West Ham United welcomed Manchester United in this frenetic encounter in the FAWSL. The Hammers had lost three games in a row prior to this fixture, conceding thirteen goals and only getting on the scoresheet three times.

Manchester United, meanwhile, were in excellent form. Coming off the back of a hard-fought 1-0 win against Tottenham on the previous weekend, Casey Stoney’s side were looking for league win number four. In this piece, I will provide a tactical analysis of both teams used throughout this FAWSL fixture and provide analysis of some of their tactics, strengths and weaknesses.

Lineups

FAWSL 2020: West Ham United v Manchester United – tactical analysis tactics

West Ham lined up in a 4-4-2 formation with Mackenzie Arnold in goal and a back four of Laura Vetterlein on the left, Grace Fisk and Gilly Flaherty in the middle and Cecille Redisch Kvamme on the right.

In midfield, Adriana Leon played out on the left with loanee Emily van Egmond and Kate Longhurst in the middle and Rachel Daly – another player on loan – on the right.  Kenza Dali started on the right side of the attack, with Martha Thomas alongside her. As the game wore on Dali drifted infield into a number 10 position allowing Daly space to get forward and play higher up on the right. Leon did the same on the left side which effectively meant West Ham were playing a 4-2-3-1, which Cho So-Hyun coming on after 59 minutes to try to plug the gap between midfield and defence which will be outlined further on in this piece.

Manchester United’s shape was more balanced throughout the afternoon as they played a 4-2-3-1. Mary Earps played in goal behind Lotta Ökvist on the left, Millie Turner and Abbie Macmanus in the middle and Amy Turner on the right. Katie Zelem and Jackie Groenen offered protection throughout in front of the defence. Leah Galton attacked down the right flank with Ella Toone playing through the middle just behind Alessia Russo, with Tobin Heath out on the right.

West Ham trying to play out from the back

In the early stages of this game, West Ham tried unsuccessfully to play the ball out from the back. They were thwarted in this by the fact that Manchester United’s press was so energetic and elaborate that it cut off West Ham’s passing options, forcing whoever had the ball to hesitate and then ultimately lose the ball, which set up a Manchester United couture attack.

Russo, Galton, Toone, and Heath set the early precedent which put West Ham on the back foot early on and set the tone for this encounter. Both of these examples below resulted in Manchester United shots on goal, and although West Ham got away with it in these instances, West Ham became more cautious when playing the ball out from the back, as Arnold elected to play the ball upfield rather than pass the ball out.

In the above image and below, the easy pass has been cut off by the Red Devils press, and the player with the ball is dispossessed.

Manchester United’s ability to quickly recover the ball had was a big contributor to their dominance – particularly in the first half. The Northerners won nearly twice as many ground duels as their Southern counterparts in the first 45 minutes, winning 13 compared to the Londoners’ 6.

It was also notable how much more intense Manchester United’s pressing was from the front, led by Russo, as illustrated below, noting how West Ham’s attackers seem to be happy to sit back and allow the Manchester United defence to pass the ball around, whereas the West Ham defence was under constant pressure in possession. 

FAWSL 2020: West Ham United v Manchester United – tactical analysis tactics
Manchester United’s intense press
FAWSL 2020: West Ham United v Manchester United – tactical analysis tactics
West Ham’s lack of pressing

Balls played in behind

Manchester United were a constant threat when running at the West Ham defence and playing the ball in behind them. There was an abundance of space behind the Hammer’s defence all afternoon and at times it seemed The Red Devils were able to break in behind them at will and carve up chance after chance.

Manchester United moved the ball quickly from defence, through into midfield and in behind West Ham. The table below shows whilst West Ham had the majority of possession here and kept hold of the ball for the longest periods of play, Manchester United led the way in short open play possessions and it was in these instances they were dangerous. 

FAWSL 2020: West Ham United v Manchester United – tactical analysis tactics

The illustration below is a good example of Manchester United having space to move into and time to be able to pick a pass in behind. 

FAWSL 2020: West Ham United v Manchester United – tactical analysis tactics

Once Manchester United broke through the West Ham defence, there was a gaping space in the area where you’d expect a defensive midfielder to marshal. As is shown on the illustration of the average position of the West Ham team below, it is fair to say the midfield neglected their defensive duties and Manchester United were able to capitalise.

FAWSL 2020: West Ham United v Manchester United – tactical analysis tacticsThe image below shows an example of this play again, this time from the second half of the amount of space between the lines Manchester United were afforded throughout.

FAWSL 2020: West Ham United v Manchester United – tactical analysis tactics

West Ham attacking threat

Despite Manchester United’s overall superiority, West Ham did create their fair share of chances and had their positional play and final been better, then the result could have been very different. The Hammers were a threat in wide areas, particularly on the right, where Daly’s pace and readiness to cross the ball caused United – of the Manchester variety – problems, particularly in the second half.

In fact, West Ham’s opening goal came from a cross out on the right, which van Egmond rose highest to steer into the far side of the goal. Their second goal also came from the right-hand side, albeit rather fortuitously when Daly attempted a far-post cross which went over Earps in the Manchester United goal and nestled into the net, as illustrated below.

FAWSL 2020: West Ham United v Manchester United – tactical analysis tacticsWhile the goal could be attributed to a slice of luck, had the cross found its intended target, it would surely have been a straight forward finish.

FAWSL 2020: West Ham United v Manchester United – tactical analysis tactics

The above illustration shows another penetrating run by Daly, whose cross once again is intended for the substitute Svitkova but is hit with too much power and ultimately evades everybody, though as illustrated, she did have other options to pass the ball to.

Conclusion

Manchester United were deserved 4-2 winners in an entertaining encounter played at Hayden Road, the home of AFC Rushden and Diamonds. The Red Devils’ penetration and aggressive pressing in the first half was too much for the Hammers, who just lacked a little bit of intensity – barring a good spell in the second half.

West Ham’s next league game will be away at Birmingham, who themselves have lost three games on the bounce, compared to West Ham’s four. In contrast, Manchester United – who play their home games in Leigh just outside Manchester – now have two home games to look forward to against the formidable Arsenal who have a perfect points tally so far this season, and then entertain Manchester City in what will surely be a tightly contested local derby. Having won their last four league games and currently sitting in third place, The Red Devils will be confident that they can push on command the top spot soon enough.

Arfyn Rhys Ruhonah