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WSL 2022/23: Tottenham Hotspur Women v Manchester United Women - tactical analysis tactics

WSL 2022/23: How Manchester United kept their title campaign on track with an impressive tactical victory at Tottenham Hotspur – tactical analysis

Manchester United Women have been enjoying a stellar campaign in the FA Women’s Super League this season. They have surprised many this season as they were largely expected to be fighting for a Champions League place. Thanks to some sound tactical direction and excellent recruitment, they are on the verge of mounting a viable title challenge. The Tottenham Hotspur Stadium provided the backdrop for this clash as Marc Skinner’s side ensured they went into the international break sitting on top of the league.

The deadlock was finally broken in the 67th minute thanks to Leah Galton putting Manchester United in front via her fifth goal of the season. Tottenham Hotspur Women pulled level as former Chelsea striker Bethany England scored a wonderful solo goal. Just 14 seconds later they found themselves behind again as Molly Bartrip turned Lucia Garcia’s cross into her own net.

United had to see out the game with ten players as Ella Toone was sent off in the 80th minute after reacting badly to an Eveliina Summanen tackle. This tactical analysis will dissect important moments of the game and look at how Manchester United emerged victorious.


Starting lineups for Spurs Women vs Manchester Utd Women.

It’s fair to say that neither manager sprung any surprises with the tactics they chose to deploy. Marc Skinner set his team up in the same 4-2-3-1 formation that they have predominately used throughout his time in charge. His starting eleven consisted of Mary Earps in goal, Hannah Blundell, Maya Le Tissier, Millie Turner, and long-term Barcelona target Ona Batlle in defence. Hayley Ladd and Katie Zelem provided the double pivot in central midfield with ex-Arsenal player Nikita Parris and Leah Galton as wingers, while Ella Toone played in the number ten role just behind Alessia Russo, the striker.

Rehanne Skinner sent Tottenham Hotspur out in a 5-4-1 formation with Tinja-Riikka Korpela as the goalkeeper. The defence comprised of Celin Bizet, Amy Turner, Molly Bartrip, Shelina Zadorsky and Kerys Harrop. Mana Iwabuchi, Eveliina Summanen, Drew Spence, and Ashleigh Neville were in midfield, with Bethany England as the striker.

Spurs’ defensive frailties

Spurs remain in their formation with a flat-back five.

Despite Spurs being the home side, it was Manchester United who enjoyed the majority of possession with 61%. Right from the kick-off, it was clear that Marc Skinner had identified a way in which his team could use said possession to exploit a weakness in the Spurs defence. During the early stages of the game, Spurs proceeded to hold a higher defensive line. This presented opportunities for Manchester United’s attacking unit to make runs in behind their defence.

The pace of both wingers, Galton and Parris, meant that they were able to bypass defenders with relative ease when making these movements. The two wingers would very often drift in from the wide areas which forced the Spurs back five to form an incredibly narrow block. This allowed Spanish right-back Ona Battle to enter the attacking third with a vast amount of space ahead, where she could either look to play a short pass to a teammate, often Nikita Parris, or look to whip a cross into the penalty area due to the aerial threat that Russo provides.

Batlle has frequently demonstrated her effectiveness in the attacking phase as she averages over three crosses into the penalty area and 5.21 passes into the final third per 90. She also has six assists to her name this season indicating that United’s tactics provide her with the opportunities required to set up her teammates. As Leah Galton cuts inside from the left wing. there was also plenty of opportunity for Hannah Blundell to maraud forward, she did this on fewer occasions than Batlle given that she is the more defensively-minded of the two full-backs.

Manchester United’s opening goal derived from such a situation as the image’s detail. Batlle made progress down the right wing with the ball, meanwhile, all four of the attacking unit are making their way into the penalty area anticipating the incoming cross. Batlle plays the cross into the box which Spurs failed to clear, leaving Galton to open the scoring.

Ona Batlle attacking down Manchester Utd’s right side.

Spurs were too compact

The compactness that Spurs were forced into resulted in their defensive line becoming disjointed and hesitant at times. As demonstrated in the image above; Galton has drifted in from the left wing, Bizet who has been instructed to mark the United winger. follows her which then creates an excess of space on the United left side. Moreover, as Ona Batlle progresses forward with the ball, Spurs’ back five has been forced into a precarious position. Harrop is unsure whether to go out wide to press Batlle or remain compact.

This indecisiveness creates space between Harrop and Zadorsky which means Nikita Parris has the opportunity to enter the penalty area virtually unmarked.  There appears to be a lack of communication within Spurs’ defence which has led to moments such as this throughout the game. This enabled Manchester United to exploit the spaces left between the defenders as they were very often unsure of when to press and when to stay in their shape.

