Lucía García: Why Athletic Club’s reported Man City target is not yet the finished product – scout report
With the 2021/2022 Primera División nearing its conclusion, speculation over players’ futures is increasing, with fans and analysts discussing the league’s hottest properties and which clubs might look to attract them. One player reportedly exiting the Spanish top flight this summer is Athletic Club Femenino forward Lucía García, with the Spain international widely linked with a switch to Manchester City Women, and this tactical analysis will look at why this would be a good move for both parties, but with notes of caution. The scout report will explore García’s positioning and movement abilities but will also highlight several areas where she needs to improve her game, which will be key in her individual development.
The analysis will first look at Lucía García’s positioning around the field, focusing particularly on her different roles during the ongoing season and giving us a better understanding of where she could fit into Manchester City’s current system, were she to make the move to the Academy Stadium.
Athletic’s primary formation in 2021/2022 has been a 4-2-3-1, which has been deployed in 73% of their games. This has allowed them to play a mostly long-ball style of football that looks to force gaps to open up in opposing defensive lines, and García, as the left-sided forward in that setup, has played a major part in these tactics. Here, she has positioned herself on the outside of the Atlético Madrid Femenino defensive line, trying to pull the defenders towards her and preventing them from becoming compact.
In order to exploit the spaces when they appear, Athletic’s attacking line regularly morphs into a front four when the team has possession, with Mariana (number 26) moving forward to join Peke (number 22) in the central area on this occasion. This has given them a better chance of scoring goals when they have the opportunities to do so, and having this amount of space to operate in would not be possible without García and the other winger staying wide and stretching the opposition. Therefore, this is one way in which she has been critical to their attack this season.
Despite having a preferred way of playing, Athletic are flexible and capable of adapting to different situations. In this game, Valencia Femenino stayed further back and looked to prevent Athletic from playing long balls into the forwards, so Athletic instead kept the ball on the ground and tried to play through their opponents. To make this work, García was given a different role, positioning herself further inside the pitch and allowing the full-backs to push up and create extra numbers in the final third, as Ainhoa Moraza is doing here.
With the wings now covered, the wide forwards’ role became much freer, with their key responsibilities being to link up with those around them and look to move the ball into dangerous areas of the pitch, and García’s ability to drop into holes and work with teammates meant that she adapted well to this new role. Manchester City also like to use the half-spaces to build attacks, with their midfield three made up of one holding player who is tasked with distributing the ball around the pitch, whilst the other two get into advanced areas and support play, making it harder for opponents to defend against them.
Therefore, García’s ability to operate in these channels means that she would fit Gareth Taylor’s preferred tactics, which is one reason that signing her would not be a bad decision.
On occasion, García has been used in a much deeper role, acting as a creative playmaker rather than a forward. It was especially important to have this player in this game, with Athletic needing to move the ball up the field quickly in order to take advantage of Real Madrid Femenino’s full-backs, generally Mexico’s Kenti Robles and Spain’s Olga Carmona, advancing high up the field. Therefore, whilst long balls would have worked, they would also have risked it being lost in transition, meaning that the available spaces would not have been exploited.
As a result, García became critical in moving the ball up the field and was able to demonstrate her excellent control of the ball and ability to look for the best options higher up the pitch. Her passing accuracy for this season currently stands at an impressive 64.8%, whilst 61.9% of her passes to the final third have found their intended target, so this is clearly one of her major strengths and something that Manchester City will benefit from in their build-up play next season.
Movement around the pitch
Whilst Lucía García’s positioning has been important in helping Athletic Club Femenino to build attacks and stretch opposing defences out, it is her movement that has been really key for them, with her spatial awareness and quick changes of direction ensuring that they can keep the ball for longer and wait for the right moment to shoot at goal.
We have already mentioned that García looks to prevent opposing defences from narrowing, but she doesn’t only look to receive the ball and pass it forwards when in that role. It is actually more common to see her running through the gaps herself, providing her teammates with a passing option in the spaces behind, and she is often their target player when they are looking to create a goalscoring opportunity.
Therefore, her movement is also important in causing defenders problems, with them unsure of whether to move with her or hold their position and this can lead to unorganised lines that are easier for Athletic to break down. She anticipates play well when making these runs, often moving through gaps before her teammates have got their heads up to look for a passing option. Gareth Taylor likes players who break through defences and play on the shoulder, with England striker Ellen White a good example of how this has worked well for them, so this is another reason that García would be a good signing for them this summer.
