FAWSL 2020/2021: Tottenham Hotspur Women v Brighton and Hove Albion Women – tactical analysis
The WSL is back, following an international break, with several games catching the eye. However, the break also saw some managerial departures, with West Ham United Women manager Matt Beard leaving by mutual consent after their poor start to the season, whilst joint-head coaches Karen Hills and Juan Amoros were sacked by Tottenham Hotspur Women, and England coach Rehanne Skinner was appointed in their place the same day. This tactical analysis will look at her first game in charge, at home to Brighton and Hove Albion Women, managed by former England boss Hope Powell.
In this analysis, we will look at the tactics Brighton used to frustrate Tottenham throughout the game, as well as how Tottenham changed things around in the second half to ensure they won the game. We will also look at how Rehanne Skinner wants her team to play in future games, bringing in some general points about the way she set Tottenham up in this match.
Tottenham Hotspur Women made three changes to the side that conceded a late equaliser against Bristol City Women in their last game, with Scotland defender Hannah Godfrey, Netherlands left-back Siri Worm and Spanish defender Lucia Leon all dropping out. Anna Filbey came into the centre-back position, partnering on-loan Canada defender Shelina Zadorsky, whilst experienced former Birmingham City Women defender Kerys Harrop started at left-back. Meanwhile, Rehanne Skinner opted to use the pace of Rosella Ayane in attack, with her and winger Angela Addison playing on either wing, whilst USA international Alex Morgan again started upfront.
Brighton and Hove Albion Women, meanwhile, made two changes of their own from the team that beat West Ham United Women in their last game. The first was in goal, as Norway goalkeeper Cecilie Fiskerstrand was replaced by regular first-choice Megan Walsh, whilst experienced midfielder Emily Simpkins moved to the bench, with centre-back Victoria Williams coming into the team, partnering Netherlands international Danique Kerkdijk. Danielle Bowman, who had played in defence in the previous game, moved into the midfield, whilst striker Rianna Jarrett, who scored the winner against West Ham, started alongside another Dutch international, Inessa Kaagman, forming a front two.
How Brighton and Hove Albion Women played frustrated Tottenham Hotspur Women
Brighton and Hove Albion Women have been known for sitting back in some games this season, looking to stop teams scoring, and not really attacking much themselves. However, against Tottenham Hotspur Women, they looked to get forward and put as much pressure on Tottenham as they could. We can see in this image how this worked.
Despite having two players at the top of the pitch, Hope Powell wanted her midfield to get forward and support them, and they formed structures such as this, allowing them to cover a lot of space in Tottenham’s half. From here, they could then press individually, depending on where the ball was at each point, and that forced Tottenham into playing the ball quickly, not having much time to make decisions. In this image, we can see from the yellow arrow how, because the ball has been passed across the pitch, the Brighton player facing her runs forwards to close it down, whilst the others stay where they are, keeping the structure. Once the ball was passed, another attacker would then go forward, and it continued in this way.
If we look at Brighton’s attack in another situation, we can see again how the forwards have support from the midfield, all getting forward together and putting pressure on the Tottenham defence. From this joint press, Tottenham end up putting the ball out of play, which shows just how quickly they were having to make decisions, and how mistakes resulted from this.
The key thing to take from this is how Brighton attacked with numbers. If one player, or even two, had gone forward, Tottenham could have moved the ball to the wings and got it around them, but, because they went with numbers, there was no space for Tottenham to do this. Therefore, in these situations, Brighton were in control.
Whilst Brighton were getting forward, on-loan midfielder Denise O’Sullivan stayed further back, operating in between the defence and midfield, and linking the two up. She has a good passing ability, and that helps her team to move the ball around the pitch. If we look at this image, we can see how she is looking to move the ball towards the wide attacker, setting up an attacking opportunity. Without her making these passes and playing in these gaps, Brighton would have just been pressing but would have had no way of getting the ball back to the attack once it had been regained.
Given that we have looked at how Brighton had thought about how to put pressure on Tottenham, the question becomes how they didn’t win the game. The answer to this is because they didn’t take their opportunities. In this image, we can see how Rianna Jarrett has got the ball up to the goal line but makes the wrong decision with it. She needs to pull it back for one of her teammates to then turn into the net, but instead takes too long with it, and ends up firing at goal from this angle, where it is then saved and ends up going out for a goal kick. Therefore, whilst Brighton may have been in control, they didn’t take their opportunities.
It wasn’t just in attack that they were making errors at key moments. This image shows how the ball has been passed around their defence, but has then gone loose, and been picked up by Alex Morgan, in the white circle. Morgan takes a shot at goal from this mistake, which, fortunately for Brighton, she doesn’t score from. However, what this shows is that Brighton may have looked good when out of possession, but were sloppy with the ball when they did have it, and this was one of the main reasons why, despite looking to be the more comfortable team at times, they weren’t ahead at half-time.
