Women’s Super League team Reading FC have recently announced a bevy of new signings. One such player is striker Danielle Carter, whose switch from Arsenal will be examined in this tactical analysis.

Carter’s signing is a signal of intent from Reading. After a decent 2019/20 season Kelly Chambers’ side should now look to push on into the Champions League places. With the WSL gaining another Champions League spot to play for next season Chambers’ side will feel it is theirs to take. This scout report will examine the type of player that Reading has gained in Carter and whether she’ll be the piece of the puzzle that takes them to the next level.

A fresh start for Carter?

Anyone who is familiar with Carter’s career will believe that she can be a success in Berkshire. However, this statement comes one notable disclaimer. *If she can stay fit.* Despite her obvious talent injuries have stalled Carter’s career somewhat. She has struggled with a recurring injury to her anterior cruciate ligament. The first came against Bristol City in May 2018 and after a 10-month recovery, the injury resurfaced in a pre-season game against Bayern Munich in July 2019/20. This, combined with the league’s early finish, restricted Carter to just six WSL appearances in the past two seasons.

The now fit again striker has described her move to Reading as a ‘new beginning’ and both Carter and Reading will be hoping to push on together.

Playing position

Our scout report shows Carter should be considered as a pure number ‘9’. Carter is very much the one to be finishing off attacking moves and this should suit Reading perfectly.  When considered alongside last season’s top four Reading have a notably inferior goal difference:

Danielle Carter- 2019/20- scout report- tactical analysis tactics

Whilst both goals scored and goals conceded contribute to these goals scored is a problem in particular. This is shown by the fact that not a single Reading player featured in the league’s top 10 goal scorers for the season.

Danielle Carter- 2019/20- scout report- tactical analysis tactics

By contrast each of the top 4 teams (Chelsea (2) Man City (2) Arsenal (2) and Man United (1)) had at least one player in the list. The addition of an experienced goalscorer in Carter will help Reading in this area.

It is likely that Carter has been brought in to compliment the talismanic Fara Williams. Due to Williams’ versatility, this will be achieved in two main ways. Often Reading deploy a 4-4-2. In this case, Carter, who is a direct and physical goalscorer will act as the focal point of the attack. Carter will often play right up on the shoulder of the last defender. From here she will look to use her dribbling ability and speed (more on that later) to commit defenders and drive at the heart of teams. This should give Williams more freedom as the second striker, allowing her to drift deep or wide to pick up the ball. From these positions, she will be able to create chances for the usually more advanced Carter. This will obviously be beneficial for both parties. With Carter drawing pressure away from Williams, her strike partner will be able to carve out quality chances for either herself. or Williams

However, due to Williams’ natural ability across multiple positions manager Chambers has proved to often be flexible with her tactics. In some games, last season Reading flexed from a 4-4-2 to a 4-3-3 with Williams dropping into midfield and becoming more of a deep-lying playmaker. In this system Carter would be the sole striker and her ability to lead the attacking line would be all the more important.

Whilst Carter may be somewhat lacking in ability to contribute to a patient build-up she makes up for with the ability to get into good attacking positions. With her spearheading the attack Reading will never be without an out ball and crucially will always have an experienced goalscorer on hand to finish the clever attacking build-ups that could sometimes disappointingly break when the team reached the final third.

Dribbling

Danielle Carter has already been described by new boss Chambers as ‘an exciting, explosive player’ and her strong dribbling ability certainly contributes to this label. Due to her limited playing time in recent seasons, it is difficult to directly compare her statistics to other WSL players for the season. But when she has played Carter has showcased her ability to dribble well.

Carter will act as a much needed focal point for Reading. One of her key strengths is the ability to receive a relatively slow ball with her back to goal. What makes Carter unique in this sense is not how she receives the ball but what she so often does with it next. Instead of laying the ball off to a teammate, Carter possesses the skill to protect the ball, before turning 180 degrees and driving into space. In the image below we see an example of this ability against Man City:

Danielle Carter- 2019/20- scout report- tactical analysis tactics

Carter receives the ball with her back to goal and with her team boxed in the corner of their attacking third. However, despite the difficulty of the situation Carter is able to turn fully, drive and then shoot. For Reading this could be especially important against stronger teams that will limit their chance creation, as Carter’s powerful dribbling causes her to excel in creating half chances from very little.