Even though she is mainly seen on the wing, she does have the ability to cut inside and shoot at goal herself, although it is not often that she makes these inverted runs. However, she has seen the central gap in Valencia’s line here, with their momentary lapse in concentration all the invitation that she needs, and this again shows her ability to see spaces and move into them, demonstrating once again the attacking threat that has made her one of Spanish women’s football’s most highly-rated young players.
This again matches what Manchester City have tried to play with during the 2021/2022 season, especially during the last few games. In order to fix their initial goalscoring issues which led to them sitting at the wrong end of the table, they have looked to push the full-backs higher up the pitch and allow the wingers to play further inside, much like Athletic did in the previous section. The result is that England’s Lauren Hemp in particular has been a bigger handful in the goal area, whilst Chloe Kelly, who has recently returned from a long-term ACL injury, has formed a good partnership with Lucy Bronze on the right wing, so Lucía García’s ability to make these runs is another reason that she will fit well into their tactics.
It is not only movements into attacking areas that García can make though, and her excellent spatial awareness has come into play in another way this season. In this situation, Athletic have the ball on the far side of the pitch and are looking for a way to move the ball into the goal area, with García this time leading the line. Real Madrid’s defence is organised, with their players trying to keep as much distance between the central Athletic players and their goal as possible. As a result, any cross into the middle will likely be cut out and possession conceded to Real Madrid.
García has seen this and changed the direction of her movement, dropping back and into the space indicated by the yellow square. This allows a shorter pass to be made which will enable Athletic to keep possession, as well as forcing their opponents to decide between coming out to close the ball down and holding their positions to ensure that it stays in front of them.
García has only averaged 3.38 touches in the penalty area this season, which is largely because she gets into these deeper areas and looks to set up goals, rather than being the one to finish them off, so Manchester City shouldn’t expect a prolific goal scorer if they do decide to move for her signature.
Areas to work on
However, whilst this analysis has so far been full of positives, there is no doubt that Lucía García still has a number of areas that need to be improved in order for her to really fulfil her potential.
Her decision-making has been known to let her down at times, with Athletic Club Femenino sometimes getting into good areas of the pitch and then not taking their opportunities as a result. Here, the Spain international has received the ball from recently retired French midfielder Sophie Istillart, in the yellow circle, and needs to now look for an option inside the box to keep the attack alive.
However, this is not an area of the game that she is particularly strong at, as she often gets caught in two minds and takes too long on the ball. As a result, when she did look to make the cross here, the route that was initially open had been cut off by two Atlético players, one of whom is another rumoured Manchester City target, centre-back Laia Aleixandri. García only has a crossing accuracy of 25.9% this season, so it is clear that this is something that she needs to work on in order to further her career.
Poor decision-making is also to blame for this opportunity not being taken, with García once again advancing into a dangerous area of the pitch. We have already looked at examples of her good spatial awareness, but this is one example of when she didn’t look around her and it cost her team. In this situation, she has three Atlético players moving towards her, whilst Peke is alongside her and in more space with a sight at goal.
However, rather than passing towards her teammate, García shoots at goal and ends up missing the target. She has only scored once in 11 Primera División games this season, with that goal coming in their 3-2 home defeat against Levante Femenino at the beginning of November, whilst she has no assists and has only managed to get 45.8% of her shots on target. We mentioned her tendency to drop deep as a reason for her not scoring many goals, but this is another, and one that she needs to be aware of as she continues to develop as a player.
Her lack of goals is once again highlighted here, with the ball reaching her inside Barcelona Femení’s goal area. At the moment that she receives it, there is an area of the goal available for her to aim at, but she takes a heavy touch and allows Barcelona and Spain centre-back Mapi León the extra second she needs to get across and close off the gap.
Barcelona have been unbeatable this season, having won all 27 of their Primera División matches, but they didn’t have their usual defensive organisation in this game. Therefore, Athletic had an opportunity to cause them problems, but it looked as if García lacked the necessary confidence to take her chances and punish Barcelona’s hesitancy.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked in detail at Athletic Club Femenino and Spain forward Lucía García, focusing on why she has been a key player for Athletic this season and what qualities she would provide Manchester City with, were they to sign her in the summer. Gareth Taylor is likely to have another wide attacker on his shopping list this summer, having recently seen Canada forward Janine Beckie move to NWSL side Portland Thorns, and García is a versatile option who would fit his style of play.
However, whilst she undoubtedly has a big future in the game, having been a full Spain international since 2018, there are some areas of her performances that need improving before she becomes the finished product, and that is what Manchester City, and any other suitors, need to be aware of.