.
Ji is more of a supporting player. She passes the ball to the strikers and waits for them to do their job. Famously known as the ‘female Messi’, Ji has a success rate of 66.7 while dribbling which is less compared to Little.
Ji’s supportive nature can be witnessed by her positioning at the time of crosses into the penalty area from the below picture.
One could see at the tome of cross Ji is holding herself out of the box, waiting for those weak clearances which she could take advantage of. Most of Ji’s goals come from outside the box as she wins the second ball by her intelligent positioning outside the box. She also takes a lot of attempts from there making her shots per 90 have a higher value and a less shot on target per 90 as she misses most of them.
Being a supporting player, Ji ends up having more number of Key passes/90 and more importantly more goal creating actions per 90.
Playing as a central midfielder has helped Ji influence her team’s attack in a great way. Occupying a central role while attacking has helped Ji to have a greater vision of the pitch and many options to pass. This has helped her in making those crucial passes for the team which lead to assists which can be seen in her expected assists/90(0.24) value which is more than Little.
When it comes to the distribution of the ball in the middle, Little has distributed the ball to both the sides evenly whereas Ji has preferred to focus on one side with her mate Ingle covering the other.
This is greatly influenced by the tactical role they take up. When Little pushes forward when in possession the second midfielder, that is Lia Walti stays back as the teams’ formation becomes 4-1-1-3-2 from 4-2-3-1. Which then gives her the responsibility of distributing on both sides. Another factor which influences this attribute is the Little’s nature of playing in the opposite direction from where the ball comes.
Ji is concentrated towards one side of the field. In the 4-4-2 formation, both Ingle and Ji move up together which helps Ji focus on one side of the field. But she also chooses the aerial route to switch sides when she finds are area too crowded. Playing as a left centre midfielder she provides complete support to the left flank moving up and down giving them an option to pass in tight situations. This could also be another reason influencing this attribute.
Even though, Ji has greater values in passing metrics than Little let us not forget that the difference is very less. They both have a total pass completion percentage of 88% meaning even a single pass into the final third could cause a threat to the opponents.
Creativity and vision of Kim Little and Ji So-Yun
Out of so many midfielders in the league, what makes Little and Ji so special could be a question to many. Apart from their regular role in the game, they possess some extra quality which makes the change.
Little has a nature of exploiting spaces by herself. Her run to exploit spaces has helped her teammates find her in the final third.
On anticipating the space created in the front Little is quick to occupy and gain the advantage of that area. These little movements from her are what that helps her stand out.
In the 4-2-3-1 formation, Walti often holds back and covers Little’s area, while Little gets the freedom to move in with the attack to help the team. On combining with the attack, Little’s ability to read the game and her eye for her mates have stood out.
Despite Chelsea’s effort to make the area compact, Little somehow manages to notice the gap and the run by her teammate. Her vision is so good that is has helped the team score against a good defending team. Her continuous threatening passes have helped Vivianne Miedema establish herself this season. Even though she plays up so high she quickly gets back to her original position when out of possession which makes her a complete player on the pitch.
Being a physically imposing player in the midfield, she can stop the ball even when marked which has a result draws opponent players towards her leading to the creation of space.
We can see Little using her physical strength to hold her opponent and also control the ball at the same time. Being a midfielder who can hold the ball in the centre in a difficult space has helped her to build the game without any hurry. Such traits possessed by her has helped her to become one of the best and most successful midfielders in the FAWSL history.
While Ji is known to keep things simple. Her tactics of scanning for opponents before receiving the ball has helped her in decision making. Very rarely you see players do this, and also not as often as Ji because she looks back to scan for almost all the passes she receives.
One can see Ji turning back to check if any defender is near her and also scanning for her teammates before receiving the ball. This has helped her accelerate her decision-making process as she decides what to do even before she gets hold of the ball. Her awareness has helped her and the team to maintain possession.
Apart from this, her intelligent positioning when supporting her teammates is one of her trait that has to be noted.
Positioning herself behind the defender in such a way that the defender can not intercept the pass has helped her go unnoticed. With such key traits, Ji acts as Chelsea’s key to escape the tactics of the high press by an opponent team and also helps them to hold on to possession as Ji is always there when the other players are being pressed down.
Looking at the stats we can conclude that both have performed similarly, with the only difference being in their style of play. Both have adopted different tactics and have played in different tactical roles according to their managers need. One prefers to combine with the attack to score while the other prefers to help the attackers score they both have been completely different.
It’s nearly impossible to choose a winner from the two but it can be said that they are and will be the best midfielders in the FAWSL for years to come.