Christen Press at Manchester United Women 2020/2021 – scout report
Manchester United Women have made some very good signings this summer, with three players moving to Manchester from the USA: Tobin Heath signed from Portland Thorns, Alessia Russo was in the US college game before her switch, and the third player to join is Christen Press, who moved from Utah Royals, another team in the NWSL (the women’s equivalent of the MLS). This tactical analysis will look in more detail at Press’ game, looking at how she plays on and off the ball, and her versatility in attack, all the while focusing on what she will bring to Manchester United and their tactics this season. We will also look at her statistics from last season, compared to Manchester United’s, giving us a better idea of how she will fit in and improve the team.
With the ball
We will begin this scout report by looking at Christen Press with the ball. In the image below, we can see how, whilst often being the furthest player forward, she likes to bring teammates into the game too.
Here, we can see how Press, in the red circle, has possession but doesn’t shoot at goal from her current position. The Chicago Red Stars defenders are focusing on her, not on her teammate, who is making the run behind them, as the yellow arrow shows. This means that Press has helped her team, who seemingly had nowhere to go, to move the ball forward and continue the attack.
The fact that the supporting runner goes behind Press also helps, because the defenders cannot both mark both players. Their choice is now stopping the run of Press’ teammate, which would give Press an opportunity to then attack forwards, or stopping Press, letting her teammate run behind them. Having a player who can keep possession and hold up play like this is crucial, and will give Manchester United Women a new element in their attack this season. With Press being able to hold up the ball and bring others into the game, they will pose a bigger threat to opposing defences.
However, when she needs to, Press can also take defenders on, as is shown in both of these images. This is something she is very confident doing, and means that opponents have to take extra care to stop her dribbling the ball around them and into dangerous areas.
In the first image, against Washington Spirit, we can see how Press has two Spirit players around her. However, because they have got tight to her, the space behind is open and would present a good crossing opportunity. Press also has a teammate in the middle, looking to get on the end of any cross that might be put into the box, and this shows the threat that Press poses in these areas.
The second image shows a different duel, but again, we can see that Press is looking to get past her opponent and into a good area to move the ball into the box. Again, she has teammates waiting in the middle, because they know what will happen once Press has got into space. Therefore, we can see how Press can affect the game in the wide areas and plays a major role in creating chances for her team.
This image shows us another way she does this. By getting into these areas, as we have seen, she opens up opportunities for her team, such as short and long passes. The lack of pressure from the opposing defenders means she can also assess the situation before passing the ball.
As far as this season goes, Manchester United Women have signed a forward who can naturally operate in the wide areas, both under pressure and in open spaces. Her ability to not panic when being closed down could be particularly useful against teams like Manchester City Women, whose full-backs like to close down their opponents. To counter this, Press could be deployed to move around these full-backs, accessing the space behind and ensuring that Manchester United have a constant supply of balls into the box. Casey Stoney’s side also like to play with a front three, and Press likes to operate mainly on the left wing, so she could operate as the left forward in Manchester United’s system.
If we look at this image, we can see another aspect of Press’ game on the ball. This time, instead of staying at the top of the pitch, she has drifted back to find the ball, before taking up an attacking midfield role in front of the opposing defensive line. This desire to have the ball will be something Manchester United will really benefit from, and her ability to drift back and help when she needs to will also be important.
Tobin Heath, who likes to play on the left of the forward line as well, also mixes between staying high up the pitch, creating passing opportunities, and coming back to help move the ball into the attackers. Therefore, it is possible that Manchester United can use Heath and Press together, with one coming back to bridge the gap, and the other staying high, and Press will therefore complement Heath’s play. As a result, we can see how bringing Press to the club gives Manchester United more possibilities and options tactically.
We have seen how Christen Press plays when in possession, but she is just as important to her team when out of possession too.
In both of these images, we can see the same thing happening. The ball is with one of Utah’s players on one side of the pitch, and Press is moving forwards into space on the other side.
This shows that Press anticipates where the ball will go and ensures that she offers a passing option in space to receive it. She is on the other side of the pitch to the ball, and, while it has a long way to go to reach her, the advantage is that Press can move behind the majority of the opposing defenders, meaning that she can get into space without them noticing, and therefore without being closed down.
