Lucy Graham at Everton Women 2019/2020 – scout report
Everton Women have been one of the busiest teams in the summer transfer window, bringing in plenty of new players. However, one who was already there, Scotland midfielder Lucy Graham, could be their most important player next season. In this tactical analysis, we will look at how Graham helps her team’s tactics in a variety of ways, both in attack and in defence, before looking at her statistics from last season to identify some positives and negatives of her game.
We will begin this analysis by first exploring Graham’s movement around the pitch, which is what enables her to get into the right spaces. This comes from her spatial awareness, which means she knows where to be to help her team.
Graham is part of Everton’s attack here, and we can see how the ball is on the far side of the pitch. Tottenham Hotspur Women’s defenders have all moved to stop Everton’s front players from getting the ball, but this has opened up the space behind them, where Graham is. Therefore, this is an example of how she moves into the right areas, and how that creates options, even when the opposing defence is marking the more obvious passing options in the box. Everton therefore have a player here who can operate as a number 10, behind a striker or striker partnership, and this gives them options when deciding on their attacking tactics.
Here, we see another way that Graham moves into spaces, giving her team a passing option. In this image, Everton have the ball in their defensive third, but Reading Women are making the pitch as small as possible for them. Everton want to pass the ball down the line, however this will not help Everton to keep the ball. Graham is running behind her teammate, as you can see, and this does two things for Everton.
Firstly, it allows them to have another passing option further up the pitch, potentially opening up the opportunity of a longer pass forward. Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, Graham’s movement to become the furthest player forwards means that the Reading Women defenders will likely go with her, as defenders instinctively want to mark the player posing the most danger to their goal. That would then give her teammate more space to then receive and control the ball, before making her own pass. Therefore, again, we see how Graham’s movement helps her team in possession.
Here, we see another way that Graham creates a passing option with her spatial awareness. We can see how Liverpool Women’s defensive setup, designed so that they cover as much ground as possible, preventing Everton from getting behind them. However, the downside this structure is that it leaves gaps open between the players, and we can see how Graham (circled), has got between the Liverpool players, and is looking to run behind them. The ball is currently on the far side, so that is the natural focus of the defenders. Therefore, Graham is able to move beyond the defence, offering her team a passing option in the space.
The next point to make about her movement is that she often plays in the gap, as you might expect from a midfielder. In the last point, we talked about how she moved beyond her teammate to get forward; the first image here is the opposite, with Graham receiving the ball from her teammate in a central position. She then turns and passes forwards here, showing her instinct to always play forwards, helping her team to attack up the pitch. Graham here is operating in a box-to-box role, and this is something she can do next season, linking the defence and attack together.
The second image shows us another way that Graham links up play. Everton have reclaimed possession following a corner, and have a counter-attacking opportunity. We can see how Graham has turned her body, and her first thought is to get the ball forward as quick as possible. Therefore, again, we see how she plays in the gap, linking up her team’s defensive and attacking aspects. What we can say from these images, therefore, is that her sense of positioning is excellent, and helps her team to create opportunities all over the pitch.
The final point is that she often stays out of the box when Everton have a corner. This allows her to take up positions such as the one in this image. Reading are looking to clear the ball from their half, but Graham has gained possession in a deeper position, and is now able to pick out a pass to a teammate, helping to restart her team’s attack. This is another good thing that comes from Graham’s ability to play in a box-to-box role, as it gives her good passing vision, which means she can pick out a teammate in these situations.
We have seen how Lucy Graham’s movement creates chances for Everton Women in different ways, and therefore how influential she is to their play. Now, we will go into the attacking and defending parts of her game in more detail.
Firstly, with her attacking, we reiterate how Graham gets into the right areas when her team are looking to move the ball forwards.
The first image shows Graham getting beyond the last defender, with her midfield teammate looking to pass the ball into this area. Therefore, her movement gives Everton options, as she anticipates where her teammates will play the ball. Graham moves through two Reading defenders, again showing that she knows where the space is, increasing the threat she poses to defences. This quick movement can catch them out, and is therefore a positive for Everton to have in their attack.
The second image shows how Graham has again moved into the space, as the central striker in this situation. The ball is on the nearside, but because Everton have split at the front, Graham fills the central gap, offering a passing option for her teammate. Her natural pace means she gets into these areas before they are closed off, giving Everton a constant chance of scoring.
This wide structure that Everton have formed means that the opposing defence have to split, so that they don’t become surrounded and isolated. That therefore creates gaps, and you can see already how the Scotland international is looking to run through one of these, aiming to meet the ball when it comes into the box.
It is worth mentioning that one of Everton’s new signings, Denmark forward Nicoline Sorensen, likes to play as a wide striker, so it is probable that Graham’s ability to fill these gaps will come into use next season even more to enable Sorensen to do this.
In this image, we see how Graham plays in attacking positions when in possession of the ball. Again, one of her best characteristics is her spatial awareness, and here she knows she has no room to get forward, but her now former teammate, England striker Chloe Kelly, who moved to Manchester City Women this summer, is in space and can shoot at goal. Therefore, Graham plays the ball through the narrow channel between the Reading defenders, as the blue arrow shows, and this opens up a shooting option for Everton. Previously, we had only seen Graham’s attacking ability without the ball, but now we see she is just as good with the ball too.
