The FAWSL has produced some exciting play and matchups thus far in 2020. While this match was overshadowed by the Manchester, London and Second City Derbies this past weekend, it was still a must see match for WSL fans as Brighton and West Ham currently occupy 8th and 9th respectively in the WSL table.

This tactical analysis will look at the tactics that both Brighton and West Ham used to try and gain an advantage over each other. This analysis shows which tactics played a part in Brighton gaining all three points in a tightly contested affair.

Lineups

Each side chose to employ a 4-2-3-1 formation which led to some interesting tactical battles all across the field. West Ham Women employed the same starting XI in this match that helped them to a 2-1 over Birmingham City in their previous match. Mackenzie Arnold started in goal with Laura Vetterlein, Grace Fisk, Gilly Flaherty and Houston Dash loanee Rachel Daly in front of her. The central midfield was occupied by Katerina Svitkova,  So-Hyun Cho and Emily van Egmond while Alisha Lehmann and Adrianna Leon provided the width in midfield. The lone striker was Martha Thomas for the Hammers in this match.

Brighton & Hove Albion Women made 3 changes from the side that was defeated 2-0 by Aston Villa in their previous match. Cecilie Fiskerstrand replaced Megan Walsh in goal for Brighton with Felicity Gibbons, Danielle Bowman, Danique Kerkdijk and Maya Le Tissier in front of her. The midfield was composed of Denise O’ Sullivan, Inessa Kaagman and Emily Simpkins who were flanked on either side by Aileen Whelan and Kayleigh Green. Rianna Jarrett replaced Geum-Min Lee as the lone striker.

West Ham’s Pressing Structure

The first half of this match did not feature many attacking opportunities, but that does not mean it was without tactical intrigue. Given that each side lined up in a fairly similar 4-2-3-1 in possession, it allowed for each side to set up defensive schemes to counteract and frustrate their opponents. In particular, West Ham was able to set up a pressing structure that was effective in limiting Brighton’s possession and their ability to progress the ball up the field.

West Ham chose to press in more of a 4-3-3 shape that was incredibly effective in frustrating Brighton in possession. West Ham chose this structure for a variety of reasons. Firstly, this shape allowed for West Ham to use their advanced wingers to take away the Brighton outside backs as options in possession. In turn, Brighton were often forced to play the ball into central areas, or play more direct balls into their striker. This favored West Ham as they were able to match up well in the midfield as their 3 central midfielders were able to mark and contain the Brighton central midfielders, making it hard to complete passes into these central areas. Similarly, West Ham were able to effectively mark and control the Brighton striker as they were able to have a numerical advantage with their two central defenders against the lone Brighton striker. Both of these options are much less efficient in their completion rate which in turn, forces more turnovers.

This Passes Per Defensive Action graph shows the effectiveness of West Ham’s press in this match

In addition to West Ham’s defensive structure and its positional and numerical advantages, West Ham were also effective in manipulating Brighton in possession through the use of cover shadows. Specifically, the West Ham striker, Thomas and the West Ham wingers in Lehmann and Leon, were very effective in their use of the cover shadow.

Thomas played a big role in the West Ham defensive setup as she was pivotal in forcing the direction of play. Once a Brighton center back had received the ball, Thomas often would curve her run and place herself between the ball and the opposite Brighton center back. This effectively cut the field in half as the Brighton center back had no reliable options to switch the field as she could not swing the ball to the opposite center back and the Brighton central midfielders were often marked by the West Ham central midfielders. This made it incredibly difficult for the Brighton center backs to progress the ball forward. 

A good example of West Ham using a cover shadow to force the ball long

In addition to this, the West Ham wingers, Lehmann and Leon were also very important to the West Ham defensive setup. Like Thomas, Lehmann and Leon were able to effectively use their cover shadow to manipulate Brighton’s passing options in possession. Both Lehmann and Leon often looked to force the Brighton outside backs to play into central areas, where West Ham felt they had a better chance of winning the ball. Leon and Lehmann did this by curving their runs and taking away passing options further down the touchline. In addition to effectively manipulating the Brighton outside backs, Lehmann and Leon were also able to apply similar pressure to the Brighton center backs when necessary. Particularly when the center backs received the ball in advanced positions, the West Ham wingers were able to position themselves between the center backs and outside backs to force the ball to be played into the central areas of the field. 

A good example of Lehmann using a curved run to force the ball into central areas

Due to their defensive structure and their use of cover shadows, West Ham were able to effectively limit Brighton’s options and time on the ball. This success on the defensive side of the ball played a key part in West Ham being able to dominate possession in this match.

Brighton’s Effective Counterpress

West Ham were not alone in having effective defensive schemes in this match. Brighton were also able to effectively use defensive techniques to frustrate West Ham as well as create chances for themselves. Namely, Brighton were very effective at counterpressing in wide areas in their attacking half. 

