FAWSL 2019/2020: Birmingham City Women v Bristol City Women – tactical preview
The FAWSL has three teams that are fighting to stay in the league, and in this match, two of them clash. Bottom of the table Bristol City Women travel to third-bottom Birmingham City Women, and the stakes could not be higher. This tactical analysis will preview this hugely important match, and see how each team’s tactics can help them get the better of the other. The analysis will show how Birmingham and Bristol both have good and bad parts to their game, and will show how both teams can play in order to take the three points in this one.
Birmingham City Women have had an indifferent season, but nonetheless a disappointing one by their standards. Last season, they finished fourth in the WSL, but this season they have slipped and struggled. However, there have been good points to their season, such as the way that they attack using two strikers and two wingers as one unit, and their defence is generally quite well-organised. This will all be explored later on, but essentially, they are the team looking the more likely to take the win and repeat the victory they gained earlier this season when they won 2-0 at Stoke Gifford Stadium.
Bristol City Women have had a similar fall from grace this season. Last season, they finished sixth and gained 25 points after their 20 games. This season, they have picked up just six points in their 12 games, and with time running out, they currently find themselves level on points with Liverpool Women, but with a goal difference of -30 compared to Liverpool’s -10. That says it all really about what their biggest problem has been this season; too many goals being conceded. However, in this analysis, we will look at a particular aspect of their defence which could help them in their fight against relegation, and could certainly help them in this weekend’s match against Birmingham City Women.
Birmingham City Women’s attack
Birmingham have many strengths in their squad, but their real threat comes from their width. The last time these two teams met, they had Claudia Walker and Rachel Williams as their wingers, and those two constantly found themselves in behind the backline of Bristol City. One such example is shown below.
Essentially, this might just look like one pass in behind, and it is, but there is so much more that comes because this pass has been made.
Firstly, it means that Birmingham’s opponents have much more to think about. Normally, they like to focus on the central threat that comes from Lucy Whipp and Abbi Grant and neglect the wings as a result, which obviously suits Birmingham brilliantly.
Secondly, we know that Birmingham like to play with attacking full-backs, and when watching them play, you can see how Sarah Mayling or Lily Simkin at right-back and Adrienne Jordan at left-back constantly make runs into the final third, in order to double the Birmingham threat. That creates more problems for their opponents and means Birmingham City Women effectively play with six attackers at the best of times.
Bristol City Women do have a defensive tactic that they have used previously which might help them stop these wide threats, but that will be explained later.
However, the reason why Birmingham City Women have this threat and yet find themselves struggling for points is that there have been occasions when they have been unable to play in this way. One example of that is below.
You can see how Rachel Williams, playing in the striker role in their last outing against Chelsea Women, has found herself isolated and surrounded, and it is in this way that Birmingham’s attack, whilst being really good against lower teams, can become a little disjointed at times. In the image, Williams has found herself alone in the final third and has been surrounded by Chelsea defenders.
Her teammates are all in the other half of the pitch, and there is no way they can get the ball through to her in this situation. There is no width, although Birmingham are not in possession at the moment. When the Blues do win possession, there is no obvious way that they can get their wide attacks going, as there doesn’t seem to be anyone able to move into those areas in this particular situation.
However, as previously mentioned, against the lower teams, and particularly against Bristol City Women last time out, this wasn’t a problem, so it shouldn’t be a major issue this weekend. Its just something to watch out for.
Bristol City Women’s attack
As far as Bristol City Women are concerned, they have problems all over the pitch. Their goal difference shows that they seemingly concede goals for fun, but their attack is where they can improve very easily. See below for one way that they struggle.
In the image, you can see how they tend to play with two strikers in attack; in this case, in the last match against Birmingham City Women, it was Ebony Salmon and Charlie Wellings. These two were left alone quite a lot of the time against Birmingham, and against a four-player Blues defence, they weren’t able to break through. It wasn’t a straight line either, as you can see that Birmingham have moved to smother the two strikers, and force them to retreat. Now, this could be seen as excellent Birmingham defending, but in this example, it shows why Bristol have only scored eight goals so far this season. They need support and options in the final third, and that is what they are lacking.
