This season of the FAWSL season has had a different feel as we have come off one of the most successful FIFA Women’s World Cup’s in recent memory. A number of players representing English women’s football across different nations were on display in France. The new season started two weeks ago, and we’ve seen some new teams in the league including Manchester United Women and Tottenham Hotspur Women.

Much has been said about Manchester United Women’s expected performance in their first season in the top flight and how they could perform. Casey Stone is looking to make a positive impact and make Manchester United Women an irresistible force akin to their male counterparts of yesteryear. Liverpool Women, however, have tasted success in the FAWSL winning consecutive titles in 2013 and 2014.

While Everton has surprised most fans with their 100% record with no goals conceded and three goals scored, a few teams haven’t made the kind of start they were expecting. Both Liverpool Women and Manchester United Women are languishing at the bottom of the table in 11th and 12th place with no goals scored yet.

“I see United potentially being one of the best clubs in the world within the next five to six years.” – Mary Earps.

Manchester United Women haven’t been particularly poor tactically but struggled to impose themselves in an attacking sense. Liverpool Women, on the other hand, struggled to keep possession and threaten Tottenham Hotspur Women defence in last week’s 1-0 defeat. They even endured another loss to Sheffield United Women in the FAWSL Cup. Today’s match represents a chance for both teams to get their first points of the season and kick start their campaign.

This tactical analysis preview will look to illustrate the tactics that both teams will look to use to try to claim three points.

Tactical Analysis – Manchester United Women to keep it organised

Manchester United Women have shown signs of improvement in their game against Arsenal Women last week by coming close to keeping one of the most feared attacking line-ups in the FAWSL out. They ultimately fell to a late winner from Danielle van de Donk. They will look to get better control of the game against Liverpool Women through their disciplined structure and shape.

Their biggest asset against Arsenal Women and Manchester City Women was their defensive shape and organisation. They resorted to a low-block, compact defensive shape off-the-ball that served them well to keep the opposition out. It also showed us glimpses of their counter-attacking potential. They looked dangerous in quick transitions when they managed to dispossess their opponents higher up in midfield while the opposition was unorganised.

Defensively, Manchester United Women set up in a compact, hybrid 4-4-2/4-1-3-2 with the two strikers pressing from the front. While one of Jane Ross or Jessica Sigsworth would look to apply pressure on the ball carrier, the other would attempt to close off different passing options. This would force the opposition to either play long balls or attempt a risky pass that could turn defence into attack.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
Manchester United Women’s compact shape against Arsenal Women [Credit: Wyscout]
The above graphic highlights their compactness out of possession, maintaining strict, disciplined lines to ensure there are no easy passing options. Manchester United Women will look to play with a narrow, flat midfield four that will aim to drop deep when Liverpool Women will be in possession when they enter the final third. Having the two wide midfielders come in centrally will create a dense block forcing Liverpool Women to use alternate attacking methods. The Red Devils will need to be wary of counter-attacks if they are caught high up in possession.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
Manchester United Women are out of position and are being counter-attacked by Arsenal Women [Credit: Wyscout]
The above example shows Arsenal Women transitioning from defence to attack in a swift counter-attack with Manchester United Women caught slightly out of position. However, what the Red Devils did well in the first half was quickly get back into position. This first image shows Arsenal Women using the third man concept with the three players in view. Manchester United Women have two defenders running back to cover the unoccupied areas.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
The Red Devils track back together and look to assemble into position and suffocate space before Arsenal Women can do damage [Credit: Wyscout]
The second image exemplifies Manchester United Women’s willingness and tactical intelligence. They got enough numbers back into a defensive position to stop Arsenal Women from being able to penetrate through the centre forcing them wide. A by-product allowed for more reinforcements to arrive and give them added protection.

We briefly talked about Sigsworth and Ross’ pressing ability; however, they do offer Stone a tactical option when out of possession. Sigsworth played as an auxiliary defensive wide player when the right-sided central midfielder looked to tuck in centrally. She showed incredible tactical acumen by constantly putting herself behind the ball when Arsenal Women were in possession aiding her teammates to create numerical superiority.

They use this to try and stop opposition full-backs and wingers from getting forward. While we will take a closer look at Liverpool’s attacking preferences later, they do tend to favour the wide areas and look to get crosses in for their striker to latch on to. Their wingers will look to try and keep Amy Turner and Kirsty Smith pinned back, so this could play into Liverpool Women’s favour. However, this is where Stone can effectively use Sigsworth to stop the wingers from pushing forward.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
Jessica Sigsworth in a defensive position to close down the opposition winger [Credit: Wyscout]
The above example shows her stationed in a defensive position looking to press Katie McCabe. This will offer Turner more protection and keep Manchester United Women much more compact in the wide areas. Against Manchester City Women she engaged in 20 duels and winning 10, showing her willingness to track back and work hard to protect her right-back.

