Mark Parsons is a 35-year-old head coach who started his career with Chelsea’s reserves before heading to the United States where he coached D.C. United Women U-20, Washington Spirit and, lastly, Portland Thorns. Then, he returned to Europe to manage the Netherlands’ women’s national team ahead of the UEFA Women’s Championship next summer. Parsons will need to conserve this European title since the Netherlands were the winners of the latest edition of this competition which took place in the Netherlands in 2017.
Having won the NWSL Shield with Portland Thorns in 2016, the NWSL Championship in 2017, the NWSL Community Shield in 2020 and the NWSL Challenge Cup in 2021, Parsons earned the possibility of coaching a big European team like the Netherlands and now, he will aim to prove his worth at this high level by winning titles and reaching the final stages of the upcoming international and continental competitions. At the same time, he will try to avoid losing finals and semifinals such as the NWSL 2021 semi-final which he lost to Chicago Red Stars.
In this tactical analysis in the form of a scout report, we will look at how Parsons can improve the Netherlands’ performances even further following Sarina Wiegman’s departure to coach the English women’s national team. This analysis will be carried out while exploring Parsons’ philosophy, preferred formations and ideas.
Formations and player choices
During his first few matches as head coach of Netherlands Women, Parsons alternated between the 4-2-3-1 formation and the 4-3-3 despite having relied on the 4-3-1-2 formation with Portland Thorns for most of last season. With plenty of excellent players playing at the best European teams at his disposal, Parsons will more likely continue relying on the 4-2-3-1 formation since he has got some of the best wingers in Europe at the moment, and therefore, using the 4-3-1-2 will cost him the services of Barcelona’s Lieke Martens, Bayern Munich’s Lineth Beerensteyn and other good players on the wings. Plus, a striker like Vivianne Miedema doesn’t really need another striker playing alongside her as she is used to playing as the sole striker at Arsenal, with two wingers supporting her.
This would most probably mean that Parsons will continue alternating between the 4-2-3-1 and the 4-3-3 according to players’ fitness, opponents’ strengths and weaknesses, as well as the importance of matches/results.
In defence, Parsons doesn’t really have a problem when it comes to player choices since he has got a mixture of talented and experienced players at his disposal. During the first few matches, it appears that he’s relied mostly on the captain Sari van Veenendaal as a goalkeeper, Sisca Folkertsma as a right-back, Chelsea’s Aniek Nouwen and Ajax’s Stefanie van der Gragt as centre-backs, as well as Wolfsburg’s Dominique Janssen as a left-back.
The three players that Parsons relies on as the two central midfielders are Jackie Groenen, Jill Roord and Sherida Spitse. He alternates between these three players since the three of them are quality players both in defence and in playmaking.
Upfront, Parsons’s first choice for the left-wing is obviously Lieke Martens, given that she is actually one of the best in Europe in her position. Then, Daniëlle van de Donk is used as the team’s advanced playmaker alongside one of Lineth Beerensteyn or Shanice van de Sanden, who are both used as right-wingers. In front of these three players, Miedema is the key player for the Netherlands given that she always creates danger out of nowhere and exploits her teammates’ support in the best of ways by scoring goals regularly.
How Parsons can use his experience in favour of the Netherlands
In terms of defending, Parsons’ Portland Thorns won 62.2% of their defensive duels per match, which is a good average that could be improved. Yet, winning just 45.7% of aerial duels is what was worrying at Portland Thorns, and Parsons should work on avoiding having a similar percentage during his time with the Netherlands. Another aspect that Parsons should focus on is the number of conceded goals per match, as the Netherlands concedes 1.07 goals per match, a number that should be improved.
In this example, for instance, the Netherlands’ defensive marking in such situations requires more organisation and discipline. Three of the Netherlands’ players were not marking anyone, leaving two players unmarked near the far post and another opponent waiting for a second ball while being unmarked too. This unorganised defending resulted in a goal for the Czech Republic scored by one of the two unmarked players.
Another problem that should be avoided is letting opponents shoot from distance and being passive when players intend to shoot. This was one of the factors that led to Portland Thorns’ loss in the semifinal against Chicago Red Stars, as during both goal actions, Portland Thorns’ players allowed their opponents the time and space to shoot without even attempting to block such shots with sliding tackles. Parsons is surely aware of such an important attitude and will most probably train his Netherlands’ players on dealing in the right way with such situations to not concede such goals.
How to improve the attacking performance
With Portland Thorns, Parsons had an average xG that equalled 1.86, with 34.9% shots on target. These stats were very good for the Thorns. However, now he comes to a team where the xG is already higher (2.59), with a 43.8% in terms of shots on target. Therefore, the challenge is to keep such high attacking statistics while trying to alternate his attacking ideas to avoid being predictable by his opponents. Moreover, using the adequate players and not overcomplicating things for them can also be extremely fundamental to get the best out of them in terms of chance creation and finishing.
Parsons has got different excellent attacking weapons at his disposal and mainly Miedema’s finishing abilities in the air, in set-pieces and in counter-attacks, Martens’ shooting and penetration skills, Daniëlle van de Donk’s key passes, dribbling skills and second ball exploitation, Lineth Beerensteyn’s accelerations and crosses, as well as the support that comes from behind via Groenen and Roord. These two midfield players can be used extensively in attack as they have some excellent playmaking and shooting abilities as well.
Here is an example of Martens’ excellent shooting skills for instance.
In addition, having a player who masters scoring with both feet while keeping the same efficiency can be extremely beneficial for the team against any opponent. Van de Donk is excellent at this and she has already scored several goals for the Netherlands using her weaker foot and confusing defenders. Parsons can therefore work on combinations between the attacking players based on such individual abilities and this is just one of these abilities.
Mark Parsons is an acknowledged manager who has already won numerous titles in the United States. Now, it is the time for him to succeed in Europe as well with one of the best European women’s national teams. He has got all that is needed to succeed and therefore, we expect to see a strong Netherlands’ side very soon in the UEFA Women’s Championship in England.