Brighton made a conscious effort to counterpress upon losing the ball in wide areas of the field in their attacking half. Brighton were adept at not only applying pressure to the ball immediately, but using other players close by to continue pressure and eventually win the ball within the first couple passes of losing the ball. 

Brighton chose to counterpress in these wide areas for two main reasons. Firstly, by applying pressure in their attacking half and more specifically in wide areas, Brighton was able to use both the endline and the touchline as “extra defenders” in trying to win the ball back. By applying pressure in these areas, Brighton were able to decrease the amount of space for West Ham to play in, while simultaneously increasing the amount of pressure on the ball. Thus, making it increasingly difficult for West Ham to successfully and decisively retain possession in these areas. Below are some examples of this pressure.

An example of Brighton counter pressing in advanced wide areas. This counterpress led to the lone goal of the match
Another example of Brighton applying a counterpress in an advanced wide area
A last example of Brighton counterpressing in advanced wide areas

Secondly, Brighton chose to employ this strategy as a byproduct of their shape in possession. When in possession, Brighton chose to use a narrow shape, especially with their attacking players. While this shape is effective in possession as it enables Brighton to combine and play quickly in attacking areas, as well as perform interchangeable runs in the attacking third, it also enables Brighton to quickly counterpress their opposition. Since there are many players in a close vicinity to the ball, Brighton have the ability to quickly apply pressure to the ball as other players are able to cover short distances to position themselves in passing lanes. This narrow shape allows Brighton to be effective in both their attack and the moments after they lose it. This is best exemplified by their goal from this match as it came after effectively counter pressing in a wide area and then quickly attacking upon their retention of the ball.

This graphic shows the average positioning of every Brighton player. You can see the narrowness of the attacking players, highlighted in red

West Ham’s Struggles Progressing the Ball

West Ham were able to dominate possession in this match as they retained the ball at 61% throughout the match. However, despite their possession prowess, West Ham often struggled to advance the ball through the thirds of the field to create chances. There are a few reasons for this that we will analyze now.

The first major reason why West Ham struggled to progress the ball can be credited to the Brighton defensive setup. Brighton chose to defend in a 4-4-2 shape. They also chose to start their line of confrontation a little deeper in order to remain more compact in defense and limit the space between their defensive lines. This made it difficult for West Ham to progress the ball through the lines when in possession. In addition to this the front two of the Brighton setup, typically Jarret and Kaagman were effective in forcing the West Ham defenders to play directly out from the back.

This shows the front line of Brighton’s 4-4-2 defensive set up

Similarly to the West Ham striker Martha Thomas, Jarett and Kaagman were able to effectively use their cover shadow between the West Ham center backs and force them to either play in to central areas or play more direct into the West Ham front line. In doing so, Jarrett and Kaagman encouraged West Ham to force balls into congested areas where the effective progression of the ball was much more difficult. A good example of this is below.

This shows Jarrett effectively using her cover shadow while applying pressure to try and force a direct ball or pass into the midfield

Although Jarrett and Kaagman were effective in their use of the cover shadow, the West Ham backline and goal keeper were all too happy to play long balls over the top for their frontline to run on too. This was largely due to the pace of the frontline, specifically in the aforementioned Lehmann and Leon, and the success those players have running in behind defenses. However, Brighton were able to effectively manipulate this tendency and force West Ham to concede possession via these long balls quite often. In doing so, it effectively limited West Ham’s ability to progress the ball and ensured that the majority of West Ham’s possession was in their own half.

This diagram shows West Ham’s passing patterns in this match. As you can see the majority of passes were in their own defensive third. You can also see the frequency of passes between the center backs and goalkeepers, which highlights the struggle West Ham had in progressing the ball

While West Ham do have the ability to be dangerous via more direct passes, these passes are far more dangerous when sprinkled into their attacking philosophy instead of the main mode of attack. West Ham did well a few times to find and exploit the space right behind the Brighton front line, highlighted in the picture below.

When West Ham were able to play into this space it was most often into a central midfielder dropping down to get onto the ball. When West Ham were able to access this space, they typically were able to mount dangerous attacks as they had bypassed the front line and were then able to utilize their 3v2 numerical advantage in central midfield. This advantage caused the two Brighton banks of 4 to be stretched out of place, allowing West Ham space to attack going forward.  However, West Ham were unable to access this space enough throughout the course of the match and often conceded possession rather easily via the long ball.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we have seen in this analysis how both the West Ham Women and Brighton & Hove Albion Women were able to effectively set up defensive schemes that counteracted their opponents. We have also analyzed how and why West Ham had trouble progressing the ball to create dangerous opportunities, despite their dominance on the ball.

Both sides will forge on in their WSL campaigns as they look to gain valuable points to push them into the top half of the table. West Ham are away to Chelsea in their next match, while Brighton will again travel to London to face Tottenham Hotspur.

 

Adam Miller