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Hearts Women 2022/2023: Their tactics under Eva Olid - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Hearts Women: Their tactical development under Eva Olid

There are many women’s football leagues around Europe that don’t perhaps get the attention that they deserve, either through low fan interest, lack of broadcasting or a combination of both, and those in Scotland have undoubtedly fallen into that category over the years. However, this season, there is a definite change in the air, with the Scottish Professional Football League taking ownership of them from this season and implementing a new structure that has seen the appetite for women’s football north of the border skyrocket, with record match attendances reported and an increased interest in the game evident up and down the country.

Things are also improving on the field too, with the traditional top three sides of Glasgow City, Rangers Women and Celtic Women, who have dominated the top flight (now known as the Scottish Women’s Premier League 1, or SWPL 1 for short) in the last few years, not having things entirely their own way, and all three have at times had to scrap with the other sides in the division to secure points.

One of those leading the charge to close the gap between them and the remainder of the division are Hearts Women, who currently occupy fourth place in the top flight, and anyone who has watched them this season will agree that their style of play under Spanish head coach Eva Olid has been very intriguing, in that she has looked to combine different aspects of traditional tactics from Spain, the USA and Scotland (where she has coached during her career) to come up with her own identity.

This tactical analysis will take a closer look at Olid’s tactical ideas, showing why they have helped Hearts to develop over the last 18 months and why they turned them into a team that many are tipping to be the first to disrupt the league’s status quo. The scout report will focus specifically on the key players who have been essential to Hearts’ fortunes on the field, as well as their overall tactical flexibility and the different stages of their defensive setup, all whilst demonstrating why they are quickly becoming a force to be reckoned with.

Tactical flexibility

The first aspect of Hearts Women’s game to look at is their ability to perform in different ways on the pitch, and this is an essential quality to have in the SWPL 1, with a rich variety of tactics on show from all of the teams, meaning that those sides hoping to challenge have to be able to adapt at will.

Hearts Women 2022/2023: Their tactics under Eva Olid - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Fortunately, this is something that Olid has looked to introduce since joining the club in July 2021, with Hearts now capable of playing in different ways as they look to give themselves the best possible chance of winning every game. However, for all of the technical detail that goes into their preparations, a lot of what they do well comes down to getting the basic things right, and one of those is being proactive. During games, Olid constantly wants her players to play on the front foot and take control of matches, and one of the ways that she has improved this is by introducing a one-touch style of play that has seen them move the ball around at a fairly high tempo.

It is worth noting that Hearts do have a passing accuracy of 74.5% for this season so far, and that quality in possession is down to each player needing to be spatially aware and pick their passing option before the ball arrives at their feet. As a result, no one needs any thinking time when they do have possession, because that part of the game is already done. In this case, Jenna Penman has already spotted New Zealand striker Katie Rood’s positioning and knows even before defender Georgia Hunter has sent the ball in her direction that that is where she will move the ball next.

The result is that the ball can be moved towards the attacker with the first touch and not with the second or third, and the reason that Olid insists on playing this way is that she wants to eliminate the chances of opponents closing her players down and launching counterattacks.

Against Celtic, who are the opponents in this situation, that is really important, because Fran Alonso’s side have several significant threats in their forward line, such as Australian former West Ham United Women forward Jacynta Galabadaarachchi and Chinese midfielder Shen Mengyu, who have both demonstrated on countless occasions their ability to win the ball and move forward at speed. Therefore, Olid’s tactics are all about not letting the opponents play to their strengths, and that is one reason that they currently find themselves so high up the league table.

Hearts Women 2022/2023: Their tactics under Eva Olid - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Another way that Hearts have made themselves difficult to play against this season is their ability to play through opponents, and this is another aspect of their game in which decisive one-touch passes are required. In this case, defender Emma Brownlie has come forward from the back line with the ball but has been faced with a Partick Thistle Women player, with her now unable to move any further forward. This has been spotted by Rood, who has moved out towards the wing to offer a passing option and keep the attack alive, and she has already noticed where Monica Forsyth is positioned and therefore again knows where the ball will go once Brownlie sends it in her direction.

This has created a triangular structure on the nearside of the pitch, as is indicated by the red lines, and it has been clear through the number of times that shapes like this appear that linking up in this way is something that Olid has developed during her time at the club. On studying traditional Spanish tactics, it is immediately evident where she got this from, with it being the first example of the ideas that she picked up whilst coaching in her home country, and no doubt introducing them to Hearts has played a major role in their strong form so far this season as they try to close the gap between them and the top three.

Hearts Women 2022/2023: Their tactics under Eva Olid - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

However, moving the ball across shorter distances does have its problems, with it being easily beaten by opposing sides simply setting up in a low or mid-block and maintaining their rigid shape between the ball and the goal. Hibernian Women are one side who have tended to resort to that way of thinking at times, which has meant that Hearts have needed to play against them in an alternative way.

As mentioned at the beginning of this section though, having the ability to adapt to different match situations is something that Olid has been really clear about, and this is where her recruitment comes into the equation, with her constantly looking to find players who can play in multiple roles and fit into different systems.

