The 2021/2022 season was not an enjoyable one for Birmingham City Women. Just three league wins from a possible 22 saw one of the WSL’s founder members finally fall through the trapdoor and into the Women’s Championship after a few seasons of dicing with relegation. Their drop to the second tier means that there is now inevitable uncertainty over which players will still be at the club next season, as those who impressed in the top flight are likely to be targeted by other teams.
One of those who’s stood out for them is Greece international Veatriki Sarri, who has recently turned down a new contract and subsequently left the club. She could be a very astute signing for any side interested in adding her to their squad. Capable of playing as a midfielder or a forward, Sarri joined the team in January 2021 from Sheffield United Women, reuniting with then-Birmingham head coach Carla Ward, and her performances have attracted the attention of fans and analysts alike.
This tactical analysis will break down Sarri’s game in more detail, picking out the key aspects of her attacking and defensive play and seeing what qualities she would add to any club looking to sign her. The scout report will focus on her awareness around the pitch, how she plays when her team are out of possession and some of her different roles during matches.
One of Veatriki Sarri’s major strengths is an awareness of her surroundings, not only in terms of where the spaces are but also in the positions of her teammates and their opponents. As a result, she was generally at the heart of Birmingham City Women’s build-up play and critical to their ability to create chances in the final third.
Here, she has the ball in a congested area of the field, with Everton Women looking to close her down and limit her options, but they have left a small amount of space open behind them in doing so. Sarri spots this and immediately looks to take advantage of this slight defensive error, knowing that moving the ball into that area will get her team into a position where they will pose a threat and can look to move the ball inside the goal area.
However, as well as being aware of where the space is, she also sees her teammate making a run outside her, providing her with a passing option in that area, and these two combined demonstrate her vision and awareness and how they were key to Birmingham’s ability to build attacking phases of play.
Sarri can create goalscoring chances in other ways too, with her body facing towards Chelsea Women’s goal area here. Like Everton’s in the previous example, Chelsea players have come out to close her down, but Sarri’s ability to keep possession in tight spaces once again proves crucial for her team’s ability to build their attacks, as does her ability to identify where the space is, this time making a cross into the goal area and giving her teammate something to get on the end of. Chelsea struggled to contain Birmingham in this game and were arguably second best. Situations like this show why Sarri was central to that.
The Greece international’s crossing accuracy in 2021/2022 stood at just 30.6%, which is a lower number than some perhaps expected. However, when the difficulty of some of her crosses and the precision required for them to come off are factored in, it becomes clearer as to why more of her attempts didn’t find their intended target.
She is not only a threat in the final third when in possession though, with her movement the main thing to pick up on here. What she has spotted in this situation is that teammate Lucy Quinn, in the yellow circle, has run towards the ball in order to receive a shorter passing option and help to maintain possession. Sarri can therefore focus on positioning herself for the next phase of play when Quinn turns and looks for someone to pass to and keep the attack going.
Therefore, in anticipation of this happening, Sarri angles her run towards the goal, finding an area of the pitch where she will have time to control the ball. Her forward run also draws Millie Bright’s attention away from Quinn and the current position of the ball, preventing Chelsea from surrounding her teammate and cutting her off.
Given what has been looked at in this section of the analysis, it is clear that Sarri would be a good player to bring in for a team that is looking to be more expressive with their attacking play and continually get on the front foot, and the fact that she is a free agent will make her a potentially more attractive option for some teams.
With Birmingham City Women at the foot of the WSL for much of last season, it was generally imperative that everyone helped out defensively when the team were without possession. As a result, Veatriki Sarri needed to be just as good at defending as she was at going forwards, and this displayed a different side to her game and made her more of a well-rounded player for them last season.
Having plenty of pace in forward areas has allowed Birmingham to press from the front when they lose the ball, applying pressure on their opponents and looking to prevent the ball from getting too near their goal area. Here, Chelsea’s England defender Jess Carter is looking to gather the ball, but Sarri has got up the pitch unnoticed and Carter has to make a quicker decision rather than controlling the ball and looking for the right pass.
We have already mentioned how Sarri’s vision in the final third led to Chelsea struggling in this game, but this was another reason, with the Greek international involved again and showing how she was the one who gave Birmingham the urgency and desire to work hard during matches, fighting for every last point that they could get.
When the ball was inside Birmingham’s half of the pitch, they usually set up with their back four or five in one line and two midfielders in front of them, with those two players offering further protection and cutting off the direct routes to goal. Sarri was generally used as one of the two midfielders, using her pace to drop back and help her teammates when required.
