West Ham United Women currently occupy eighth position in the WSL, with 16 points, a whole 10 points above the relegation zone. They have many good players, but there is one that glues the whole team together; Adriana Leon. The Canada international generally plays as an attacking midfielder, and is situated behind the striker, allowing her to influence the game in different ways. However, this scout report will show through tactical analysis that she is influential to West Ham’s tactics in other ways too. The analysis will show in no uncertain terms just how she is the beating heart of this West Ham United Women team.
The first point to make is that, unlike other attackers, who are automatically drawn towards the ball because they want to have possession, she moves away from it. To explain, the image below demonstrates this.
What we see is that, whilst her teammate has possession, Leon remains in the central channels. This sounds really simple, but if we examine the reasons for this, we find that by playing in this way, Leon is constantly creating space for her team. West Ham like to play with a front two, but so that this is not closed down as easily, Leon creates a diversion with her movements. She offers the third option, confusing opposing defences, and allowing teammates to unlock and get in behind them.
You can also see from the image that she is running in behind the Liverpool Women defender, who hasn’t noticed her movement. This also helps to find spaces behind defences. By making these movements, she occupies space and ensures her team always have the advantage in attacking situations.
If we look at another example of Leon’s influence in attack, we notice that she often creates passing options for teammates.
Here, we see how Leon is positioned on the far side of the pitch. Her teammate in possession is marked by the square, and the arrows show how Leon and Hammers forward Leanne Kiernan (wearing number 8, nearside) have spread so that they are on either side of the Manchester United Women defence. This has isolated the two central defenders in between both players, meaning West Ham United Women have the advantage in this situation. If the pass goes to either player, they can get the ball in behind United’s defence. This example shows more West Ham’s attacking approach, than Leon’s specifically, but it highlights how important the Canadian is to it. It is possible that this move would succeed with another West Ham player in that area, but not many have the speed and eye for space that Leon has.
If we look at another example, we see how she likes to play on the shoulder of the opposition’s defence.
Adriana Leon is positioned on the far of the image again, but on the outside of the defender. This does two things for her team; it allows her to run up the blindside of the defender, and it creates space for her team to play the through-pass into. Let’s look at these ideas more specifically.
Firstly, she is utilising the fact that Liverpool’s full-backs like to play higher up the pitch, often acting as wing-backs where they can. This means that the space for Leon to get in behind is in the full-back positions, because they will likely be out of position. The second point is that, by running up the wing, Leon is drawing the opposing centre-back towards her, meaning the centre-backs can’t stop the through-pass coming in between them. By making this movement, Leon has ensured that, whilst she has the pace to get on the end of the pass anyway, the pass’s success rate has also increased. These little things are what make her an incredibly important player for her team, and a dangerous opponent to play against.
The third point to mention is her positioning. If we look below, we can see how she is situated on the left-hand side of the Hammers’ forward line.
West Ham United Women are attacking in a 3-v-3 situation. Liverpool’s back line is already going backwards, having to turn quickly in order to get back in time, automatically giving them the disadvantage here. West Ham have a basic front line structure, but the interesting thing is that with Leon in the wider position, she can unlock the defence much more easily, because if you notice, there are no defenders realistically close enough to stop her run. This means she has become the best option to pass the ball to, and we know how she scores good goals from a long way out. This therefore means she has become a dangerous opponent in this precise moment.
Her positioning as a wide forward allows her to create passing options where she can, as we mentioned previously.
Here, against Tottenham Hotspur Women, we see how Leon is positioned outside of the defence, which has become entangled. With the ball currently outside of the goal area, Leon’s positioning means she has become the best passing option, and the one with the best goalscoring opportunity. Again, we know that she can score goals from these areas, so it increases the danger she poses. We can see that the defenders are looking to cover her; this allows another passing option, in this case Martha Thomas (wearing number 9, nearside) to become available, and indeed we can already see that she has become relatively open. What we can say then is that, even when marked, Leon has created another passing option somewhere else.
The final point to consider is her ability to cut inside from wider areas. We will look at this much more deeply in the next section, but for now, if we look at the image below, we can see how she goes about doing this.
If we look at how her body is positioned, she is focused on bringing the ball inside the central channel. She can do this because another teammate has moved to the wing, giving Leon the freedom to move inside. The effect on the defence is that they begin to bunch up, trying to close gaps that Leon could look to shoot or pass through. We can already see some of these gaps in the image. This means that the defence will end up like we saw against Tottenham; they crowd together, allowing West Ham to use their natural width to find a way through. All of this has come simply because Leon has made this movement inside, and it shows how her presence on the field influences West Ham’s attack.