Tottenham Hotspur Women’s tactics and second half changes
Tottenham Hotspur Women have looked shaky and unconvincing for most of this season, leading to the managerial change, but they played well in this game, with some good elements to their overall performance.
Tottenham have tended to play with only one striker this season, which has led to problems in attack, and a general lack of creativity. However, whilst Rehanne Skinner started with a 4-2-3-1 in this game, the wingers, Addison and Ayane, were encouraged to get up and play alongside Alex Morgan as much as possible. It wasn’t so much the case that both players would play at the top with the USA international, but one of them was up there most of the first half. In this image, we can see how this worked.
The result of this was that Tottenham were able to cover more ground in attack against Brighton and Hove Albion Women, leading to more chances being created. Both Ayane and Addison are quick players, so, when they got behind the defence, as we can see them doing here, they put Brighton under pressure.
This image highlights how much Angela Addison was getting forward. She was a particular thorn in their side throughout the game, constantly getting on the end of passes, and, whenever in those spaces behind, a chance was usually created. She is a player capable of playing on either side and can stay wide or cut inside and shoot, so she will be a really useful player for Tottenham going forward, and is one that will always give them a chance of winning games.
As mentioned before, Tottenham tended to have just two players up-front in the first half on most occasions, but they changed to get three playing together much more after half-time. This example shows how Morgan came short to win the ball, heading it over the top for the two wingers to get on the end of. Therefore, there was much more interplay going on among the front three, and this continued even after Lucia Leon replaced Ayane early in the second half. By moving from a front two to a front three, they were able to cover even more ground than in the first half, and this was a reason for their second-half dominance, and, ultimately, their win.
From Brighton’s point of view, having three attackers to defend against in these situations was difficult, because they were often focused on Morgan, as the striker. However, when she went short, just like in this image, the defenders came up to meet her, leaving the spaces open at the back. You can see how Tottenham have made their runs through the gaps in the defence, highlighting this point.
It wasn’t just in attack that Tottenham had a plan for how to play. In defence, they were organised, with every player knowing their role and position. In this image, we can see how Brighton have the ball on the far side of the pitch, but can’t get it into the box, because Tottenham have formed a defensive structure around the main group of attackers. This cuts off those passing options and forces Brighton to play the ball to the edge of the box instead, as you can see happening. From this position, Tottenham can get out to meet it, ending the danger.
Defending has been something Tottenham have struggled with at times this season, having conceded 16 goals in their seven games before this one, so it needs to be improved going forward, and having a structure like this will help that.
Rehanne Skinner’s Tottenham Hotspur Women tactics
Although this analysis has focused on the game against Brighton and Hove Albion Women, we will now take a more general look at Tottenham Hotspur Women under new management, picking out some of the things we noticed that show how Rehanne Skinner could set her team up going into the rest of the season.
Firstly, we have mentioned how their defence was more robust against Brighton, but this image gives us another example of how they made it hard for the away side to score against them. Tottenham have formed a narrow line here, with no gaps in between, and the space behind is inaccessible. Brighton forward Inessa Kaagman has the ball, but her options are limited. She can take a shot at goal, but it would need to be well-hit to get through or over the defensive line, or she can pass it to a teammate, which risks an interception being made. Therefore, it is clear that Rehanne Skinner wants to make it harder for opponents to score against Tottenham, and limiting their options on the ball in these areas seems to be something we can expect to see more of.
Another noticeable feature of their game was the role played by Alanna Kennedy in the middle of the pitch. The Australia international is on loan at the club from NWSL side Racing Louisville, and Rehanne Skinner seems to want her to play in the hole, between the defence and attack, linking up the play for them. This would help them to move the ball from defence to attack much more easily, and would therefore help them to create more chances and catch opposing defences out much more, especially those who naturally play higher up the pitch.
From a defensive point of view, Kennedy can protect the back-line in this position, and can also slip in when a five-player defence is needed, so having her playing in this space really gives them a lot of options across the pitch.
Whilst the game itself was not the most exciting, there were some very interesting tactical points that have come out of it for both sides. The analysis has shown how both Tottenham Hotspur Women and Brighton and Hove Albion Women had good parts and bad parts to their game, as well as what we can expect to see from Tottenham going into the rest of the season in terms of tactics and formations. Both teams are back in action next weekend, with Brighton hosting in-form and unbeaten defending champions Chelsea Women, whilst Tottenham are again at home, hosting Aston Villa Women at The Hive.