FAWSL 2019/20: Tottenham Hotspur Women vs Manchester City Women – tactical preview
This weekend, the FAWSL returns from the winter break. The ladies will have had time to rest, recover, and get ready for the grind that is the second half of the season. The top of the table is extremely close and leaves no room for error in the quest for a league title. Leaders and defending champions Arsenal Women are ahead of Manchester City Women by three points. Chelsea Women trail a point further behind. However, they have a game in hand over their rivals.
In this returning matchday, each of the title contenders are tasked with tricky but winnable matches. The toughest could very well be waiting for Manchester City Women. Nick Cushing’s side travel to London to play Tottenham Hotspur Women on Sunday. The newly-promoted side have experienced an indifferent first half of the season. Sitting in seventh position heading into this match, they have been yet to add a win against one of the major teams in the top flight thus far. The North London side will be looking to fix that in this match.
In this tactical analysis preview, we will take an in-depth look at these two sides. We will assess the tactics they have used throughout the season, and how they will be looking to implement these on Sunday. Manchester City Women will come into the match as heavy favourites, but Tottenham Hotspur Women have the ability to make life difficult for the Manchester side, which we will look at in this analysis.
Manchester City Women wide threats
Manchester City Women have had an indifferent campaign so far. Second in the league, albeit a game in hand over Chelsea Women who trail by a point, but they were knocked out of the Champions League to Atletico Madrid for the second successive season. Cushing has been trying to find the right formula for his side, with a mixture of suspensions and injuries not allowing his side to find a proper rhythm. One of the biggest blows was the loss of right-back Aoife Mannion. The defender tore her ACL and will be out of action for the remainder of the season.
However, this unfortunate occurrence has brought a shining light into the City side. Janine Beckie has moved deeper into a wing-back type role and has thrived in the absence of Mannion. The Canadian born attacker has posed a constant threat moving forward and allows for more tactical variety in other areas of the pitch. City’s structure in possession is oftentimes very asymmetric with Becky occupying this role, as you can see above. She is normally given the entire right channel to work up and down in. Tessa Wullaert, who is normally the right-winger as City line up into the match, is given the freedom to roam across the pitch.
We will see the Belgian forward take up positions close to Ellen White, City’s number nine. She often acts as a secondary striker in these situations and connects the goal scorer to the playmakers City have throughout their side.
As you can see in the image above, City have possession in the middle of the park. Beckie acknowledges the area she has ahead of her and starts to make a forward run. The West Ham Women winger fails to track her run before it is too late. Ahead of this, Wullaert has taken a more central position in the half-space. This has opened up the right channel for Beckie.
Beckie exploits this space and is found with a pinpoint through pass. She gains possession before finding a cross into Lauren Hemp for the sides third goal of the match. This example showcases the danger City possess on the wings. Becky specifically has excelled in her right-back position and will be looking to continue in this vein.
Tottenham Hotspur Women defensive structure
Against the top sides in the division, we have seen Tottenham Hotspur Women adapt a very defensive structure for the majority of these matches. Their goal is to remain in a compact set-up and frustrate their opposition. Certain pressing triggers will cause them to look to break out of this structure in an attempt to attack on the counter, often times when the opponent has committed a lot of players forward.
Against Arsenal Women, we saw Spurs set up in their usual 4-4-2 defensive shape but made specific alterations to it to match Arsenal’s attack. With the attacking playmakers Arsenal have at their disposal, Spurs aimed to shut them down by tucking in their wide midfielders to form a very compact 4-woman line. This cut off the supply from Arsenal’s defensive line into the more attacking players.
Manchester City Women represent a different type of threat, so we are likely to see Spurs shift this defensive emphasis. Cushing’s side like to find overloads in wide areas and situations where they can isolate opposition full-backs with an attacker one-v-one. This has worked to great success as we have discussed above, and Beckie will be essential for Spurs to contain should they hope to pick up a result.
The image you see below shows an example of the type of defensive structure we could see often in this match. Here, Spurs have shifted their block into the wide areas to limit the ability for Arsenal to progress possession into this area, as the league leaders looked for a way to bypass the central block Spurs had been deploying for most of the match.
This being said, look for Tottenham to keep their wide midfielders in close contact with their full-backs. The central midfielders could also be encouraged to move into wider areas in order to help neutralise this threat City possess. When doing this, they must be careful. City are very comfortable in possession and are able to bypass presses with relative ease at times. The two forwards ahead of the two banks of four will be essential in restricting space for City to progress play. They will also need to be willing to come back and allow Spurs to defend with numbers when under intense pressure from the visitors.
