Birmingham City Women 2019/2020: Surviving WSL relegation – scout report
Should the WSL get underway again this season, there are three teams that will know they have some serious work to do if they want to spend next year in the division. This three-part analysis series will look at Bristol City Women, Birmingham City Women and Liverpool Women, as we look to analyse each team’s defensive and attacking positives and negatives, seeing what each needs to do to survive relegation.
This first article will provide a tactical analysis of Birmingham City Women. In the scout report, we will look at how their defensive set-up often hinders them more than it helps, but also how their attacking tactics allow them to create plenty of goalscoring opportunities. We will also look at the key players that they will look to in order to aid their survival hopes.
Firstly, we need to give some thought to their defence. The main problem with it is that they tend to run too far forward, and this then allows their opponents to get in behind them and get shots away. We can see this below.
In both of these examples, against Bristol City Women and Tottenham Hotspur Women, we can see the point above. The lines in between the players show you just how their defence has come forwards, but has left too much space available behind, giving the opponents an opportunity to get in behind and run at goal.
Let’s see how Birmingham get into these situations. They like to play with attacking full-backs, and we have seen over the season how they like to use Sarah Mayling and Adrienne Jordan almost as wingers most of the time. But attacking full-backs have to be able to track back, and do the defensive part of their job as well, and this is where Birmingham get caught out. The two examples above highlight this. You can see how there are two defenders who are line with the attacker, but the full-back is behind, and this is what makes Birmingham so easy to break down.
Another example of this backline frailty is show below.
Here, you can see that Bristol City Women striker Ebony Salmon has found a way through the middle of the Birmingham defence, and this is another reason why their attacking full-backs can sometimes hinder their defensive capabilities. We can see that the gaps between the defenders are large, which means that they effectively offer the attackers those areas behind to run into. We can link this back to the previous point, in that there are defenders chasing back, because they have come too deep, and that has offered Salmon the chance to run and shoot at goal.
Birmingham City Women currently sit second from bottom of the WSL, with two wins and 10 losses, having conceded 23 goals, and when you look at examples like these, it’s not hard to see why they are shipping so many goals.
This is not to say that they leave these spaces open all of the time though, because there are occasions when the defence is more organised, and we can see below how this makes it harder for opposing attackers to find a way through them.
Birmingham above have organised themselves into a relatively narrow back four, leaving the wings open. This makes it harder for Tottenham in this situation to get the ball in behind the defence, because even though there is space to do so, there are no attacking players able to get there to meet it in the middle.
Birmingham also have one of the best left-backs in the WSL in Adrienne Jordan, and the USA international has been known to block crosses by herself, allowing her defensive teammates to get back after being out of position. Therefore, the fact that there is a Tottenham player on the far side is not a problem in this situation, because Jordan has the pace to cover that player if the ball goes out there.
In this example, you can see the ball on Jordan’s side of the defence, and it is likely that she will be able to win the ball before the attacker will, due to this pace.
Another example of their narrow defensive structure is shown below.
Here, we can see how they have drawn the two full-backs inside again, and this has meant that Tottenham can’t get behind them. We can see in the two squares how Birmingham have marked player-to-player, for added security. They are positioned just outside of the goal area, but again, because there is no way through for Spurs, that area is harmless, and Blues goalkeeper Hannah Hampton can control that area with relative ease.
So how do they fix this for the rest of the season? The issue they have is that their full-backs attack, but sometimes don’t track back to defend, so if they can fix this, and close down the gaps that we have seen being created, then they will be much more rigid at the back. Defensively, we know that Sarah Mayling, or Lily Simkin if she is playing at right-back, and Adrienne Jordan have the pace to get back and defend when Birmingham City Women lose possession.
We have also seen how they can form a structure that protects their goal, because even though they have left space in behind, the fact that there are no opponents able to get there makes any cross coming in harmless. Therefore, this is how Birmingham can ensure that defensively, they have a chance at survival this season.
Whilst these have been negatives, there is a positive about their defence too. This is that at goal kicks, they split their two centre-backs as far wide as they can.
In both of these examples, we can see that the attackers now have a difficult task in trying to mark both players. This is Birmingham’s intention, because they want to use their attacking full-backs further up the field, and not have them spend more time in their own third than they actually need to. This in turn helps their attackers, because they can move into more central positions, which means that Birmingham have more potency in attack. If we look at the effect of this structure on Bristol City in both examples, we can see how their central striker is now isolated in the central channel, which means that they have the disadvantage in this situation.
This sounds like a really obvious comment to make, but in the perilous situation that both clubs find themselves in, with their futures in the league at stake, it’s important that we analyse everything that they are doing to stay up, and this is one of those tactics that they are using to try and benefit them further down the field.
