Poppy Pattinson at Bristol City Women 2019/2020 – scout report
It has been a difficult season for Bristol City Women, with them only surviving relegation from the WSL by three points, and finishing third from bottom. This scout report will look at one of the players who proved to be a key player for them; left-back Poppy Pattinson. Since joining from Manchester City Women back in 2018, she has made 25 appearances at the Stoke Gifford Stadium, but only a handful of those have been this season, as a foot injury kept her out until December. However, in her short time there, the 20-year-old has established herself as one of the best left-backs in the league. She left the club at the end of her contract this summer, and so is currently a free agent.
As she is a defender by trade, we will first see how she plays in defence. We will do this by looking at three things; how she covers spaces, how she chases balls down, and how she works with the back line.
Here, we see how Chelsea Women are attacking forwards, and Jessica Carter in the middle is looking to run through into the box to meet the ball when it comes into that area. However, Pattinson has seen this, and has moved to cut her off. It is her ability to see spaces to enables her to ensure that they are occupied.
This is something we will look at much more as the examples go on, but essentially what it means is that Bristol have a better chance of winning games when Pattinson is on the pitch. Had Carter been allowed to get through here, it is probable that she would have scored, because Bristol‘s defence has not been overly strong this season. Therefore, with Pattinson covering these areas and making these small movements, she stops opposing attackers from scoring.
If we look at another example of how she covers spaces, we see how she adjusts her run to ensure that Chelsea can’t get behind the defence.
Here, we see how the ball is on the wing, and Bristol have a player who has chased down the player and ball so that they can’t cross it into the box, as the black square shows. Pattinson is normally the left-back, but she uses her footballing intelligence to run into the space and become a centre back, as shown by the arrow, and this closes off the gap that had appeared when the first player had moved out to the wing.
This is a crucial role to play, and what it shows us is that she can see on a pitch where she needs to be, and can move into those areas. This makes her a utility player of sorts, in that she can and will play wherever she needs to be.
Here, we see how Pattinson has moved into the area where the ball (marked by the black square) is heading. Pattinson knows that if she doesn’t move to head the ball away, Reading Women in this example will have a chance to get the ball into the box behind the defence. We can already see that there is one Reading player moving down the wing, and this therefore shows us again how Pattinson is a hugely important piece in the Bristol defensive jigsaw. In the 2019/2020 season, she won 80% of her aerial duels, showing how important this was to Bristol’s defensive efforts.
In all three of these examples, we have seen how her movement into spaces has helped to ensure that Bristol City Women’s opponents are not able to get the ball behind the defence, where they are vulnerable. This is perhaps one reason why, in the first half of the season, Bristol struggled. Given they have only won one game in the five since Pattinson returned, this is perhaps not the only thing that was wrong, but had Pattinson been able to play for the whole season, it is possible that Bristol might have been in a slightly better position in the WSL.
The second defensive point that we need to look at is her ability to chase balls down when Bristol’s opponents are attacking.
Here, the ball is in the corner of the pitch, and Poppy Pattinson has run out from the defence to meet it. Her and a teammate have ensured together that the space their opponents have is minimal, and the chances of it being run out of play have now increased. There is space between them and the other defenders in the middle of the box, which would normally be a problem. Later on, we will see how it can be. However, in this case, because the ball is in the corner, and there is no chance of it being passed into the middle, it isn’t so much of a problem.
This example shows us something different, because it comes from when Bristol have lost possession in attack. We see how Pattinson has moved from attacker to defender as soon as the ball has been lost, and is now chasing down the ball to stop it going forwards. Given she is the team’s left-back, you would normally expect her to run backwards and fill the gap on the wing. However, because she advances forwards, she stops the ball going into the central spaces.
What we can see from both of these examples is that Pattinson knows when to chase the ball down, and close down the space. Her pace and athleticism allow her to get to the ball quickly, ensuring that the opposing player has no time to think when they receive the ball. Pattinson has won 17.1% of her duels this season, showing how good she is at closing down players and winning the ball back for her team. This is a crucial quality to have, and is especially important to a team like Bristol City Women, who have struggled defensively this season, conceding 38 goals, the most in the league in 2019/2020.
Finally in our analysis of Pattinson’s defensive play, we will look at how she forms part of the back four.
Here, the ball has been lost again, and Pattinson sees where the ball is and rushes back to help stop it going too far forward.
Again, her pace and positioning ensures that she wins the ball and stops the attack, and you can see how she works with the defence to ensure that there is a solid defensive line which the opponents are unable to breach. The fact that it stretches across the pitch, with the gaps between the players all relatively even, adds to this, although sadly this defensive strength has not been present throughout the whole season, hence the amount of goals they have conceded.