There also seems to be a lack of quality in the final third with some of their passing, and that creates issues for them, as they then can’t score goals and can’t win games. This weekend, they can improve on the example above by just pushing some of their players more forward, and that would really make a difference. It would also relieve some of the pressure on their backline, as Mayling/Simkin and Jordan as the full-backs would have to track back to stop Bristol’s wide players getting in behind the defence. This “defence through attack” method is something that could really work for them and could be a way of neutralising Birmingham’s attack.
Bristol City Women’s defence
The other way they could stop Birmingham’s tactic of playing the ball to the wide positions is by defending like they did against Manchester City Women in their last match.
In this image, you can see how Bristol have set up with an inadvertent back five, and that has given them a good and interesting structure with which they managed to keep Manchester City out. If you look closely, you can see how the three players in the middle of the defence have lined up with two Manchester City attackers, and that has left the two outside defenders in this situation free to mark Manchester City’s wide threats. Now, if we apply that to Birmingham City, and put in Bristol City’s system above, we can see how Grant and Whipp, as the central attackers, would be marked by the three defenders in the middle, whilst Walker and Williams, as the wide players, would be marked by the two defenders on the outside of the defensive structure. This is of course assuming that Birmingham City Women line up in this way, but if they do, it will be something to keep an eye on.
Another way that Bristol could look to set up defensively against Birmingham is by squeezing the space in between the different areas of the pitch, as shown below.
Essentially, this is easier to do, because it requires team discipline to have all players behind the ball, and talking to each other to ensure that no-one breaks rank and leaves a space. This is something else that Bristol did against Manchester City, and what it does is to leave no space open for opponents to make runs into, or to pass into, so it does work if done and organised correctly.
Both of these tactics worked against Manchester City, and were both responsible for the scoreline only reading 1-0 to the title contenders, rather than the 11-1 score that was on the board when they met earlier in the season. Therefore, with all of this in mind, there is nothing stopping Bristol City Women utilising some of these defensive tactics against Birmingham City Women this weekend.
The final tactical point to make is on the influence that Abbi Grant has, and the importance that she could have on Sunday. Ultimately, she is Birmingham’s attacking playmaker, and is the one who can get moves going. Below is an image showing how she gets into the right areas to help her team’s attacks.
In this playmaker role, she acts as a kind of pivot, and “conducts the orchestra” of the rest of her team. Against Chelsea Women, she didn’t have her best game, but above you can see how she gets into an attacking area and has the ability to hold up play and allow a teammate to run in behind to receive the ball, as shown by the player with the arrow. This is something that Bristol City Women will have to watch out for, but then, if they are playing with their defensive structures explained above, they have a way of cutting out these opportunities that Grant could have to create anything.
As far as lineups go, Birmingham will likely start with Sarah Mayling and Adrienne Jordan at full-back, and both will be keen to advance forward as much as possible to join their team’s attacks. In midfield, Chloe Arthur has been one of their most creative players this season, and is constantly involved in moving the ball from defence to attack. Captain Lucy Staniforth is expected to play a huge part in the game, in that she is the leader and the beating heart of the team in the middle of the park. The main question will be which attackers Birmingham start with, out of Lucy Whipp, Abbi Grant, Rachel Williams and Claudia Walker. However, all of them are likely to get some time out on the pitch during the match.
As for Bristol City Women, they could name the same team as the one that featured at the Academy Stadium in their last game against Manchester City Women. New signing Faye Bryson could continue at right-back, with Jasmine Matthews and Gemma Evans continuing as the central defensive pairing. Former Liverpool Women midfielder Yana Daniels is one of their most mobile players, and will be likely to play a huge role in Sunday’s game. Charlie Wellings and Ebony Salmon could start as the attacking duo, with Salmon coming off the bench at half-time against Manchester City, otherwise young striker Katie Robinson could start upfront.
To conclude, this is a game that both sides need to win, and neither side can afford to lose. This alone means this will be a huge match to keep an eye on when Sunday comes around. This tactical analysis has shown just how both teams can use different tactics to get a hold on the game and can get the three points in this one. Essentially, though, both teams will be fired up for the match, and both managers will know that, with Liverpool going to West Ham, where they drew earlier this season, this is a big opportunity to claw themselves away from the drop zone and push the other side closer to it. Birmingham are the team in better form, although Bristol are able to snatch points and have good performances, but let’s see if Sunday will provide one of them.