In this case, Hearts knew that Hibernian’s weakness this season has been aerial duels inside their own third, and so that is why they decided to play more directly and test their opponents out from deeper areas of the field, as Cailin Michie is doing here, and they recognised that if they could bypass the majority of defenders and put the back line under constant pressure, they would get chances to score goals.

Hearts Women 2022/2023: Their tactics under Eva Olid - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Olid does favour a possession-based game and doesn’t generally encourage her players to hold onto the ball for too long, and the fact that they have averaged 52.59% possession per game this season highlights that desire to take control of matches. However, she is not averse to keeping the ball and dribbling it around the field when it is appropriate to do so, with this graphic indicating the number of progressive runs and dribbles (successful and unsuccessful) that Hearts have made throughout the campaign.

When giving an interview after she was appointed Hearts’ new head coach, Olid stated that, when working in the USA, she had noticed how players were constantly told to run with the ball and not to pass it as much and said that that was not something that she completely agreed with. Nevertheless, the amount of dribbling that Hearts have done this season shows that it clearly rubbed off on her when she was moulding her own style, and there is no doubt that it has added another layer to their play that has increased their tactical flexibility and made them more difficult to play against.

Key players

As mentioned, recruitment is key to Olid implementing her vision at Hearts Women, and it has been clear throughout the season that she always has specific profiles in mind when dipping into the transfer market, knowing what she needs and how she will fit that player into the wider team structure.

Hearts Women 2022/2023: Their tactics under Eva Olid - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

One player that she took a very keen interest in last summer was striker Georgia Timms, who joined from Women’s Championship side Lewes Women in the summer, and the thing that perhaps attracted Olid to her the most was the fact that she offers a lot of movement inside the final third, with her capable of playing as either an out-and-out striker or in deeper or wider areas of the pitch, making her a very versatile and unpredictable opponent.

For Hearts, she has largely been used as the focal point of their attacking play, with her tasked with taking up positions around the opposing goal area and occupying opposing central defenders, taking them out of the game and opening up space behind for her teammates to move into.

Against Glasgow City, this was particularly important, because a lot of what the league leaders have done well this season has come from their central defensive duo of Claire Walsh and Jenna Clark. Time and time again, they have shown that, if given time and space to move forward and win duels, they will do so with great success, and both are also capable of playing out from the back and launching attacks.

Therefore, by positioning Timms in the same area as them in this match, Olid was trying to take those players out of the game and enable her side to create more opportunities in the goal area, and that shows once again how Hearts are constantly thinking tactically about how they can take opponents out of their comfort zones and give themselves an advantage during matches.

Hearts Women 2022/2023: Their tactics under Eva Olid - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

When Timms is not in those central areas, Hearts have needed to find other players who can carry the same threat, and someone else who came in during the summer has shown herself to be an able replacement. Rebecca McAllister, who was signed after spending part of last season on loan at the club from Celtic, is an attacking midfielder by trade and has quickly established herself as a key cog in the Hearts machine, with her mainly deployed as a playmaker figure and helping to keep the ball moving through her ability to link up different areas of the team.

It is those qualities that have helped her to become another player that Hearts struggle to play without, and, against Hibernian, her quick passing was key to Hearts adapting to Timms not offering a central goal threat, because they now couldn’t play the long aerial balls that were shown earlier in the analysis.

As a result, they had to revert back to their possession-based tactics, using McAllister’s passing abilities and awareness to keep playing through their opponents and trying to open them up in other ways, with the ball moving through McAllister and into the path of Brownlie here, who was then able to cross into the middle from a higher position.

This situation again shows that Hearts’ main strength during matches is the ability not to panic when things don’t go their way, and that comes through them having two or three ways to play and being able to execute each one as needed. In this case, McAllister played a central role in their ability to keep the chance alive, and it is her presence on the field that allows Timms the freedom to get into so many different spaces around the pitch.

Hearts Women 2022/2023: Their tactics under Eva Olid - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

The final player who has played a central role in Hearts’ performances this season is the aforementioned Brownlie, who was another summer addition after making the move from last season’s champions Rangers. During her time at Oriam, she has established herself as someone who adds a lot to her new side’s play both in and out of possession, with her being a crucial piece of the defensive jigsaw and a major target for her side to locate at attacking set pieces.

However, what Hearts have really benefitted from by signing her is that they now have a centre-back who is comfortable on the ball, and it has been common to see her moving up the field and getting into areas where she can set up goalscoring chances for her teammates. In this case, she has noticed that Partick Thistle have left a gap open in their defensive line and that there is a chance for her team to exploit the space behind them, and what is key here is that she never hesitates when she identifies an opportunity like this and always looks to put pressure on opposing sides in any way that she can.

It is very rare for a centre-back to have these qualities on the field, and that is probably what attracted Olid to her last summer. As the campaign has gone on, it has become increasingly clear that making the move to sign her was a good one, with Hearts benefitting in both halves of the field from her capabilities.