Normally, that structure came when the ball was in front of Birmingham’s defenders, but Brighton and Hove Albion Women have advanced further forwards here and are now looking to play the ball across the box and into an area where they can shoot at goal. Ex-Arsenal Women and Reading Women striker Danielle Carter has made the pass towards Maisie Symonds, in the white circle, but doesn’t seem to notice where Sarri is. As a result, the ball travels too close to the Greek player and she makes the easy interception, which is something that she did 109 times last season, with an average of 4.28 being made per game.
Therefore, whichever club she joins this summer can expect her to be just as strong at the back as she is in forward areas, helping to break play up and continually disrupt opposing attacks.
There were occasions when the Greece international needed to drop back even further, with this situation showing her blocking an attempted cross by Arsenal captain Kim Little. We have mentioned how Sarri likes to play in tight spaces and is capable of making life difficult for defenders, but her pace and strength allow her to match opponents when defending too, having won 63% of her defensive duels last season, and this again highlights how she is an important player at both ends of the pitch.
What is also important to note is that she is happy to fill in wherever needed, even if that means running all the way back to prevent a goal from going in. This determination and ability to play the team game is another thing that will attract potential suitors, especially if it is a team like Chelsea that bring her in, because she may need to wait for her chance at Kingsmeadow and not be an immediate starter for Emma Hayes’ side.
Roles in the team
We have, so far, analysed the qualities that Veatriki Sarri possesses in attack and defence and looked at different examples of her play from last season, but the final things to examine are the many different roles she’s played in matches, showing her versatility not just positionally but also tactically.
When progressing the ball up the field, Birmingham City Women tended to operate with a triangular shape that saw Sarri play in a creative role behind a two — generally made up of Libby Smith and Lucy Quinn. As can be seen, this meant that there were always at least two passing options available for Sarri, making it more difficult for Everton to predict where the ball will go and therefore forcing them to split their defensive strength.
However, whilst this was really important to Birmingham’s transitional play and ability to create goalscoring chances, what needs to be highlighted here is Sarri’s role in the middle of the pitch. What often happened when Birmingham moved the ball up the field was that these attacking triangles were not in place, meaning that the passing options ahead of the Greek international were not available. Therefore, she was often required to hold onto the ball and keep opponents at bay, waiting for her teammates to get into position before passing into them.
Her hold-up play is something that we haven’t really mentioned yet. However, it links back to the first section of the analysis, when we analysed how her timing when moving the ball into teammates was a key element in helping Birmingham to build attacks, and the fact that she can be used as a target player as well as a creative playmaker shows her ability to adapt to different systems and tactics.
When Birmingham were in a game that required a more attack-minded approach, Sarri was known to play in a more defensive or box-to-box role, with this image showing her staying back and not becoming involved in the attacking play. Instead, she has received the ball in a deeper role and can now use her aforementioned vision to see where the spaces are and where her teammates will have the best opportunity of shooting at goal. Her 66.2% passing accuracy indicates that it gave the team an advantage to position her where she can play to her strengths, so it is worth keeping an eye on whether her next club share the same ideas.
When she was given licence to get forwards, Sarri tended to frequent the wings and look to beat opponents in 1-v-1 duels, with Brighton right-back Maya Le Tissier (no relation to Southampton legend Matt) looking to match her pace here but losing out. As a result, Sarri now has space to play the ball across the pitch and into the box, deciding based on the situation whether to keep the ball on the ground or play it through the air.
Again, we can see her versatility and ability to adapt to different situations, as well as her vision, once again, and ability to assess what is happening around her — all of which helped her to shine in a Birmingham squad that ultimately couldn’t compete.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked at Greece international Veatriki Sarri, who was one of Birmingham City Women’s key players last season but is now out of contract and available for a free transfer this summer. Given what we have picked up on throughout the scout report, it is evident that she would add a lot of quality not just in forward areas but also at the back when needed, slotting into gaps and ensuring that her team is as hard to beat as possible.
What some clubs might be concerned about is her goal and assist return for last season, which stood at four and two respectively, and it might be expected that she would have registered more given that she joined Birmingham as a striker. However, when you consider that Birmingham only netted 20 times in all competitions during the course of last season, it is clear that Sarri was one of their most potent attackers, so these numbers in the context of their season become more respectable. With the qualities that she possesses, she could likely increase that tally at her new club, as she may be given a more focused attacking role than she had at Birmingham.
However, there is no doubt that she has developed as a player over the last 18 months at St. Andrews and can now offer more to her team than before, and this will be the major pull for clubs chasing her signature over the next few months.