Alex Greenwood: Identifying potential new clubs – scout report
This tactical analysis will assess Alex Greenwood of Olympique Lyonnais. The England international has endured a rough debut campaign in France since her move from Manchester United Women. The purpose of this scout report is to identify potential landing spots for the 26-year-old left-back should she decide to move on, having her position with the French champions taken by Selma Bacha. We will first analyse the player herself and discuss her difficulties in adapting to Lyon’s system, before using data to compare her to other top left-backs in the women’s game. Lastly, two clubs will be discussed as potential places Greenwood could move to and find success.
To get an understanding of the type of team that would utilise Greenwood most effectively, we must first know the type of player she is. The 26-year-old is a marauding full-back who does her best work in the attacking third. Lyon typically opts for a 4-2-3-1 set-up. The double-pivot in midfield gives the French side a lot of flexibility in allowing their full-backs to drive forward in support of their wingers in the wide areas, where their attacking focus lies. When in possession, the wingers are the target to get into positions where they are able to take the ball forward and look to create opportunities. The full-backs play a very important role in this as they are the most direct support for these players.
Below you can see Greenwood’s heat map from the 2019-20 campaign. The attacking focus of her positioning is extremely apparent in this, as she represents a mainstay in the wide areas. She is at her best playing on the touchline where she can force the opponent’s defence to stay wide with her. This gives the wingers the ability to move into the half-spaces and find room to inflict damage on the opposition.
Greenwood possesses the quality to play on the inside and out. While her preference tends to be to hold her side’s width, she is extremely intelligent in identifying space in behind the opponent’s backline through the inside half-space. She is often occupying space here in Lyon’s counter-pressing structure. When possession is being worked through the middle or down the right, she tucks in with the midfielders to provide defensive solidity. Below you can see an example of the full-back picking up possession in this area in the attacking third.
As Greenwood picks up possession in this area, Nikita Parris holds the width. Greenwood is quick to identify the space opening up in the defensive line due to the full-back of the opposition moving out wide to mark the Lyon winger.
Possession is moved quickly into Parris and Greenwood makes a run directly into the space in behind. This quick movement does not give the opponent enough time to react and defend properly, and Greenwood receives a return pass from Parris.
Defensively, Greenwood is very intelligent in anticipating attacks before they completely develop. This ability is crucial in a side who prefer holding the majority of the possession in a match as they must be adept in handling counter-attacks. This anticipation mixed with her England international’s recovery speed when falling back from advanced positions allows her to break up attacks and move her side back into the ascendency.
In the image above you can see Lyon have lost possession on their right side. As this occurs, Greenwood is quick to drop back into the defensive line as she acknowledges the numbers her side has forward that are struggling to attempt to get back into shape. While dropping deep she has her head up scanning the pitch looking for where the counter-attack is likely to progress into.
The attacking player making a run in the middle drops to try and receive a pass in this central area, and her teammate attempts to find her. Greenwood, however, recognises the danger of this potential advancement and jumps forward to intercept the pass. Her intervention is clean and she is able to move forward with possession at her feet getting Lyon back onto the attack.
Difficulties at Lyon
Before looking at destinations that could suit Greenwood, it is important to understand the difficulties she has had during her stint with the French champions. In this section, we will look to compare her role this season compared to her role with Liverpool Women in the 2017-18 WSL campaign.
The biggest difference will obviously be the gap in quality between the two sides. While Greenwood’s ability is more than enough to play in a side such as Lyon, this difference could be a reason for her lack of impact. In the image below you can see a pass map from Liverpool against Everton Women. Greenwood’s attacking influence is clearly stated in this pass map. Through her positioning, passing links, and the positioning of her teammates in relation to her, the full-back is the primary focus in the side’s attack.
During her next campaign with Manchester United Women in the FA Women’s Championship, this was a similar idea. With her attacking ability, she was one of the best in the league, and Casey Stoney utilised her effectively down the left side.
Transitioning over to Lyon this campaign, this dynamic was shifted. Considering Lyon’s plethora of attacking talent, Greenwood was more often used in a support role as mentioned above. Majri is the French side’s primary attacking outlet on the left. Greenwood, therefore, often gave support to allow her the time to work in the half-space and was frequently used as part of the counter-pressing structure which limited her impact higher up the pitch.
While Greenwood still posted impressive numbers during her first season in France, her talents have not been used to the greatest extent. This analysis will focus on finding different clubs who are in more of a position to utilise the left-back in a way that will get the best out of her.
Tactically, Lyon has different expectations for their left-back than Greenwood worked under with Liverpool Women and Manchester United Women. Her best qualities come out when she consistently works on the left touchline. Here she can use her attacking instincts and crossing ability to the fullest.
At Lyon, the left-back is used in more of a defensive covering role. On the left, the winger is typically the player holding the width on this side. The full-back instead inverts into the midfield and provides cover as the right-back, most often Lucy Bronze gets into advanced positions on the right. This has stunted her impact in attack where she is at her most effective.
