FAWSL 2020/21: Everton vs Brighton – tactical analysis
Everton Women hosted Brighton Women at the Walton Hall Park on Sunday in the FAWSL. The game ended in an even 2-2 with Brighton displaying a resilient performance for 90 minutes with their pressing system. In this tactical analysis, I shall examine how Brighton’s tactics (xG 0.40) managed to neutralise Everton (xG 1.51), especially in the first half. With a closer analysis of Brighton’s pressing strategy, I shall pick out instances from the game which helped them control the midfield against a technically stronger side.
MacIver, Wold, Finnigan, Sevecke, Turner, Graham, Egurrola (Stringer 77’), Emslie (Sørensen 63′), Christiansen, Raso, Gauvin (Boye-Hlorkah 77′)
Subs: Pike, Clemaron, Korpela, Clinton, Pattinson
Walsh, Le Tissier, Kerkdijk, Bowman, Gibbons, Connolly, O’Sullivan, Green, Kaagman, Whelan, Lee (Jarrett 65′)
Subs: Heroum, Stott, Brazil, Barton, Simpkins, Fiskerstrand
Everton, under Willie Kirk, lined-up in a 4-3-3 during the game which became a 4-1-4-1 while defending. The front three of Valérie Gauvin (xG 0.47), Hayley Raso (xG 0.37) and Claire Emslie (xG 0.35) offered a lot of threat to Brighton’s defence, while Izzy Christiansen and Lucy Graham provided the technical edge in the midfield, with Damaris Egurrola sitting behind them as the pivot.
Hope Powell’s Brighton shaped up as a 4-4-2 for most of the game, but their pressing movements changed the positions of the players constantly. The two forwards, Inessa Kaagman and Lee Geum-min were utilised for their playmaking ability more than as typical target players. As the forwards dropped deeper, the wide midfielders and fullbacks were able to attack the spaces forward. Felicity Gibbons clearly stood out in this game with an incredible performance at right-back. Let’s look in the next sections how exactly Brighton’s pressing system functioned.
Controlling the spaces in the middle
The primary objective of Brighton’s defensive organisation was to defend the spaces in the middle by always having an extra player. This player could either be one of the forwards dropping back or a wide midfielder tucking closer to the two central midfielders. This gave no time for Graham or Christiansen to turn and create chances for Everton.
Everton’s build-up involved the keeper Sandy MacIver, playing out of her box as a libero between the two centre halves, Megan Finnigan and Rikke Sevecke. Since Brighton wouldn’t press too high, building up with three players allowed the fullbacks to stretch the width and move higher up the pitch. The pivot Damaris Egurrola would drop into the spaces in front of the three, asking for the pass.
One of the two forwards, either Kaagman or Lee was tasked at marking Egurrola in Everton’s first phase of buildup. This allowed the second forward to move further up to cut down a passing lane. In the scheme above we see Lee marking Egurrola closing her as an option for the back three to play out, while Kaagman stays higher up. It turns into a 3v1 scenario if Kaagman presses alone, so Whelan, the left midfielder can leave her position and join the press as Everton circulate the ball. When she pushes up, the right midfielder on the opposite side, Megan Connolly tucks inside to still make it 3v2 in the middle as the priority was always to have an extra player in the centre.
In this instance above, we see Egurrola has received the ball from deep, but she is immediately pressed by Kaagman and there are four other players in the middle creating an overload. It is a 5v3 situation in favour of Brighton and it is impossible for Everton to play through the centre. Egurrola is forced to play the pass back to the defence and Everton have to look for a way to play around the centre.
Having an extra player in the middle also made it easier for Brighton to aggressively intercept passes that were attempted to play through the centre. Above we see how Brighton intercept a pass played by Everton from deep. The two central midfielders have left their markers and are pushing up and there is no way for Christiansen and Graham to receive the pass between the lines for Everton. We also see Kaagman pressing on to the ball from behind to make sure Brighton win possession. This overload once again makes it very difficult for Everton to find spaces to play through the middle.
Defensive work by the forwards
Kaagman and Lee were fundamental to leading Brighton’s pressing organisation with their defensive positioning creation of overloads. By cutting the passing angles, they were able to dictate how the play unfolded, which was the trigger for the rest of the structure behind them to move accordingly. When there was a turnover of possession, they would stay deep and engage in playmaking while the wide midfielders like Whelan and Connolly would push forward. I would like to highlight Lee’s work in influencing Brighton’s defensive organisation as a forward.
Above we see Lee dropping to close down Egurrola as discussed in the previous section. Her action gives Whelan the freedom to leave her position and press forward as Egurrola plays the pass back. This also is the trigger for the rest of the team to move forward.
In this case, in the second half, Lee manages to make a crucial interception a pass into the centre by Gauvin in a dangerous position for Brighton. Notice how far Lee has dropped back from her original position as a forward to make this interception.
In another instance, we the ball played to Turner on the left. However, since she doesn’t have any options to play through the middle, she is forced to turn and play back. She looks out for her central defender, Sevecke to play back but Lee tightly marks her while Connolly begins to press up onto Turner. Thus the fullback is forced to play the pass back to the goalkeeper.
During the game, Lee Geum-min won four out of four defensive duels for Brighton and Whelan won four out of eight defensive duels. Brighton also won 53 interceptions in comparison to 43 interceptions by the home side.
Player-oriented pressing in the wide lanes
Brighton forced the play into the wide corridors because of the superiority they created in the middle. Once the ball was in the flanks, they engaged in a player-oriented press than zonal defending to allow no time on the ball for the wingers and the fullbacks.