Sigsworth has also shown proficiency in Manchester United Women’s transitional play too. While she is naturally an attacking right-winger and striker, her positional intelligence has been a standout trait when playing in the position. Against Arsenal Women, she displayed a willingness to defend and take up clever positions to counter-attack the London club.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
Jessica Sigsworth pressing Katie McCabe high up the field [Credit: Wyscout]
As the graphic above illustrates, Sigsworth presses McCabe with Manchester United Women to exploit the gaps between Arsenal Women’s defence as they look to build out from the back. She’s in a position to try and pressure the full-back into making a mistake and put Manchester United Women on the counter-attack.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
Katie Zelem intercepts McCabe’s pass forward and has multiple attacking options ahead of her [Credit: Wyscout]
As the ball is eventually worked to Zelem, she immediately looks for a forward option and now Manchester United Women have four players in attacking positions to outnumber Arsenal Women’s defence. Zelem will be a key player for United this season, as she will look to dictate play from a deep-lying position allowing her teammates to carry out more attacking duties. The Manchester United Women captain has also been defensively solid, patrolling her area in front of the back four with precision and diligence.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
While Manchester United Women lose out, Zelem doesn’t give up and presses Arsenal Women winning back possession and putting her team in a favourable attacking position [Credit: Wyscout]
While Zelem’s delivery doesn’t reach its intended target, she does not give up the press and continues to press Arsenal Women higher up the field. Zelem causes Arsenal Women to give up possession and this propels Sigsworth into making a forward run into the penalty area. This passage of play has shown Manchester United Women’s ability to transition from a defence to attack through their aggressive pressing tactics.

The Reds go wide

Liverpool Women have had an equally tough start to the season two losses from their first two games. Having been beaten by newly promoted Tottenham Hotspur Women last week, Liverpool Women need a win against Manchester United Women. So, what can we expect from the Merseyside club?

Through analysis, there was a noticeable trend where they favoured the wide areas as their preferred source of attack. Jessica Clarke, Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, and Niamh Charles will be critical to any success Liverpool Women will have in this game. The attacking trio have pace, agility, and guile to cause Manchester United Women’s full-backs issues.

Niamh Charles’ Heat Map

The two wingers are encouraged to hug the touch and look to run in behind defences. Clarke and Charles are quick, tricky wingers who look to rely on their pace and agility to get past defenders and send in crosses for Sweetman-Kirk. Liverpool Women average 10.05 crosses per 90 proving their preference to play out wide. They also average 82.25 offensive duels per 90, which means they try and keep play within their opponents half, looking to press them higher up and inevitably a higher defensive line.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
Liverpool Women’s Pass Map against Reading Women [Credit: Wyscout]
With Manchester United Women looking to solidify the central areas and double up out wide, Liverpool’s full-backs will play a key role too. If they are allowed to bomb forward, their combination with Charles and Clarke will need to be near perfect to penetrate their oppositions tight defensive shape. However, failing this, Liverpool Women have been known to switch playback to the full-backs sucking in opposition midfielders to cause the opposition team to push on and create space in behind.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
Kirsty Linnett looks to press the defender [Credit: Wyscout]
As the above graphic illustrates, Kirsty Linnett is chasing the defender who clears the ball out of their defensive third. Liverpool Women are looking to catch the opposition off guard quickly before they reset into position.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
While the ball is cleared, it only reaches Liverpool Women’s full-back, she is chased by her counterpart and plays it back [Credit: Wyscout]
The Merseyside club lose out on an aerial duel but manage to win the second ball and look to work this back to their full-back, causing the opposition to start pressing them and move out of their own half.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
The resulting back pass had the opposition push up to put Liverpool Women under pressure, this gave the Merseyside club space to play a long ball into space behind the opposition’s defensive line [Credit: Wyscout]
When possession reached the Liverpool Women full-back, possession was immediately shifted into opponents half with an accurate long ball over the top with the Liverpool attacker utilising the unoccupied space behind the opposition’s defence. The three backtracking defenders were fixated on the runner allowing the striker to get on the end of a well-drilled cross across the six-yard area.

