The Covid-19 pandemic has halted the upcoming NWSL season in the USA. However, across the pond the English WSL is going ahead with a slated September 6th start date. As such teams in the WSL has experienced an influx of top American talent, either on a temporary or permanent basis. One of the most exciting of these signings is Manchester City Women‘s acquisition of 27-year-old World Cup winner Sam Mewis.
Mewis has been a key player for both the USWNT and the North Carolina Courage domestically in recent years. This tactical analysis, written in the form of a scout report, will highlight exactly why Mewis represents an important acquisition for a Man City side that will be looking to do one better than last season and clinch the league title from Chelsea.
North Carolina’s tactical set up
Throughout the NWSL Challenge cup experienced Courage manager Paul Riley most frequently utilised a 4-2-2-2 formation. However, a 4-2-3-1 formation was also adopted in response to certain tactics. In both of these systems, Mewis usually lines up on the left-hand side of the two midfielders in-between the defensive and attacking units. Here Mewis is very much part of a ‘double pivot’ an important and industrious role in which Riley’s chosen players must possess a wide skill set.
Given that Riley likes his full-backs to push on during the build-up Mewis and her midfield partner are usually the first to receive the ball off of the centre backs when the team is in possession. From here Mewis is asked to turn before playing a through ball or spreading play out wide. As such Mewis has become accustomed to controlling and playing the ball whilst under pressure during her time with the Courage.
Conversely, the Courage’s brave build-up play means that the double pivot form an important shield in front of the centre backs when the fullbacks push up and therefore Mewis must be good out of possession as well as in.
Whilst this scout report will discuss Mewis’ defensive abilities in more depth later Riley’s pivot players have to be good defensively to compensate for the sorts of errors and turnovers of possession that come with trying to build out from the back in the way that the Courage do. What is clear from her role in North Carolina is that Mewis is an incredibly well-rounded midfielder who is more than capable both offensively and defensively.
Potential role at Man City
Mewis’ move to England will not be without challenges both on and off the pitch with the midfielder never having played outside the USA before. But much like her adaptation from American to British culture off the pitch, Mewis’ new role on the pitch will come as more of a subtle change than a seismic shift. Our tactical analysis of Manchester City in 2019/20 showed that they rarely (if ever) deviated from a 4-4-2 formation.
In this system, Mewis will almost certainly still be deployed as a central midfielder and could even be used in a double pivot role similar to the one she filled in for North Carolina Courage. However, whilst it will be a similar system Mewis will have to get used to playing alongside wingers and may well be asked to occupy the space directly in front of her more often then she would when she played with dedicated attacking midfielders ahead of her.
As a result, there may well be some minor growing pains for Mewis at Manchester City but as our analysis will now show she should be able to adapt to their tactics with relative ease.
Adding steel to the midfield
As mentioned earlier on in this tactical analysis Mewis is a well-rounded midfielder who will be an asset to Man City in every phase. One attribute she’ll bring is her physicality which gives her both to win the ball back quickly after it has been turned over to the opposition and the ability to reliably surge forward with the ball from deep. Mewis’ reputation as an all-action midfielder is supported by our data analysis. Even when only the data from the NWSL Challenge Cup is considered Mewis’ importance to her team is easy to see.
The image above highlights Mewis’ ability in both offensive and defensive duels with opposition players. What is notable from this data set is the way in which Mewis’ duels are spread. Whilst she does not stand out in any one type of duel she is consistent and makes a statistically relevant contribution to defensive, offensive and aerial duels with 16, 21 and 16 respectively.
What this tells us is that Mewis is a combative midfielder who is able to take on an opponent in any scenario, be that in attack or defensive. It is because of this, along with her ability to read the game and intercept passes, that she has been considered by many as the glue that holds Riley’s North Carolina side together.
Going into the 2020/21 WSL season there is no reason why Mewis couldn’t perform a similar role for Man City. Fans should expect her to be on around the ball often and will teammates and fans alike will quickly fall in line with her dynamism in the middle of the park.
The attributes listed in the previous section of this scout report are some of Mewis’ key strengths. But what marks her out as a top-level player and what may have attracted interest from Man City is the fact that Mewis is also excellent on the ball. Her particular skill set will suit a Man City team whose tactics involve playing on the front foot and progressing the ball forward at speed.
Mewis fits this mould well having played 85 forward passes in the Challenge Cup alongside an impressive 61 progressive passes and 43 passes into the final third. The fact that she achieved the second-highest number of progressive passes and the highest number of passes into the final third when compared to the rest of the Courage team reinforces just how good Mewis and progressing the ball forwards.
In the image below Mewis receives the ball in space. Looking to progress the ball quickly she scans ahead of her before playing an accurate 50-yard pass up to an onrushing forward.
Mewis plays the ball from just beyond her own penalty box. It is received roughly 35 yards from the opposition goal.
The image below also highlights Mewis’ excellent ball progression. After receiving the ball on the front foot she drives forward before sliding the ball in between the defending team’s centre back and fullback, putting her teammate through on goal.
As the two examples, this scout report has presented show Mewis is an excellent passer of the ball. Her importance to North Carolina was only further underlined by the fact that Mewis’ passing range allows her to play both the first pass in an attacking move and the final one. In Man City’s 4-4-2 Mewis will be able to use this talent to act either as part of a pivot or as a true box to box player.
Mewis’ ability to progress the ball is not limited to forward passes either. The American is also capable of carrying the ball forwards herself, possessing power and the ability to dribble forwards at speed. For North Carolina in the Challenge Cup Mewis attempted 14 dribbles at a success rate of 86%. Once again her ability to drive forward with the ball will suit a Man City side that looks for quick attacking transitions.
It also gives both Mewis and Man City creative versatility because even if the opposition are able to nullify her passing game she still possesses the ability to take matters into her own hands and carry the ball forwards herself.
This will leave opposition midfield and defences in the WSL this season with the unenviable choice of pressuring Mewis directly and leaving space for her to pass through or dropping off to protect passing lanes and giving Mewis time and space to drive forwards herself.
Dangerous on both ends of a cross
One final thing that is necessary to mention in a tactical analysis of Mewis is crossing. Mewis has been highlighted throughout this scout report as a player with multiple strings to her bow and it is no different in the crossing department. To elaborate, Mewis is dangerous both delivering and receiving a cross. During the Challenge Cup, Mewis provided the third-highest number of crosses for her team (18) which is impressive given that she did so from a central midfield position.
Mewis also provides her team with a goal-scoring threat from crosses and corners. In the image below one of her teammates delivers a ball into the box from deep. Mewis sees the chance, times her run well and then rises highest to head the ball into the back of the net.
Man City already provide a wealth of attacking options. However, Mewis will represent a goal-scoring threat from midfield should her team’s forward line have an off day.
Throughout the last few seasons, Sam Mewis has emerged as one of North Carolina’s most important players. Our scout report suggests that it is likely only because the NWSL has stalled that Manchester City have been able to secure the service of the Courage’s prize asset for the ‘foreseeable future.’ Her signing may well be the key to City’s title challenge in 2020/21. An important figure for her national team too, Mewis is a player that will provide her new team with strong defensive ability, goal threat and excellent ball progression. She’s the whole package and we wouldn’t be surprised if she features on short-lists for WSL player of the season in 2021.