Let us look at this scheme above, where the ball is in possession of Sevecke with Everton building up with three including the keeper. Lee Geum-min drops to mark Egurrola while Kaagman presses the Sevecke. Behind the forwards, in the middle, we see Christiansen and Graham also marked immediately while Bowman stays back to cover. On the flank, the fullback Le Tissier presses onto Raso, while the right midfielder, Connolly presses Everton’s captain, Danielle Turner. As we see, when the play was pushed into one of the flanks, Brighton would immediately press every player out wide and in the middle forcing Everton to play around their structure.
Most of the time when Everton circulated the ball through their centre-halves in an attempt to play around Brighton’s structure or played the diagonal long pass to the opposite flank, Brighton’s defensive structure needed to shuffle across proactively in order to close the spaces in the middle. They showed a commendable work rate in doing this. The forwards taking turns to drop deep while the play switched sides also helped in controlling the spaces in the centre.
Here we see a case of a throw-in on the left from Turner to Graham, who plays the ball back to Sevecke. The centre half decides to switch the point of attack by playing around the structure. We see Brighton’s players immediately move across to close down the wide players. Lee makes an angled run to force the play onto the side that the defender is facing. Whelan drops and moves wide to cover the winger Emslie while the two midfielders Denise O’Sullivan and Danielle Bowman push across to the other side quickly. Note that they are able to leave their positions and press in this manner because Kaagman has stayed back to cover Egurrola in the middle.
Felicity Gibbons was outstanding on the left for her defensive work. She managed 16 recoveries out of the total 65 recoveries that Brighton made during the game, the highest of both teams. If we look at the map of Brighton’s recoveries we see a lot of them in the wide areas in the second half. It is interesting to note that the second-highest recoveries for Brighton were 11 done by Maya Le Tissier the right-back. This shows how effective Brighton were in pressing the wide flanks as well.
Brighton maintained a fairly consistent pressing intensity after taking some time to settle into the game. In fact, during moments of the first half, Brighton dominated play with their pressing as we can see in the PPDA timeline above. Everton is a side that built up a reputation last season to cause a problem for stronger teams with their intense pressing, but in this fixture, Brighton was able to reverse the roles for a change.
Verticality and third-man runs in possession
Upon winning possession, especially higher up the pitch, Brighton looked to take advantage of their players positioned close to one another and move the ball quickly with short passes while a teammate began a run on the wide flank. The advantage of having two forwards was always having an advanced player positioned in the half-spaces to play the ball to while the wide midfielders were able to push up and make themselves an option to lay the ball off.
I already discussed how Brighton managed to gain numerical superiority in the middle with an aim to control the centre. As a result when possession was won, they always had more players than Everton in a particular part of the pitch to play quick passes around them and get the ball out of the overload. If you see above, Gauvin loses the ball and Brighton have five players surrounding Everton’s two players. Hence, they can quickly move the ball around and circulate it to a free player in a wide area. Note that Kaagman has dropped from a forward position to add to this superiority.
In another scheme, we see how O’Sullivan is able to get the ball out of a tightly marked scenario using her central defender Kerkdijk who pushes up to become the free player. She then finds Kaagman who has dropped into the midfield and she lays it off to the other centre half who finally plays it to Gibbons on the far left. This is how Brighton use the principle of verticality in possession to quickly move the ball around the Everton players.
We see another instance, this time following a freekick. Whelan in possession of the ball is able to play Green in an advanced position who is able to quickly lay it off to the third-man who has begun her run attacking the space in the middle. These quick passing combinations made for an attractive display by Brighton and put the hosts on the back foot in the first half.
How Everton adapted in the second half
Since Emslie had a silent first half, and Graham and Christiansen were outnumbered in the middle by Brighton’s midfielders, Willie Kirk changed tactics in the second half to adapt to Brighton overloading the centre. He brought in Raso from a wide position inside to play just behind the striker, Gauvin. The fullbacks were also given greater freedom to make overlap and underlap runs.
Look at the scheme above and notice how Everton came out stronger in the second half by pushing Raso into the middle, freeing the lane for Wold to overlap her. Turner is also able to attack the half-space on the inside. These movements helped neutralise the numerical advantage that Brighton had during the first half and also freed up the spaces for Christiansen and Graham to create plays for Everton. As a result, Everton were able to create more dangerous opportunities for themselves and looked far more confident in possession.
Above we see how Raso is able to receive the ball in the middle and turn to dribble at the backline leaving the Brighton midfielders behind. In this attacking scenario she manages to play the ball and receive it back to register a shot on target.
In another scenario we see Turner, the left-back, passing the ball to Christiansen and attacking the space behind the defence to receive the through pass from a wide area. These rotations from the wide players added a fresh dynamic to Everton’s attacking organisation and helped them create more potential chances in the second half.
Brighton continued to push as they did throughout the game and even after Everton went up in the second half, they managed to equalise quickly after. The even resulted was simply a result of their robust work rate throughout the game.
Above we see a situation in the early part of the game, just after they have gone up by a goal. As Connolly is on the ball on the right, there are four Brighton players ready in the box for a cross or a square pass. We see the proactive attitude to create chances here which resulted in their noteworthy performance in this fixture.
Everton managed to score from set pieces, but despite being the technically better side were clearly troubled by Brighton in multiple moments during the game. In the next fixture, they face Chelsea, a far tougher opponent, and they will have to go back to the drawing board to work out the loopholes that Brighton managed to exploit against them in this game. Brighton, on the other hand, can work upon this performance and use their defensive tactics as a reference to face tougher opponents in the FAWSL.