On December 8, Chelsea Women hosted Manchester City Women in the Cherry Red Records Fans’ Stadium for a crucial three-point match in the FAWSL. Both Emma Hayes and Nick Cushing had their tactics well planned but it was Chelsea who stole away those three points at the end of 90 minutes. In this tactical analysis, we shall perform a complete analysis of the various tactics used by the two teams.


Chelsea lined up in a 4-3-3 formation against Man City’s formation of 4-4-2. The left and right forwards of Chelsea almost played like wingers, making Bethany England the only striker in the middle. This helped them in their dynamic defence which we shall analyse in the upcoming sections.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs Manchester City Women - tactical analysis tactics

Manchester City Women(4-4-2): Ellie Roebuck, Janine Beckie, Steph Houghton, Gemma Bonner, Demi Stokes, Jill Scott, Keira Walsh, Caroline Weir, Lauren Hemp, Ellen White, Tessa Wullaert.

Chelsea Women(4-3-3): Ann-Katrin Berger, Maren Mjelde, Millie Bright, Magdalena Eriksson, Jonna Andersson, Ramona Bachmann, Erin Cuthbert, Sophie Ingle, Ji So-Yun, Guro Reiten, Bethany England.

Let’s jump into our tactical analysis and see how both the managers had their tactics to go against each other.

Chelsea Women’s dynamic formation during the defence

Hayes tactics of a dynamic high press made it difficult for Manchester City to implement their tactics by not letting them settle into the game. Defending in a 4-3-3 formation, Chelsea forced Man City to make parallel passes in the defending third, and if the balls were exchanged between the corridors, one of the midfielders would join the front while a forward joins the midfield, making the press balanced and quick.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs Manchester City Women - tactical analysis tactics

We can see City’s defender opting to pass sideways due to lack of options in the front, and Cuthbert is ready to accelerate and close down the opponent. Meanwhile, Reiten drops back to maintain the shape. This quick change between players left City players clueless in the initial phase of the game, and forced the City’s defence to pass the ball to Roebuck to build the game from the start.

When Roebuck had the ball, City expected one of the Chelsea’s forward to go for the ball, as this would create space in the defence for Roebuck to pass and breakthrough their press. Chelsea, on the other hand, decided to mark the nearby players instead of going for the ball.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs Manchester City Women - tactical analysis tactics

One could see Roebuck left with no options to pass to as all City defenders are marked. This forced City to choose the aerial route to escape the high press by Chelsea. Chelsea’s full-backs would combine with the midfielders to make the area compact and win the aerial duels. Chelsea won eight more aerial duels than City explaining how weak City are in the air.

This situation forced City’s forwards to drop down and support their midfield. Resulting in no players in the attack to score a goal. Very often White was found playing in the mid-third to help the midfielders win the ball.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs Manchester City Women - tactical analysis tactics

One can see on successfully winning the ball from Chelsea, City’s transition to attack is being slowed down as there are no attackers in the front. White has been the biggest attacking threat for City, but has not been able to move quickly to the final third as she had to help her team to win the ball in the midfield. This denied Man City from causing danger in the front.

Manchester City Women’s ineffective high press

Chelsea had their tactics prepared to suppress City’s high press. Defending in a 4-4-2 formation, their press was led by White and Wullaert upfront. With only these pressing high City comfortably marked Chelsea’s midfielders. Man City with a numerical advantage over Chelsea in the middle thought it would be hard for Chelsea to bypass their crowded midfield.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs Manchester City Women - tactical analysis tactics

To escape from such a situation Ingle dropped back to the defence attracting a midfielder along with her. This acts as a signal for Chelsea’s full-back to push up. This eradicated City’s Numerical advantage in the middle and now was a 4v3 situation. Followed by this either of a forward would drop back to spoil the effort by Man City.

Now Chelsea outnumbered City in the middle with a formation of 3-5-2 whereas City was forced into a 4-3-3 formation.

Upon successfully escaping City’s press Chelsea transformed into a 4-2-4 formation with Ji and Ingle holding back in the centre. With the full-backs moving a bit up covering the flanks, Chelsea was cautious enough not to lose possession.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs Manchester City Women - tactical analysis tactics

We can see Ingle and Ji combining to build to the play while there are 4 players in the front. When the forwards moved up, they also dragged a defender along with them, which resulted in creating space for Ji in the centre. This put Man City in the backfoot throughout the game. Neglecting the danger a player like Ji could cause, they provided her free space to dribble and move forward. Ji’s successful dribble rate stood out with a value of 80%, more than anyone in the match. She also went on to take eight shots out which two were on target.