The final image in this section shows Graham’s versatility, and ability to play wherever she is needed. We can see how she is crossing the ball into the box from the far side of the pitch, but what we can take from this is that Graham is not constricted to one role in the team, or one position. She has the ability and freedom to float around the pitch, affecting her team’s attacking play in many areas, making her an even more dangerous opponent, because opposing teams don’t know where she will pop up next on the pitch. It also means she can pass, cross, or run into spaces to receive the ball, and this is why she is such a crucial player for Everton Women to have in their team.
If we turn our attention to how Graham helps her team’s defence out now, we can make some interesting points.
Here, we see how Everton Women have the ball in their own half of the pitch, looking to play it out of danger. Liverpool have surrounded them, cutting off all available options, so Lucy Graham (circled) runs back to offer a passing option. Whilst she does have a Liverpool defender behind her, she still has enough time to receive the ball and turn around with it. Her runs back in these situations are important, because they allow Everton to keep possession in dangerous situations. They also possibly drag defenders towards the ball, because they will follow Graham, and that could then open up a passing option somewhere else on the pitch. Therefore, we see how Graham not only helps her team in the attacking third, but also in the defensive third too.
The second defensive thing that Graham does well is to fill gaps in Everton’s defensive line. In both of these images, you can see how she is positioned in front of an opponent, meaning the opposition cannot get the ball behind the Everton defence in either situation.
The first image shows how Brighton and Hove Albion Women have the ball on the nearside of the pitch, looking to cross it in, but Everton are closing down the ball well. However, because they have been drawn across to close down the ball, there is a gap in the middle, and Brighton have an attacker in that area already. Therefore, Graham moves into that gap, and Brighton now cannot attack through that space.
In the second image, we see again how Bristol City Women have the ball, and are looking to attack from a wide position. This means that Everton have been drawn across, and a gap has been left in the central area. Like before with Brighton, Bristol already have an attacker in that area, ready to receive the ball, and, whilst there is an Everton defender marking her, she is behind the attacker, and therefore would not be able to stop her receiving the ball – only turning and shooting from it. Graham’s movement to position herself in front of the Bristol attacker seals her off completely, and, with the players as they are, Bristol now have to play backwards, giving Everton more of a chance of intercepting the ball and launching a counter-attack.
Therefore, we can see how Graham is an important player to have in these situations, because her aforementioned spatial awareness when she is attacking also helps her to position herself well in defensive situations. It also helps that she likes to get into free spaces when attacking, and so she knows where opposing attackers will want to move into. That then means that those opponents are closed off, making it harder for them to attack.
The final two images in this section show us how Graham uses her pace to close down opponents, regardless of where they are on the pitch. In both images, she has seen where the ball is, and is making any available space that her opponent has as small as possible.
In the first image, this comes from a throw-in, and Graham’s movement means that Brighton have to throw the ball long, because the player in the middle now can’t turn with the ball. A longer throw means that there is more chance that Everton will intercept the ball and clear it, so that is why Graham’s movement here is significant.
The second image shows Bristol defender Gemma Evans in possession, looking to move out of her half, but Graham has come across and closed off the space. Therefore, Evans’ options are now limited, and there is more of a chance she will give the ball away, which would allow Everton to get on the attack.
Whilst this point may seem small, it only comes because of the freedom Graham has on the pitch, and her awareness and pace to see where the ball is and get to it, and again, this is why she is such an important player in this Everton team, and a key part of their tactics.
If we look at Graham’s statistics from last season, then we can identify her key strengths and weaknesses. Firstly, she exceeded both her season’s expected goal and expected assist values (2.06 and 0.37 respectively), scoring four and assisting two, so we can see how much of a threat she poses, and that, as well as making passes and creating opportunities, she also scores goals from midfield, adding an extra element to Everton’s attacking tactics. In fact, she got 43.5% of her shots on target, which again shows you how she poses a threat to opponents when in key areas.
The other key statistics for Graham are that she has a passing accuracy of 72.8%, and a crossing accuracy of 50%, and we have seen how she does occasionally move to the wings and make a cross. For a central midfielder to have a crossing accuracy this high is a good sign, and shows how confident she is with the ball, regardless of where she is on the pitch with it. Her passing accuracy is also important, because this is her main role on the team; moving the ball forward into dangerous areas. If she can keep this up, Everton will have a constant source of ammunition for their new strikers next season.
One area she can improve on is her through balls, with the accuracy on these only 33.3%. For a player who features in the number 10 position, she needs to be able to play balls through defences to attackers, ensuring that Everton have every opportunity to score goals from good situations. However, she is still only 23 years old, and with the qualities she already has in her game, she is clearly a very good player. Given it was her first season for Everton, the statistics show that she has been a good signing for them, after scoring 12 times for Bristol City Women the season before. If she can work on this small thing, then there is no reason why she can’t get even better, and Everton may even be threatening the top four next season.
In conclusion, we have seen how Scotland midfielder Lucy Graham is influential in all aspects of Everton Women’s game. This scout report has looked at how her movement helps the team, before looking at how she features in their attacking and defending tactics in their games. We have also looked at the data, seeing where her strengths are, and also identifying one area where she can make some improvements. Overall though, with the new players that we know are coming in next season, married with Graham in the midfield, Everton could be a team to watch in 2020/2021.