If we move on to the Birmingham attack, we can see how they have devised tactical solutions to help them make the most of every attacking opportunity. They always attack in numbers, which comes from their attacking full-backs, but also from the fact that they have at least four attackers whose job is to find the gaps in the opposing defence. Their tactic of attacking in numbers allows them to do three things; draw defenders away from the goalkeeper; attack with a central duo; and have players make runs to offer goalscoring opportunities.
What we can see here is that Birmingham have one attacker who has collected the ball and moved into the midfield, whilst two others have gone forward into the space that has been created. This movement backwards by the central player draws the defenders with them, which increases the gap between them and the goalkeeper, and that is now where the two attackers moving forwards can get in behind the defence. You can see particularly on the nearside of the image how Birmingham’s wide player is looking to get in behind without the defender realising, and this is stealth move is another element in this tactic.
Birmingham can make these sorts of attacks because they play with two central strikers, as shown below.
The defence are naturally drawn towards the player in possession, and that means that the space is clear for Birmingham in the central channel. This means they can start to make runs in different ways, creating more goalscoring opportunities for them, and more confusion for the opposing defence. You can see below how this happens.
In this example, Birmingham City Women winger Claudia Walker has taken the ball to the goal line, and is now attempting to cross it into the box. Striker Lucy Whipp is in the box, but rather than running straight towards the goalkeeper, where the ball is likely to be targeted, she makes an almost horizontal movement, as shown by the arrow. This means that, should the ball be cleared by the goalkeeper, Whipp is in the perfect position to score, which she does.
You might be wondering why she does this, and it’s because she knows that her strike partner, usually Abbi Grant, or another Birmingham attacker, will be running towards the keeper; in fact you can see this on the far side of the box. Therefore, Whipp knows that she doesn’t have to cover that area, and instead can prepare for the rebound, should it come. This therefore shows us both how Birmingham attack in numbers, and how they make it work for them in creating opportunities, and hopefully scoring them too.
The other thing that comes about from this central duo is that it makes them harder to close down, because they can split or stay together, and frequently in games you will find Grant and Whipp playing very near to each other. The reason they can play together, rather than having to go into the wider channels to offer passing options, is because of the attacking full-back tactic that they have. That means that the full-backs cover the wings, and the strikers and wingers are then allowed to cut inside, increasing the team’s chances of scoring. It may not have provided too many goals, given that Birmingham City Women have only netted five times this season, but the fact that it increases their chances means that it is something they should hold onto as they try to survive.
The final point about their attack that we need to mention is shown in the image below.
Here, we can see how Birmingham have again drawn the defence over to one side, creating an opportunity for the through ball to release Walker on the wing, who is circled. This is the advantage of having three or even four attackers in the forward line, with Birmingham having the quartet of Rachel Williams, Grant, Whipp and Walker as their four most potent players, with England’s Lucy Staniforth and Scotland’s Chloe Arthur as the firepower in behind, providing those four with chances. This is how Birmingham’s attack is made up.
Getting back to the image, what we can see is how the Blues like to create space on the wings, because, as we have already seen, that is where they have their attacking wingers and full-backs. That is not to say that they don’t carry a threat in midfield, but they prefer to unlock defences by moving the ball around the outside where they can, using the wings.
So how can they improve their attack to help them survive? Simply, they need to take more opportunities. They are a very creative side, but they sometimes lack quality in the final third. We have seen how their setup helps them create chances, so that is not in doubt. If they can score more goals, they can win more games.
Finally, let’s take a look at some of the players they will need to be fit if they want to survive. The full-backs, Sarah Mayling and Adrienne Jordan, will need to be starting every game, because with them on the pitch, Birmingham always stand a chance of winning a game. We can see below how they help the team with their individual forward advances.
You can see from both images how they get forward, and how they both form part of the midfield for the majority of the match. What this does is it pushes the attackers even further forward, into the box, and so Birmingham have targets when they cross the ball into the box. We should not forget that Birmingham have beaten both of their relegation opponents, Liverpool and Bristol City, and this is because they have this tool in their box, whilst Bristol and Liverpool tend not to attack quite so often. Therefore, Birmingham are different in this sense.
We have mentioned how the midfield of Chloe Arthur and Lucy Staniforth continuing to control the middle third will be important to them, and how the attack has the ability to score goals, but now, if they want to survive, they just need to bring everything together.
To conclude, we know that Birmingham City Women, despite being one place above the relegation zone, are perhaps the best equipped to stay up, but it seems to be a lack of quality in all areas that has led to them being where they are. Former manager Marta Tejedor departed by mutual consent early last month, and she has paid the price for a season where they haven’t been able to glue together everything that they have, and that has cost them.
Next time, we will look at Liverpool Women, to see how their relegation survival prospects are looking, and analyse what they need to work on if they want to stay up.