In this image, we see something similar happening, with Press moving into the central position between the Seattle Reign (now OL Reign) defenders. The gap has been left open, and, like with the last images, Press has anticipated where the ball can go, moving into a position to receive it. From here, she has a route through to goal, so we can see how these movements create space and passing options for her team.
As far as Manchester United Women are concerned, this will give them something different in attack. Out of their new signings, Tobin Heath will drift inside and into central spaces from wide areas when the ball is on the opposite wing to her, whilst Alessia Russo will play on the right wing and offer the short option when the crossing option is not available.
However, Press will stay wide, ensuring that there is a backstop if the ball travels across the face of goal without a central player managing to reach it. The other thing she will bring is to pick up the ball from midfield, as we know she likes to do, take it forward, pass it into the striker, and then, like here, move forward to offer the immediate passing option. Therefore, Manchester United have a player who will always create options and won’t waste chances.
She is constantly looking to create passing options for her team, even when she has tracked back into her own half of the pitch. Here, we can see how Utah Royals have picked up the ball, looking to advance forwards with it. Rather than going towards it, Press instantly moves out towards the wing, making the pitch as big as possible. With a Spirit defender looking to stop the advance, this run means that Utah have control of the wing, and Press is now a viable passing option to move the ball around the defender. Therefore, Press’ ability to see where the best position to help her team is will be another asset that Manchester United will benefit from.
The last thing to mention is her versatility in attack, and her ability to play anywhere in the forward line.
In this image, we can see how Christen Press is positioned on the left of the Utah Royals attack. The blue line indicates the narrow structure of the Chicago Red Stars defence, which Press has seen, and her positioning here means that, when her teammate receives the ball and turns to transfer it forwards, Press is in a good position to help move the ball into a dangerous area behind the defence.
However, she can also play on the right side of the attack too. Here, we see how she has come across to the right side from the left, and is now looking to meet the ball and pass it into the box for her teammate, who is making the run centrally. We know that Press poses a threat when she gets into these areas, and her teammates know that she will always look to get the ball into the box from these positions. Therefore, they instantly look to get into the box whenever Press is near it. For Manchester United Women, this will lead to an increase in the number of chances they can create, meaning that they may get more shots and potentially score more goals, which is what can make a difference in big games.
What is particularly important to note about this situation is that she is on the opposite wing to the one she prefers to play on, but is just as comfortable. Therefore, when it comes to Manchester United this season, Press can play wherever she is needed to, meaning she will be an important player in big matches.
She can also play through the middle too. We have already seen that Press gets between defenders and creates passing options, and she sees here that there is no option for the ball to go to, so she fills the space. The arrow shows how her first thought is always to get into good attacking positions, which will be encouraging for Manchester United fans. At times last season, they lacked a player who could operate in the central areas, filling in when no-one is there to receive the ball, and this perhaps cost them a few goals at times. With Press in the team, they can ensure that these positions are filled, and few opportunities are wasted.
We have looked at Press in attack and midfield, but we can see in this image how she can also track back to the defence to pick up the ball when needed. This links back to the previous point about her constant desire to have the ball, moving to wherever she can offer a passing option. This shows her confidence on the pitch, which will be another big positive for Manchester United this season.
The final section in this scout report will compare last season’s statistics for Christen Press and Manchester United Women, giving us a clearer idea of where she will fit in and improve Man United Women.
It should first be noted that Manchester United’s season was cut short by the pandemic, but it is still interesting that Press has higher values for shots on target, crossing accuracy, offensive duels won, and accuracy of passes to the final third. These are all things that we have seen and analysed in this tactical analysis, and we have shown how these can improve Manchester United’s play this season.
When it comes to goals scored and expected goals (xG), Manchester United have higher values, which shows that Press will not necessarily improve this aspect of the team. However, with Heath and Russo in the team, it is unlikely that Press will be relied upon to score goals as much as them. What is more likely is that she will need to supply balls into them, which is something we have shown already to be one of her strengths.
In conclusion, we can see that Christen Press is a player who can offer her team just about everything on the pitch. We have shown how she affects her team’s performances on and off the ball, creating options for her team, and have seen how she is versatile, able to play anywhere across the forward line, or coming back to receive the ball in other areas when a link needs to be made between different parts of the team. Given all of this, Manchester United Women have pulled off a coup by bringing her to the team, and this tactical analysis has shown that she is a player who can bring all the different parts of the team together this season.