How Manchester City Women took advantage of Chelsea’s attacking formation

Despite their failed tactics, City didn’t give up so easily. Chelsea’s formation of 4-2-4 in the attack was used by the City players. Attacking in such a formation Chelsea were easily outnumbered by Man City during counter-attacks.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs Manchester City Women - tactical analysis tactics

As Ji and Ingle were the only two midfielders in the middle, they were forced to play close to each other to prevent passes going in between them. This led City to attack from the wings and created spaces in the middle just like the above picture. With Beckie too combining with the attack, so quickly Chelsea struggled to escape City’s attack.

But a collective effort from Chelsea’s defence and the forwards dropping back to help their team limited City to just three shots on target in the entire match. Whereas Chelsea was allowed to take ten shots on target.

Roebuck, the 20-year-old keeper was once again City’s saviour. Despite City giving away too many chances to Chelsea, they failed to convert them which as a result decreased the teams’ confidence. Roebuck had saved eight out of Chelsea’s ten shots. It was in the 59th minute Chelsea was truly punished as City scored to take the lead.

Manchester City Women’s change of tactics in the second half

Realising that their high press went in vain, City decided to go for a man to man marking tactic.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs Manchester City Women - tactical analysis tactics

This type of man to man marking made things difficult for Chelsea. Chelsea who previously found spaces to pass the ball were now out of options. Players had to drop back to support the team which acted as a hindrance in executing their game plan. Man City players even gathered around the player with the ball cutting down all the possible passing lanes. This was a similar tactic used by Chelsea in the first half to swarm around the opponent who has the ball.

Man City realising that Chelsea attacked from the centre in the first half, brought in the whole team to make the centre compact and gave no space for Ji to build up the game in the second half.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs Manchester City Women - tactical analysis tactics

One can see City’s defence being compact in the middle forcing Chelsea to either pass behind or sideways. Chelsea getting too many chances in the first half forced City to bring back all the 11 players to help them in defending. This disturbed Chelsea’s transition to attack as they were left with very few options to pass.

Confused Chelsea struggled at the beginning of the second half which helped City score the first goal of the match in the 59th minute.

Analysis of Chelsea Women’s comeback

After taking the lead City decided to press high to prevent them from settling down and also to double their lead.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs Manchester City Women - tactical analysis tactics

Gathering in front for the high press, City looked to disturb the build-up play of Chelsea, hoping to stop them from getting comfortable in the game. Having scored one goal early City looked to carry the momentum forward. Their hunger to score more goals and their decision to press Chelsea high forced the London side to make aerial passes.

Also, figuring out that City made it hard for Chelsea to penetrate through the centre, they decided to attack from the flanks. It’s then they realised Man City had a bad day on winning the aerial duels as well as their lack of clearing ability.

FAWSL 2019/20: Chelsea Women vs Manchester City Women - tactical analysis tactics

Building upon this hole, Chelsea now decided to exploit the flanks and kept crossing into the penalty area. Penetrating through the corridor forced City’s compact defence to spread and block their path. This resulted in spaces inside the penalty box. Poor clearing by Man City helped Chelsea to keep putting pressure on City’s defence which resulted in City conceding so many corners towards the end.

It was then in the 79th minute England scored for Chelsea to lift their teams’ confidence in the comeback. The comeback was complete in the 81st minute by Mjelde. Not to forget that it was the poor clearances from Man City and Chelsea’s constant passes into the penalty area towards the end that helped them score two goals in quick sessions.

The conclusion to our tactical analysis

In this analysis, we saw the various tactics adopted by both the teams. Cushing and Hayes had their plan B ready under their sleeves which helped both the teams to counter each other’s tactics. With both the managers’ tactical approach towards the game being very good, it was Chelsea’s constant pressure on City’s defence in the end which helped them seal the entire three points.

Man City too performed equally good but it was their minor mistakes that caused them the game. With the season being wrapped stating Chelsea has the winners, it’ll be interesting to see how City prepare themselves for the title race next season after finishing second. Irrespective of who they play against ‘Manchester city Women vs Chelsea Women’, will always be a clash to look out for.

Sathish Prasad V T