City’s midfield ability
One area of the pitch that could have room to find joy in this match is City’s midfield. Cushing could be looking at this area as an extremely significant part of the match. If Spurs do opt into defending the wide areas in numbers, the likes of Jill Scott and Caroline Weir could find a lot of success running into the half-spaces towards the centre of the pitch.
One channel of danger City could cause is through quick transitions from flank to flank. With quick interchanges into the centre of midfield from wide areas, the midfielders can recycle possession quickly to the other side of the pitch. If Spurs are committing too many players into these wide areas, quick switches like these could leave opportunities for isolation chances on the other side of the pitch. City’s attackers are well equipped at beating their defenders in one-v-one situations like these and would welcome chances like this.
Alternatively, these central midfielders could look to create numerical advantages themselves. With Spurs likely to set up in a 4-4-2 defensive shape, the three City midfielders can use their extra player in this area to stretch the home side’s double pivot and look to get beyond it, either through interchanging passes between themselves or finding the likes of White up top.
In the image you see above, City are possessing the ball in their own third, waiting for Brighton & Hove Albion to break their defensive shape. The ball is progressed forward on the left side of the pitch before a quick switch over to Walsh is found. This pass has caught Brighton out with their defensive block shifted too far over the protect the other side.
Walsh is quick to react to this and finds a through ball beyond the defensive line into the path of Georgia Stanway who runs beyond the block to add City’s fourth of the afternoon.
While Manchester City Women may possess the more star-studded lineup, Tottenham have plenty of players able to punish the visitors on Sunday afternoon. One of these is Chloe Peplow. The central midfielder is an all-action player for the North London side. She is adept at limiting space for attacks in behind the midfield line, giving her defensive line a great deal of protection. She also has a fantastic eye for an interception. Against Arsenal Women she consistently wreaked havoc dispossessing the away side in dangerous areas and setting Spurs up to counter.
In the image below, you can see an example of this. Arsenal have possession and look to get forward from a goal kick. Jordan Nobbs was the intended recipient of the pass. However, Peplow was able to read this idea well before it took shape and was on hand to make the interception. Thinking quickly, she gained possession and moved forward to find a pass into Kit Graham.
Not done there, she also had the intelligence to continue her forward run. In doing so, it opened up space for Graham to cut back with the ball and find space for a shot. Peplow’s run had forced the Arsenal defenders in this area to track her as she entered the penalty area.
Manchester City should look to work in their typical 4-3-3 formation. While Cushing might set them out in this shape to begin, this will only truly be seen to start the match. As we have discussed before, we will likely to see a rather original system. Becky will patrol the right side of the pitch as she allows Wullaert to move into other areas. Scott will drift closer to this right side from her central position in order to give a link to Becky with the rest of the side.
Walsh will be essential for the title challengers in this match. City will dominate possession for large periods and she will be crucial in keeping play moving from side to side as they look to move the defensive block. Her eye for a cutting pass could also prove to be a great value as the more advanced players look for room to create opportunities.
For the home side, it is likely we could see a similar side to the one we saw as the side went into their first North London Derby a few weeks back. In this match, a very defensive midfield was deployed in order to try and be better equipped to handling Arsenal’s attacking players. Ria Percival and Josie Green lined up as outside midfielders for this encounter and looked to give the central midfielders more support, as well as the full-backs when required.
Manchester City Women (4-3-3): Roebuck; Becky, Houghton, Bonner, Stokes; Walsh, Weir, Scott; Wullaert, White, Hemp
Tottenham Hotspur Women (4-4-2): Spencer; Worm, Filbey, Godfrey, Neville; Green, Furness, Peplow, Percival; Graham, Dean
With the FAWSL finally returning, we eagerly await to see how this campaign will pan out. This match between Tottenham Hotspur Women and Manchester City Women presents a challenge for Cushing’s side they can not overlook. The London club have had an up and down campaign thus far but will be looking to cause a stir at the top of the table before the season ends. City coming to town presents a perfect opportunity to do just that.
For Manchester City, they trail league leaders Arsenal by three points. With both them and Chelsea still to visit Manchester in the second half of the season, Cushing can be confident that his side can still end the season at the top of the table. With their early exit in the Champions League, an extra emphasis will be placed on their domestic success. It is essential that they stay professional in every match in their quest for these goals.
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