Carter’s dribbling ability makes her a ‘self-sufficient’ player. This means that she excels at carving out chances for herself, even when she receives reduced support from her teammates. Her ability to drive forward will also be key for Reading as they look to transition from defence to attack. Here Carter will offer a reliable out-ball for a counter-attack, even in games against the top teams where she is likely to receive limited service. In the following images below we see the counter-attacking threat that Carter almost single-handedly provides. First, she receives the ball deep within her own half. Again she protects the ball with her back to goal and a low centre of gravity.

Danielle Carter- 2019/20- scout report- tactical analysis tactics

Immediately after Carter spins and drives straight towards Everton’s goal. By the time she lays the ball off for a teammate, Carter has pushed Arsenal forwards by almost 60 yards in a matter of seconds. Her pace and ability to retain the ball in difficult areas means that any team she is a part of will be able to pursue lighting quick transitions from defence into attack.

Danielle Carter- 2019/20- scout report- tactical analysis tactics

Aerial ability

Another notable attribute that Carter will bring to Reading is her ability to draw fouls and win set pieces for her team. This again suits Reading down to the ground. This is largely due to Carter’s new teammate Williams’ effectiveness from set-pieces. Her ability to put dangerous balls into the box were one of the main reasons why Reading scored five times from set-pieces last season. With Carter’s proficiency in winning set-pieces, this number should only rise in the coming season.

Despite being a great dribbler and possessing the ability to open up and drive into open space for her team Carter’s technique is also good in tight spaces. One of her main strengths is using her body to control both the space and defenders around her. In the example below Carter receives the ball in the attacking third before repositioning herself so that her body is in-between the ball and the incoming defender. From here she is able to draw the foul which gives Arsenal a free-kick in a dangerous area. Going forwards if Carter is able to continue drawing fouls for Reading then their dead ball specialist Williams will have plenty to work with.

This ability to win set pieces also extends beyond free-kicks. Carter is an intelligent predator. Part of the reason she has been brought to Reading is for her experience whilst still having a lot of miles ahead of her. As she says in her own words: ‘I’m still young, but I’ve got so much experience behind me.’ Below we see Carter using her experience and good game sense to win a corner. She uses her body to unbalance the Brighton defender who had previously looked to be safely seeing the ball out for a goal-kick.

Danielle Carter- 2019/20- scout report- tactical analysis tactics

A point to prove?

As a conventional number ‘9’ much of Carter’s game revolves around two things. Spearheading her team and scoring goals. In limited game time in-between cruciate injuries Carter has proved that she is still adept in the former, as shown by the tactical analysis in the scout report above. But she still as work to do if she wants to be considered as a reliable goal scorer again. Perhaps due to a lack of sharpness after her injury, Carter was unable to score in six WSL appearances in 2018/19.

However, there is still cause for optimism amongst Reading fans. Her performances in those six games show that key attributes such as her dynamic running ability still remain and if she has recovered well from her second cruciate injury then the goals she bases her game around will surely follow. Beyond this Carter’s natural ability is undeniable. Despite her injuries, it must be remembered that Reading have still gained the talents of a striker that scored a hat-trick on her England debut. Furthermore, with 60 Arsenal goals in 184 appearances, Carter still represents a player with an almost 1-in-3 goal to game ratio. Kelly Chambers will certainly hope she can bring that sort of consistency to Berkshire.

A big season ahead?

Moving into the 2020/21 season Danielle Carter’s transfer to Reading feels fitting for both the player and the club. For Reading FC the team will be looking to take important steps towards realising their long-term ambitions. Off the pitch, they will move into the Madjeski stadium alongside Reading’s men’s team. Meanwhile, on the pitch Chambers’ side will be looking to turn consistent WSL top half finishes into a genuine push for a place in the Champions League.

Carter, as our tactical analysis shows is an experienced and decorated goalscorer. Our analysis shows that she could play a big part in pushing Reading to the next level. Yet still, she has her own point to prove. Following serious injuries, Carter has ended an 11-year spell at Arsenal in order to take on a new challenge and try to rediscover her best form. In short, Carter will first have to prove that she is fit again and can still score goals consistently. Beyond this, because of her trophy-winning experience, Carter will have to show that she can spearhead an ambitious Reading team, providing leadership both on and off the pitch.

Sam Swinerd
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