Hayley Raso: Why the Matildas star could help Man City “gain the edge” in 2021/2022 – scout report
When players like USA internationals Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle departed Manchester City Women this summer, many feared that Gareth Taylor’s side would not be capable of mounting a title challenge in the same way as they did last season. However, several astute signings have helped them to form a strong squad ahead of the new WSL season, with their most recent addition being Australia international Hayley Raso, who joined from Everton Women. A few believe that she could help Manchester City gain the edge this season, and this tactical analysis will analyse Raso’s abilities in detail, seeing how she will fit into Manchester City’s tactics, and why Gareth Taylor opted to bring her to the Academy Stadium.
In the final third
As Hayley Raso most commonly plays in a wing role, we will begin our analysis by looking at how she plays in the final third.
It is often the case that Raso closes opponents down at pace, with Everton knowing that she wins possession more often than not in situations such as this. In doing so, Raso allows attacks to be launched from dangerous areas of the field, and her skill allows her to keep the ball in play here after tackling Arsenal Women’s England defender Leah Williamson. She won 37.6% of her offensive duels last season (just over one in three), and this is a clear strength of hers on the field.
Another key point is that she is the furthest player forward for Everton, and runs into a central area as soon as she has won the ball. Manchester City lacked a player with this type of pace last season, as their first-choice wide attackers were England duo Lauren Hemp, who made good crosses into the box and cut inside often, and Chloe Kelly, who suffered a long-term injury towards the end of the season, so Raso will provide them with a different option in the wide positions. Her crossing accuracy last season may have only been 22.2%, but that reflects how her main strength is not crossing but dribbling the ball into the box herself. Therefore, this is one thing that the Australia international would add to Manchester City’s tactics next season.
Both Everton and Manchester City used a front three last season, meaning that Raso does not need to adapt to a different formation at her new club. However, she is capable of playing in any of the front three roles, which is important. We have already seen how she can lead the line for the team, but this image shows her in a wider role, with her and Denmark forward Nicoline Sorensen staying outside the Brighton and Hove Albion Women defence, looking to stretch it out and create gaps for the central striker, in this case, Switzerland forward Alisha Lehmann, to play through.
The final thing to mention with regards to Raso’s abilities in the final third is her link-up play. Everton use attacking full-backs, asking them to work with the wingers to create opportunities in the final third, and it was a regularity to see Ingrid Moe Wold and Poppy Pattinson high up the pitch. Having two players in the wide channel meant that one could stay outside defenders, whilst the other came inside, creating 2-v-1s. Here, Raso is on the inside, forming a triangle with her teammates around the Brighton defenders. In this structure, she can receive a pass and immediately play it forwards, helping to transfer the ball behind the defence at speed.
The key point here is Raso’s positioning, as this is an area that Manchester City depended on last season. It was common to see Sam Mewis and Caroline Weir, as the outside midfielders, moving into these half-spaces, supporting the forward line, but Mewis’ move to NWSL side North Carolina Courage meant that Manchester City were missing a player who can operate in that role. Raso had a passing accuracy of 66% last season, so will be an adequate replacement for Mewis in their build-up play, and will be an important player for them in that regard.
We have seen Hayley Raso’s capabilities in the final third, but another important aspect of her play that will benefit Manchester City is her ability to see spaces around the field.
When playing on the wings last season, she tended to pull away from opposing defenders, giving herself plenty of space to receive the ball in. Again, she has made a run ahead of the ball here to give her teammates passing options, but it is her spatial awareness that really stands out here.
In this particular example, she receives the ball and runs at goal, with her positioning allowing her to wait for the right moment to cut inside the Brighton defender, gaining a clear route to goal, which she scores from. Raso scored a hat-trick in this match, and netted five times in total last season, at an average of 0.22 per game and with an expected goals (xG) value of 0.27, and it is not hard to see why. She may have only got 39.1% of her shots on target, but this will no doubt improve next season at Manchester City with the calibre of players she will be alongside.
It is not only when she is behind the defensive line that she finds space. Here, the Australian is running into the gap between the Brighton lines, giving her team a route through Brighton’s low block setup. Brighton frustrated a number of teams last season with their defensive tactics, but Raso is a player who can break it down and link different parts of the team together. Therefore, she is the type of player that Manchester City can send on next season when they are struggling to create opportunities in the final third, which could help to turn some of last season’s draws into wins.
Even when in the box, Raso constantly looks for space, and we can see how she has received the ball behind the Aston Villa Women players here, again with time to control the ball and shoot at goal. On this occasion, her shot doesn’t hit the target, but the intent is there, and her positioning makes the pitch big and means Aston Villa can’t mark every Everton player. With Manchester City’s tactics revolving around crossing the ball into the box, Raso will give them another target in the middle, again potentially leading to them scoring more goals and winning more games.
A third reason for Hayley Raso’s importance to her new team is her versatility, which has already been hinted at in this analysis. However, it is something Manchester City will undoubtedly have taken note of when deciding to sign her.
Everton and Manchester City have similar tactical approaches to games, with both using front three systems and both getting their full-backs high up the pitch to support the attacks. However, the difference is that Manchester City prefer their central striker to get ahead of the opposing defence, as we know both Ellen White and new signing Khadija Shaw do well. Everton, meanwhile, use their central attacker in a deeper role at times, with the wingers tasked with running ahead and creating passing options.