Here is another example of how United manipulated the compressed nature of Spurs’ set-up to their advantage. Spurs are sitting in a bank of five defenders and another bank of four midfielders. Galton on United’s left wing has moved infield but is marked by Bizet. However, on the United right-hand side, Nikita Parris is looking to make a run in behind the Spurs defence as Harrop is once again unsure whether to mark her opponent tighter or stand off and remain in shape.

Parris’ run will also generate space for Batlle as Ashleigh Neville is far too central to be able to track the Spaniard’s run. The resulting play from the image above ended with a very tight offside call against Parris but it was a very clear warning of United’s intentions.

The United press

A key element of Manchester United’s impressive form in the Women’s Super League this season has been Marc Skinner’s tactics. The most prominent factor of the United manager’s tactical set-up is his desire to utilise a high press. They very often press their opponents incredibly aggressively in a bid to force mistakes or a turnover of possession.

As seen in the image above, Russo initiates the press while her fellow attacking players follow her lead, with the United forward pressing Molly Bartrip. Leah Galton is looking to press Amy Turner, Nikita Parris is prepared to press Zardovsky whilst Katie Zelem is providing a screen in midfield. With no obvious way to bypass the United press, Spurs are forced to play a pass back to the goalkeeper who then has to attempt a long pass into the midfield. The ball is subsequently won back by Manchester United who can then launch an attack.

Russo’s ability to lead the press is one of the most important components in United’s tactical set-up. In the example above, Manchester United have yielded possession, she immediately engages in pressing the Spurs defence and then the goalkeeper in a bid to force a turnover. Galton is on the left side closing down the Spurs defender, whilst Ona Batlle is high up in the attacking third to ensure Spurs cannot play out from the back. Russo is the most important player though, not only does she close down the goalkeeper, but she also ensures that she uses her body shape to cut off the passing lane to the Spurs defender on the edge of the area.

This demonstrates great awareness of the players around her and positioning on the pitch, it is this small but essential element of Russo’s game that forces the keeper to play a poor pass, therefore United can regain possession in the attacking third. Marc Skinner has witnessed his side become incredibly successful in this particular area of the game as they have a 92% success rate in their high press attempts this season.

United’s ability to force opponents into mistakes has played a huge role in their rise to the top of the table and it all starts with Alessia Russo pressing from the front.

Pressing issues

Whilst Manchester United have enjoyed tremendous success by implementing their high press, it would be remiss not to look at the potential issues it can lead to. Tottenham Hotspur’s equaliser came as a result of United’s press allowing them to leave far too much space behind the defensive line. As Russo and co. were pressing high, looking to force errors and turnovers of possession, the Manchester United defensive line had stepped up higher to close the space down between the lines, in a bid to prevent Spurs from having the opportunity to build an attack.

The above image shows all of the United players in the Spurs half. Whilst there is nothing abnormal about this it is important to this phase of play as none of them have noticed Beth England who is looking to make a run into the channel due to space created by Ona Batlle moving higher up the pitch into the attacking third.

England uses her pace to make the run and then when she receives the ball, she has the choice of playing the ball across to Rosella Ayane or running down the wing or cutting into the penalty area.

England’s prolific strikers’ instinct dictated that she would do the latter, and she was able to cut inside and get a shot away into the bottom corner of Mary Earps’ goal. Millie Turner could have potentially made more of an effort to close England down rather than looking to block the shot. Had she taken a few steps closer to the Spurs forward, it is likely that she would have made the angle much more difficult.

The goal which gave United all three points arrived just 14 seconds after England had equalised and was of similar ilk to their opener. Spurs engaged in a rather timid press from the kick-off which Marc Skinner’s team could easily play their way out of with a pass down the right side, this time to the substitute Garcia who had replaced Parris. Garcia played a first-time cross along the penalty area and Molly Bartrip who was trying to clear the ball ended up turning the cross into her own net.


As this analysis has shown, this was a hard-fought victory for Manchester United. Whilst they enjoyed most of the possession and created more chances than their opponents, they had to battle for the three points. The win took them back to the top of the WSL which means the title is still very much within their grasp, mostly thanks to Marc Skinner’s tactics and the willingness of the players to follow his direction.

Tottenham Hotspur have struggled to pick up points lately having only won three league games all season. However, the acquisition of Beth England looks to have been a sound one as she provides them with a goalscoring threat. It is their defensive shortcomings that continue to prove costly. A tough game but an important win for Skinner and his players.