Defensive frailties

One aspect of Liverpool Women’s game that Manchester United Women could exploit is their defensive frailties against quick switches in play and short passes around the penalty area. They are especially vulnerable in wider areas.

In past games, we’ve seen Liverpool be exposed when opposition teams look to increase the tempo and start playing quick interchanging passes between each other. Teams such as Arsenal Women are especially dangerous with the likes of Danielle van de Donk, Kim Little, and Vivianne Miedema using their quick feet to progress possession forward.

Liverpool Women’s main issue is failing to patrol the area in front of their back four. Their double-pivot seemingly fails to effectively clear the area of any danger and aren’t able to anticipate the oppositions movement around the aforementioned area.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
Chelsea Women look to shift play from the wide areas to a more central position to play in Bachman and Kirby [Credit: Wyscout]
As the above graphic illustrates, Chelsea Women started the move off the left-hand side and rotated possession to the central areas where they were looking to involve Ramona Bachman and Fran Kirby. Both players are seen stationed in front of the penalty area looking to try and exploit the space in behind Liverpool Women’s defensive line. Notice the gaps between Liverpool Women’s defence. While they have bodies behind the ball, there doesn’t seem to be any coherent organisation or plan off the ball. Chelsea Women are able to play between the lines without being too affected.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
Bachman and Kirby look to interchange quick passes in a crowded area and take advantage of the unoccupied space in behind [Credit: Wyscout]
As Chelsea Women play the ball back into the central areas, Bachman and Kirby look to play multiple interchangeable passes to progress possession forward and evade the centre-backs. Notice, the two defenders are caught ball watching and inevitably Kirby sprints into the unoccupied space where she gets into a one versus one situation with the goalkeeper and scores.

Lineups & Squad – Manchester United Women

Manchester United Women will look to start the match in their standard 4-2-3-1 formation that could transform into a 4-4-2/4-3-1-2 system out of possession. We could see the return of summer signing Jackie Groenen and Lotta Okvist to the starting after missing out due to injury last week. Groenen’s addition will be a welcome addition to United’s line up as she brings a wealth of experience and positive traits to the team that suits their style of play.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
Manchester United Women’s Used Formations [Credit: Wyscout]
The Dutch midfielder is an excellent presser. She averaged 5.35 interceptions and 8.41 ball recoveries per 90. This will aid her team in winning possession further forward and put them into counter-attacking positions. Groenen’s ability to win the ball becomes more important for her team since she can also use it well when she wins it and put control possession around Liverpool Women’s 18-yard area.

Manchester United: Earps; Smith, McManus, M Turner, A Turner; Galton, Zelem (c), Groenen, Toone; Sigsworth, Ross

Liverpool Women

Liverpool Women suffered another loss of the week to Sheffield United in the FAWSL Cup. Having yet to register a win this season, they will need a spirited performance against Manchester United Women today. Having played a number of formations between the end of last season and the start of the current campaign, Liverpool may look to start with a 4-1-4-1 system.

FAWSL 2019/20: Manchester United Women vs Liverpool Women - tactical preview tactics
Liverpool Women’s Used Formations [Credit: Wyscout]
This would provide added protection with the defensive midfielder and the two supporting central players would be able to track back and cover. The attacking trio have pace, agility, and guile to cause Manchester United Women defensive issues, but will need to beat the press and use their long ball strategy selectively to bypass the overload in the wide areas. Melissa Lawley’s movement from her attacking midfield position could be key in creating space by dragging defenders out of position.

Liverpool Women: Preuss; Jane, Bradley-Auckland, Fahey, Robe; Bailey, Rodgers, Charles, Lawley, Clarke; Sweetman-Kirk.

Shade of red

If Manchester United Women are able to string together a few passes and effectively counter-attack Liverpool Women, they could cause Liverpool Women a lot of issues. However, Liverpool’s attacking trio have shown glimpses of being clinical and dangerous in possession.

“Obviously, we’re definitely the underdogs in [ARSENAL WOMEN] game –  like we will be in many games this season. But I think we’ve shown that with the style of football we’re trying to play, we’re not just going to be defensive and try and win games that way. There’s a future we’re trying to build.” – Mary Earps

If they can get the ball to the front three and get in behind the Manchester United Women full-backs and evade their overload with one of their own then Liverpool Women have a chance of getting something from this match. Manchester United Women, on the other hand, will have to rely on their rigid defensive structure to build off from and bring Sigsworth and Ross into play in an attacking sense.



Artwork by @chapulana

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