As an attacking midfielder, it tends to be between the midfield and attack that we find Adriana Leon most often. Picking up the point from beforehand, she likes to cut inside and run at the defence, finding gaps in their structure, which she is usually successful at. We have already seen her cutting inside from when she is in the final third; now we can add how it works when she is in midfield.
The arrow shows Leon’s inward diagonal run towards the box. We can also see how she has a teammate moving outside her on the wing, meaning Liverpool Women must split, and not surround Leon. This means that gaps appear, making it easier for the Hammers to attack through the middle. If you look at the right of the image, West Ham have other attackers in that area, and so if we look at the bigger picture, the Hammers have attackers on both sides, splitting the defence apart, and allowing Leon to attack through the middle with more ease.
The second point about her midfield play is her ability to pass and move into the right areas. The image below shows what we mean by this.
To explain what is going on, Leon was originally running down the wing, where her teammate (in the black square) now is. Leon has altered her run, so that now instead of also running down the left channel, she has come inside to position herself between the defensive and midfield ranks of Manchester City Women. She has noticed where she can get into the box, through the middle of the two centre-backs. This space is available because both Manchester City’s right-back and centre-back have their eyes on Leon’s teammate, who has moved down the wing. The result is that the space in the middle has opened up, and that is where Leon is now aiming her run. Again, what we can see therefore is how, from midfield, she can influence her team’s tactics, and help their attacks.
The final point to make is her work in drawing defenders away from her teammates, opening up space for them. We can illustrate this better below.
In this image, Adriana Leon has retreated backwards into the midfield, and has won the ball, knocking it forwards to her teammate who is moving in behind the defence. However, because that teammate is not in possession of the ball, she is not the focus of the defenders; instead, Leon is. Her intention here is not to turn and dribble, but to pass it forwards. The red arrow shows this pass, whilst the black arrow shows her teammate’s run to meet the ball. This is another way in which Leon’s intelligent movements influence her team’s tactical play.
Another example of Leon creating space is shown here.
In this example, Leon has run across her teammate’s path, taking the Chelsea Women defenders with her. This then creates space on the inside of those defenders, where Kenza Dali (in the black square) makes her run inside to occupy that area. From here, Dali has the perfect body position to feed a ball through to any other West Ham player on the far side of the pitch. All this came because Leon moved to clear the defenders from her path. Had Leon not made this run, Chelsea would have stood firm, able to block any attempt from Dali to move the ball across her teammates. Therefore, we see the influence Adriana Leon has on her team’s midfield play, adding to what we have already learnt from her play in attack.
Finally, we need to look at how Adriana Leon helps the West Ham United Women defence. We can do this by looking at two examples. The first is below.
In this image, we can see how Reading Women have attacked deep into the West Ham half, beginning to close down the player in possession. Realistically, out of the four possible passing options, the middle and far option will not sustain ball possession for the Hammers. Instead, the only option without Leon’s presence is now passing backwards to the defender at the back, which would not allow West Ham to attack forwards with any ease. This would be because Reading are perfectly positioned to close down this defender too. Therefore, Leon’s movement backwards creates a fourth option, and one that opens up more possible passes for West Ham. Leon would then be able to turn and move the ball forwards, or to move it across to her teammates in the image. She acts as a bridge, allowing her team to keep possession even when under pressure in their own half. This is an especially important role to play. In this example, if Leon hadn’t come back, it is likely that Reading might have made an interception. Therefore, we can see how Leon helps her team’s defence by dropping back and assisting in keeping possession.
The second example shows the same thing happening.
In this example, again we see Manchester City beginning to surround Leon (circled and in possession). Leon has again come short to receive the ball, and whilst her options at this point are limited, she has the skill and pace to turn and dribble forwards with the ball. This is something we have seen in previous examples, with her movements cutting inside from the wing when attacking. Therefore, this and the last example allow us to see how she helps the defence when they need to keep possession, completing the picture of how she is the Hammers’ heartbeat.
The overriding conclusion of this scout report is that Adriana Leon is a crucial player in West Ham United Women’s all-round play. We have shown through her play in attack, midfield and defence that she is central to everything that they do, and is arguably their most important player as a result. We have seen in this tactical analysis how she can play in midfield or attack, and still gets into the right areas in order to get shots away, or to pass to her teammates. We have seen as well how her movements help to create space for her teammates to attack into, and so it’s not just her skill with the ball that makes her dangerous, but her eye for positioning and space off it too. There is no doubting, therefore, that the reason the Hammers are sitting comfortably in mid-table is because of the Canada international.