Manchester City Women kept pressure on FAWSL leaders Arsenal Women with a dramatic last-gasp 2-1 win over Liverpool Women this weekend. A point above City in the league with a game in hand, Arsenal Women are still favourites for the FAWSL title. The victory did secure Champions League football for Man City Women, however.

Liverpool Women were brushed aside by Arsenal Women last week but put up a greater fight against City. In this tactical analysis, we’ll see how they kept Nick Cushing’s side within seconds of a draw.

A cagey start: Manchester City Women in possession

As expected prior to kick-off, Man City controlled possession, ending the game with 73%. Despite this, Liverpool did a good job of stifling them early on. Rather than allowing City to play in dangerous areas in the final third, Liverpool restricted spaces for them to exploit.

This forced City to spend most of the opening stages moving the ball across their backline. With Liverpool seeming more organised than the week before this worked well. Time and again, City drove the ball out wide to try and make headway.

Manchester City Women Liverpool Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Here, City try to focus their play through the middle. However, Liverpool’s defensive shape is well set up and ready for Steph Houghton’s initial pass.
Manchester City Women Liverpool Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Closing down the recipient of the pass, Liverpool force her to play the ball back out of traffic.
Manchester City Women Liverpool Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Man City work the ball across their backline and look to take advantage of the wider areas of the pitch.

Eventually this paid off, as their opener came from play which originated from the wide areas.

A cagey start: Liverpool Women in possession

Similar to their game against Arsenal Women, Liverpool struggled to sustain attacks in the first half. The major reason for this was the distance between each bank of players; the defence, midfield and frontline.

Often, they were too far apart which made it harder to string long passages of play together. This can be seen below.

Manchester City Women Liverpool Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Liverpool look to build from the back similarly to City but the hosts’ defensive positioning is higher upfield.
Manchester City Women Liverpool Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
This leaves Liverpool with very little options to play through the middle as City outnumber them.
Manchester City Women Liverpool Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Not as well-practiced in ball retention as City, Liverpool look to transition quickly with a long ball. This was very much a lottery and came off at times but not at others.

Similar to City, they were forced to go long. But without much support up top, this didn’t work as well.

Liverpool Women’s second-half switch

Liverpool had more joy at the start of the second half, equalising within seven minutes. Their goal came from a penalty but there were positives to take from the play beforehand. For most of the first half, Rinsola Babajide looked to be leading the line with no avail. But as Liverpool’s midfield came closer together and she pulled away from markers, she shone.

Manchester City Women Liverpool Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Laura Coombs was a big reason for Liverpool getting back into the match. Here she’s alert enough to intercept Jill Scott’s pass in midfield.
Manchester City Women Liverpool Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Courtney Sweetman-Kirk then drops into midfield, giving her an option for the one-two. As this happens, Babajide makes her run in behind.
Manchester City Women Liverpool Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Coombs then pushes the ball in behind for her to chase.

This passage of play ultimately gave Liverpool their platform to equalise. Growing in confidence, they spent more time in Man City’s final third and Coombs came close with a shot from the edge of the box. That shot was deflected behind for a corner from which Liverpool won their penalty and equalised through top-scorer Courtney Sweetman-Kirk.

Manchester City Women take control

Despite Liverpool keeping themselves in the game, City eventually broke them down. With three points in touching distance for both sides, the game became more open. Although this led to chances for both sides, City were clearly the fitter side which showed in the quality of their chances.

Manchester City Women Liverpool Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
With Liverpool growing tired, spaces opened up in behind their midfield. Here Keira Walsh plays a great pass to free Tessa Wullaert.
Manchester City Women Liverpool Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
She heads straight to the Liverpool box, taking the attention of the whole Liverpool defence. This leaves Nikita Parris free and Wullaert rolls the ball into her path.
Manchester City Women Liverpool Women FAWSL Tactical Analysis
Surprisingly, Parris skews her shot and it dribbles wide.

In the end, the game came down to a set piece. Caroline Weir, who had been key for City in dead-ball situations on the day proved to be so yet again. Her inch-perfect free-kick found Jennifer Beattie whose last-minute header kept City in the title race.

Summary

This game was a great advert for the FAWSL in every sense. There was drama within the match itself and with the wider story of the title race, showing just how quickly things can change and that it can be as entertaining as the Premier League.

City now have just two games to play this season while Arsenal Women have three. Arsenal are top with 45 points with City just behind on 44 points. Throw in the fact that they play each other on the final day of the season in May and this could be a great end to the FAWSL campaign should it continue to go down to the wire.


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