Defensive setup

Attacking is only one side of a football match though, and getting the defensive side of things right is also important to have any hope of being successful. With Hearts Women holding high aspirations of fighting their way into the top three in the near future, Olid has needed to ensure that her team are as robust as possible and able to deal with any type of opposing threat, and her tactics out of possession once again come down to doing the basic things well.

Hearts Women 2022/2023: Their tactics under Eva Olid - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

As with their attacking play, the whole team is expected to contribute when they lose the ball, with their mentality revolving around regaining possession as quickly as possible. It starts from the front, with those in the forward areas closing down both the ball and the immediate passing options, and, as is evident here, each player knows their role in these situations and is capable of playing their part in the wider setup.

With Hearts now in these positions and each of the Aberdeen Women players in their third closed down, goalkeeper Annalisa McCann is forced to make a long clearance towards the area behind them, as marked by the blue square. This plays directly into Hearts’ hands and enables them to secure possession and launch a counterattack, putting their opponents back under pressure, and that is the key thing here.

Aberdeen may have been one of the SWPL 1’s strugglers this season, but they do have players who can hurt opponents if given half a chance to do so, such as key attacker Bayley Hutchison, and Hearts knew that they had to work hard every time they lost the ball at the Balmoral Stadium if they were to prevent their hosts from finding those key players and breaking them down.

Hearts Women 2022/2023: Their tactics under Eva Olid - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

When teams do move the ball out with more success, as Hamilton Academical Women have done here, Hearts’ focus shifts towards sealing off the central channel and forcing their opponents to utilise the wings. This is another basic coaching point in football, with it always easier to defend against attacks that come into the middle from wide areas than it is to stop teams playing through the middle.

It would be easy for Olid to come up with a strategy or shape based on what she has learnt from other countries, but she has instead worked on getting these details right, and the fact that they instantly drop back and stay compact shows that this is another thing that they constantly work on during training as they try to make themselves as difficult to break down as possible.

Hearts Women 2022/2023: Their tactics under Eva Olid - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

The reason that Hearts leave so much space open on the wings for their opponents to attack is that they have faith in the abilities of their centre-backs, whose role in these situations is to stay narrow and never allow the opposing side to take control of their goal area.

They only come into play if the first attempt to end the threat, by blocking the initial cross, doesn’t come off though, which means that they have to remain concentrated and focused on not only where the ball is but also where the main targets are in the middle. In this case, they have been called into action, with Dundee United Women’s Nyla Murphy getting beyond Jenny Smith and having the opportunity to set up a shot on goal, but her effort is thwarted by Jamaica defender Vyan Sampson (another summer addition) reading the play well and recognising where the ball was going, meaning that she could put herself in the right place to connect with it.

She is not the only one to be this strong in Hearts’ goal area, with all three of her, Hunter and Brownlie making their fair share of clearances, and the fact that they have been successful in 66.7% of their defensive duels and 49.9% of their aerial battles, as well as having the best defensive record in the top flight outside of the top three, shows just how tough they have been to score against, with just one goal per game being conceded on average.

Hearts Women 2022/2023: Their tactics under Eva Olid - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

They can’t rest once the clearance is made though, because Olid’s defensive strategy then turns towards the second phase of each attack and prevents their opponents from picking the ball up and sending it back where it came from. In order to make it as difficult as possible for opponents to relaunch an attack from these advanced areas, Hearts always have players ready to move out and close down whichever opponent takes control of the ball, looking to take time away from them and to limit their options.

Against Rangers, this is always tricky to do, with Malky Thomson’s side demonstrating throughout this season and the last that they have the ability to move the ball around the pitch at a high tempo and can cover large distances with each pass. Therefore, Hearts were always going to be at a disadvantage here once full-back Nicola Docherty managed to control the ball.

However, once she had evaded the press from both Smith and Erin Rennie and sent the ball back into the goal area, Hearts’ central defenders once again read the situation and got themselves in the right position to end the threat, and the fact that this is a constant feature of Hearts’ play to see them maintain this robust shape out of possession highlights how the defensive side of things has been just as important to their overall progression this season as the offensive play has.


In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked in detail at Hearts Women and their tactical development under head coach Eva Olid, pointing out the different features of their play that she has worked on and showing why each has helped them to climb up the table and lead the charge towards the top three.

What makes them such an interesting side to dissect is the blend of different styles that is evident in their game plans, with this scout report picking out ideas from Spanish, American and other known brands of football. However, Olid has not just thrown lots of ideas into the team and has instead taken the best parts of each one to form her own way of playing, for which she deserves a lot of credit, and it is that that has made Hearts such an exciting side to watch and a difficult opponent to play against.

Hearts chairman Ann Budge said in a recent conversation that she had big hopes for the club’s women’s team and expressed her desire to see them maintain their progress on the field as well as to continue to receive as much support off it as possible, and one thing that she has expressed a wish to see is for them to make Tynecastle their permanent home. Even with Budge reportedly leaving her position as the club’s CEO in 2024, there are clearly big plans for the future of the women’s team which many hope will be carried out, and they will definitely be worth keeping an eye on to see just how far they can go.