This image demonstrates this setup, with Lehmann, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Walton Hall Park from West Ham United Women, dropping into the centre circle to receive the ball. Again, Raso’s pace is demonstrated here, as she and the other wide attacker get up the pitch in good time to receive the ball in the final third.
Whilst the styles of play differ, Manchester City’s attacking tactics will still suit Raso, as she will have more freedom to advance up the field and create opportunities for herself and her teammates. With Keira Walsh, Laura Coombs and former Barcelona Femeni captain Vicky Losada likely to stay back and protect the defence, Raso’s attacking nature will also maintain Manchester City’s team balance, again highlighting Gareth Taylor’s clever recruitment in his bid to regain the WSL title from Chelsea Women next season.
Everton also like their wingers to be positionally adaptable. Last season, their striker would occasionally be forced into the wide channel to collect the ball, meaning that the winger would be required to move inside and fill the space they had left. Raso was particularly good at this, as is shown in this image. In this case, it is not the striker who has possession in the wide channel, but Raso has still moved into a central position, though hanging back from the main forward line and providing her teammate with a passing option in the space behind the Brighton defence. The fact that she is in this area means that she is not the main focus of the defenders, and is therefore unmarked, making her a key player in this attack.
Manchester City last season tended not to have a specific player in this role, but Raso’s addition to the squad will enable them to use different formations, and having this adaptability is important in the WSL.
Raso was usually deployed in a wide or a central role for Everton, but was generally left free to move around the pitch and create problems for the opposition. This involved passing and moving, often going from central to wide spaces and vice versa in the same phases of play. Here, she has played the ball to her teammate, in the yellow circle, before running into an area where she can immediately receive the ball back from her. Raso’s movement opens up the space indicated by the red square, which was previously not a viable area for Everton to transfer the ball into, due to the lack of options around it. Reading Women were another team who struggled to cope with Everton’s quick passing tactics last season, and the Australian was a key player in that.
We have so far focused on Hayley Raso’s offensive abilities, and how she can be a key part of Manchester City’s attacking and build-up play. However, it is also important to note that she can play in a defensive role, as she has often done for Australia in the past year.
Raso doesn’t play in a fully defensive role, but as a wing-back, with Australia head coach Tony Gustavsson utilising a back three during matches. It is an attacking setup, with the wing-backs encouraged to get forward and control the wings, allowing the attackers to cut inside and offer more targets centrally. However, on this occasion, the outside centre-back, Lyon Feminin’s Ellie Carpenter, has also advanced up the field, meaning that Raso can cut inside and take up a position in the half-space.
The result of this double-layered advance from Carpenter and Raso is that the attackers can get even closer together, with Chelsea’s Sam Kerr and new Tottenham Hotspur Women forward Kyah Simon both between Valerenga centre-back C.J. Bott and Liverpool Women defender Meikayla Moore, in the red circle. New Zealand struggled to deal with Australia’s attacking play during this Olympic group stage game, and it is small details like this that explain why. Ultimately, Raso’s ability to adjust her positioning depending on what is happening around her is something else that Manchester City will benefit from next season.
When Australia were out of possession, Raso dropped back to form a five-player defensive line, but this was where her weaknesses in this role were exposed. We know that her natural instinct is to get forward and close the ball down, but she needed to stay back and work with her teammates here to prevent the USA getting behind them. The USA had Megan Rapinoe on the left-hand side in this game, and the OL Reign player, in the black circle, is the type of winger who easily gets behind opposing defences. Raso’s desire to move out of line therefore played directly into her hands, with Portland Thorns’ Crystal Dunn, playing at left-back in this game, constantly combining with her to create a 2-v-1 against Raso.
This image shows another example of Raso being caught out at the back, with Denmark this time looking to cross the ball into the box. However, on this occasion, because there is no second player to deal with, Raso gets back in time to close her opponent down, winning the ball and ending the attack. The fact that her run comes from behind the Denmark attacker gives Raso the advantage, as she is able to get close to her opponent before they can react. She won 57% of her defensive duels last season, highlighting her proficiency in this area when she has one opponent, and we have already seen how Raso is quick at closing opponents down. However, the fact that she does it when defending as well as when attacking makes her a good all-round player, and this is another thing that Manchester City have clearly noticed.
The reason that we are analysing Raso’s defensive qualities is that Manchester City have, when needed, used wingers in the full-back positions. This was most notable in 2019/2020, when Canada’s Janine Beckie spent most of the season at right-back, as Aoife Mannion was out with a long-term injury and Esme Morgan had been loaned to Everton, so it is possible that Raso could occasionally play at full-back next season. As this section has demonstrated, it is a role that she could perform in for a short run of games, but she is much better suited to playing in the forward line, so it is more likely that this is where she will feature the most.
In conclusion, this scout report has looked at why Manchester City Women have made Australia’s Hayley Raso their latest signing, and what she could bring to them next season. We have looked in detail at several aspects of her attacking play, as well as her defensive qualities, and have found several reasons why she could be a very useful player for Manchester City to have next season. In fact, whilst we should whisper it quietly, the additions of international players like Raso, Losada and Shaw, coupled with young signings like utility player Ruby Mace, mean Gareth Taylor’s team are in a great position to potentially end their six-year wait to win the WSL title.