Player data analysis
In this section, we will look to compare Greenwood to different top left-backs throughout the world. We will use players such as Crystal Dunn to showcase her against the top attacking full-backs, while others such as Martha Harris of Manchester United Women to compare her against full-backs who she could potentially replace in her next move. Two metrics were chosen in attacking and defensive phases of the game. These metrics are as follows:
- Passes into the Penalty Area x Crosses per 90
- Defensive Duels Won % x Defensive Duels per 90
In the first metric, we compare Greenwood to other top-class left-backs by using Passes into the Penalty Area x Crosses per 90. The purpose of this is to get an idea of how these full-backs are being used in the attacking third of the pitch. If these two statistics are extremely similar, it is likely that the player’s passes into the penalty area come primarily from crosses and therefore they prefer to attack from wide positions. Greenwood is the perfect example of this. Her numbers in these two categories are exactly the same at 4.74, showing her preference in crossing. As we spoke of above, this makes sense as she has struggled in times where she has been moved into a central area to provide defensive cover, and the overwhelming majority of her attacking ability comes from when she is able to get into wide areas and look to make overlapping runs.
The graph shows an obvious trend line with the exception of Crystal Dunn of the North Carolina Courage. As we can see, for any club, Greenwood would represent an improvement in their attacking metrics from the left-back position even as she is limited in Lyon’s system more than she would like. She has shown throughout her career a fantastic ability to get into wide areas and provide service to her side’s strikers.
The next graph we will look at covers Defensive Duels won % x Defensive Duels per 90. This serves to show the defensive reliability of these top left-backs across the world. Greenwood sits at a respectable level of 69.5% success on 7.32 defensive duels per 90. Her intelligence and recovery speed allow her to get back into defensive shape quickly and help break down attacks even as she gets into high positions herself.
This graph also provides an idea of potential landing spots Greenwood would come in and improve immediately based on defensive statistics. Smith for Manchester United Women and Katie McCabe for Arsenal Women both have poor defensive numbers in these categories. McCabe is a winger that Joe Montemurro dropped into this deeper position to utilise her attacking capabilities. For Manchester United, while Martha Harris sits higher in this graph, Stoney has struggled to effectively replace Greenwood with either of these options since her departure to Lyon.
Looking at sides that Greenwood could come into and make an immediate impact, there are a lot of reasons why Arsenal Women make sense. Montemurro’s system he has put in place at the Gunners is built on the idea of having his full-backs push very high up the pitch and provide width. This gives their creative wingers Bethany Mead and Danielle Van de Donk the opportunity to push inwards into the half-spaces to get more involved in the centre of the pitch, where Arsenal prefer to progress play.
Greenwood offers multiple aspects that are attractive to Arsenal. One point to make is the London side will be looking to make a statement this summer, after finishing the past campaign in third place trailing Chelsea Women and Manchester City Women. Missing out on Champions League football will not be seen as acceptable at a club such as Arsenal, and they will be looking to do whatever is necessary to ensure it does not happen again.
Greenwood represents one of the biggest names that could be available this summer. As we mentioned above, McCabe has filled in very well in this makeshift position, but Greenwood’s experience and skill at left-back is greater than that of the Irish international’s in every facet.
Greenwood would offer an interesting option alongside Arsenal’s attack. While McCabe’s best attributes come in ball progression down the left side and getting it up to her winger Mead in most circumstances, Greenwood is at her best in the final third. Having a player with her crossing abilities holding the width while Mead’s presence in the half-space forcing the opposition’s defence to hold a compact line rather than stretching to cover the wide space could give Arsenal more flexibility with their attacks.
In the past year, Chelsea has been extremely aggressive in the transfer market. With huge names coming in such as Sam Kerr and Melanie Leupolz, the London side is looking to firmly establish themselves in not only England’s elite but Europe’s elite. With this approach, it is plausible to believe that should Greenwood become available, Chelsea would be very interested.
Greenwood at Chelsea represents some very interesting opportunities to vary their tactics. The Blues are not known for their attacks coming from the full-back positions, with these places having more of an emphasis on the defensive cover to allow the more advanced players the opportunity to express themselves. However, with Champions League football next season, depth and tactical variety will be key.
With Maren Mjelde’s emergence as Chelsea’s first-choice right-back, it offers potential for the left-back to have more attacking freedom. Working in an asymmetric system where the left-winger, typically Guro Reiten, comes inside in support of the strikers, and Mjelde at right-back tucking in to provide cover with the holding midfielder for the centre-backs, Greenwood could be given total freedom to control the left channel and get forward in attack.
While Alex Greenwood has endured a difficult start to life in France, her quality has never been in question. Tactical differences in the Lyon side have not suited the English international. This scout report has taken a look at the reasons behind this and delved into sides who could potentially get the best out of her moving forward. A return to England would represent Greenwood’s best opportunity, with almost every club being welcome to a player of her ability in the position. As well as Arsenal and Chelsea, a return to Manchester United Women could also represent a positive move for her career.