Women’s World Cup Qualifiers: How England triumphed over Northern Ireland with a convincing attacking performance – tactical analysis
England Women, also called the Lionesses, triumphed over Northern Ireland Women in the third fixture of the World Cup qualifiers at the emblematic Wembley Stadium which hosted an England Women official match for the first time ever. The Lionesses exploited the occasion in the best of ways as they won 4-0 over their opponents who run out of ideas to bounce back. England are now sharing the lead of Group D alongside Austria with nine points each while Northern Ireland are holding the third position with six points.
In this tactical analysis article, we will focus mainly on England’s performance to explore what went well and what needs to be further addressed in terms of tactics by head coach Sarina Wingman in order to get her team ready for the next big international competitions. At the same time, Northern Ireland’s weaknesses and issues will be identified while providing some tactical solutions for these problems.
England played according to the 4-3-3 formation with Mary Earps as a goalkeeper, Rachel Daly, Millie Bright, Manchester City’s Alex Greenwood and Demi Stokes in defence, Arsenal’s Leah Williamson as a defensive midfielder with both Manchester United’s Ella Toone and Chelsea’s Fran Kirby as central midfielders behind the two wingers Nikita Parris and Lauren Hemp, in support of the team’s striker, Ellen White.
The visitors used the 5-4-1 formation and started the match with Jacqueline Burns in goal, Rebecca McKenna, Julie Nelson, Sarah McFadden, Kelsie Burrows and Demi Vance in defence, Chloe McCarron and Rachel Furness as central midfielders, Caragh Hamilton and Lauren Wade as wingers with Marissa Callaghan as the team’s striker.
England’s solid attacking performance
England started the match with the right mentality and were aware of Northern Ireland’s initial high pressing that’s why they did well to keep their build up from the back quick and intelligent. The back-four and the midfielders did well to move without the ball in order to not fall in the trap of Northern Ireland’s pressing, and as soon as they exceeded that first line of pressing, England found it easier to reach the final third with accurate passes mainly towards White. The latter was excellent in collecting passes and retreating to provide passing options. At the same time, she leaves space for Parris and Hemp to fill by running towards the box and receiving passes from White, like you can see below.
Moreover, Williamson, Toone and Kirby played a big role as the three of them were constantly moving without the ball and providing key passes in the final third. Kirby agility and accelerations were extremely helpful in keeping possession and breaking lines of defence constantly. She was usually providing options to her teammates while moving towards free spaces like in this example.
Plus, Hemp and Parris were causing a continuous danger for Northern Ireland’s defence. Hemp was even able to hit the crossbar in her first attempt on goal as she found too much space for shooting in this opportunity.
Following some dangerous chances, England became much more aware of their ability to get an advantage and be more dangerous upfront. Therefore, they intensified their pressing and were able to intercept plenty of Northern Ireland build-up passes and prevent them from reaching the final third for most of the match. What helped in keeping the ball in Northern Ireland’s half too was the high defensive bloc that England used to keep attacking and not leave space for counter-attacks. This also helped in making the two centre-backs participate in some attacks and be dangerous as well, something that can be illustrated perfectly through Greenwood’s excellent long-range shot that hit the crossbar at the 31st minute.
Despite trying different patterns and shooting from numerous positions, England were not able to score easily and they were only able to open the score at the 64th minute. England relied mostly on overlaps on the wings and crosses towards White like you can see in the following picture, but Northern Ireland’s defenders were solid enough to prevent the latter from scoring and disturb her.
England’s goals and Northern Ireland’s defensive and attacking mistakes
Beth Mead’s first touch of the match was the key to opening the score for the Lionesses as she exploited the hesitance of defenders following a corner-kick and scored a well-executed half-volley. This goal gave a boost to the whole England team after they were going through a moment of doubt at the start of the second half and risked conceding a goal. What followed was totally in favour of England as they were able to add a second goal after a great horizontal run from Kirby and a ship over Northern Ireland’s goalkeeper by Hemp which found the foot of Bethany England who scored an easy second goal of the match.
Two minutes later, Hemp was central to another goal for her team since she crossed the ball perfectly for Beth England and Mead. The latter found herself unmarked on the far post as you can see below and therefore, she exploited Vance’s clear marking mistake by scoring an excellent volley.
Mead scored a historical hat-trick at Wembley by adding a third goal at the 78th minute following a clear mistake from the goalkeeper that led to giving away the ball to Mead’s right foot. This fourth goal was also the result of the incorrect marking from Northern Ireland’s defenders which resulted in obliging the goalkeeper to intervene and try to fix the situation. Also, the high defensive bloc used by the defensive line caused the team problems in this action and gave away too much space as they were not able to track England’s players who were running behind that line at the moment of Kirby’s pass.
Apart from these defensive mistakes that occurred in the second half following a solid defensive performance during the first one, Northern Ireland had the chance of the match at the 48th minute of the second half when Wade launched a counter-attack and passed the ball to Hamilton. Unfortunately for the team however, she was not able to finish the action in an adequate way since she slipped at the moment of shooting, and missed a golden opportunity to open the score prior to England and have a psychological advantage on their opponents.
England’s win will give the team an extra boost for the upcoming qualification games as it will serve to create additional chemistry between the players who played this match. England’s attacking performance was satisfying especially in the second half as they did not give up despite facing problems in the first half. And this shows the level of determination and confidence that these players reached. What needs to be improved actually is the ability to score goals since the first half and finish games as soon as possible to not suffer until the last minutes or put the team in difficult situations during similar matches.
For Northern Ireland, the team was good from a defensive perspective especially during the first half as they knew how to stop White’s danger inside the box. But at the same time, they need to address their second-half mistakes and most of all, focusing a little bit more on creating more goalscoring opportunities and on finishing the created actions accurately will be fundamental for their qualification campaign and for their future games.