What we have shown in this section is just how important Pattinson is to Bristol defensively. We have seen how she closes down the ball and opponents, and how she fills the gaps, but the most important thing that we have analysed is that she knows when to do each one. This is the main reason that she has become arguably one of the best left-backs in the league.
Now we will turn our focus towards Pattinson’s attacking traits, which offer us another view on her on-field play.
If we look at her heat map, we see how Poppy Pattinson plays anywhere on the left-hand side. This proves to us just how far up the pitch she gets when attacking. There aren’t many markings on it because she has only played five games, but it sets us up nicely for looking at what she does when playing higher up the pitch.
In these two examples, we see how Pattinson has advanced into a position where she can cross the ball into the box. We see how she becomes almost the furthest player forward at times, which is essential to Bristol’s attacking tactics. It means that they have a constant source of balls into the box. Bristol play in a two-striker formation, with Charlie Wellings and Ebony Salmon the two forwards in the team on most occasions. Pattinson’s positioning means that neither of those two has to drift wide, and can stay central, increasing the threat Bristol pose in the central areas. Given they only scored nine goals last season in their 14 matches, this seemed to be a crucial and thought-out tactic once Pattinson was able to play again.
If you still doubt that this tactic is important or effective, then your proof is in the second image. Pattinson has just crossed the ball high into the box, where it will be nodded back across goal and scored. By taking up the position on the edge of the box here, she has ensured her team has the best possible opportunity to score, and here it allowed them to do just that. In fact, 25% of Pattinson’s crosses were accurate in the 2019/2020 season, and she has an overall passing accuracy of 73.4%, showing how important and precise she is, and therefore what this adds to Bristol’s attacking play.
The other thing that Pattinson’s forward advances meant for Bristol City Women was that they took defenders away from those strikers, as we see below.
In these two examples, both against Liverpool Women, we see how Pattinson has run down the wing with the ball in her possession. This drags defenders away from the central areas, and in both examples you can see how two Liverpool defenders, marked by the yellow circles, have moved over to Pattinson. This demonstrates how much of a threat Pattinson poses when in these areas, which we have already analysed. However, it also allows the central Bristol attackers, Wellings and Salmon, and occasionally Yana Daniels as well, to then have more space to operate in, and increases their chances of scoring. You can see in both examples how there is now a central attacker looking to use the space and move forward to receive the ball from Pattinson’s inevitable cross.
Their number of goals scored perhaps show that these tactics weren’t overly successful, but what they have done is to show Pattinson as a creative, quick attacking left-back, which is what she is.
The final example in this section is below.
We have finished with this example because it shows the transition from defence to attack for Bristol City Women. You can see how Pattinson has tracked back to help out, but is now almost playing as a left wing-back. She is on the front foot, and can move forwards to help out wherever she needs to be.
This is how she likes to play. Her natural pace and eye for space, as has been demonstrated in this article so far, allows her to help her team out, and we have seen in this section how she does that.
We have analysed her strengths, and now we will look briefly at one area that she can improve her game in.
We have talked about how she likes to close balls down when defending, and whilst in the examples we showed previously, it didn’t matter that she left gaps, in these examples it did.
Here, against Reading Women, Pattinson has drifted out to the wing to close down the space, but has left the gap available for Reading to run through, and to get in behind the Bristol defence. The gap that has been created is shown by the red line.
In this image, we see what happens when these gaps are left. Reading have moved a player between Pattinson and the other defenders, leaving the Bristol left-back isolated. Reading are now able to move the ball behind her, and eventually get it into the box to shoot from. You can see how Pattinson (in the red circle) is trying to get back and defend, but she isn’t able to get back quick enough.
Therefore, whilst we have seen the positives of her chasing down the ball and closing the space off, this is what happens when it goes wrong, and it’s just something she needs to look at to develop her game and become an even better player.
Potential new clubs
Poppy Pattinson left Bristol City Women at the end of the 2019/2020 season, and is currently a free agent. Therefore, we shall use this last section to look at two clubs that could look to sign her.
Firstly, Manchester United Women have been linked with the former Manchester City Women and Sunderland Ladies defender, and some of their fan forums in particular have seen fans hoping the club signs her. She would give Manchester United added competition at left-back, and we have seen how she would be able to stretch the play and create opportunities. She is certainly good enough and talented enough, as we have demonstrated, to sign for a top club in the WSL. However, to do this, she would need to improve on her goal scoring record, as she didn’t score at all for Bristol City Women in her two years there. Top clubs would expect all players to contribute in front of goal, especially if the strikers were having a poor game.
The one club that should be looking at her if they aren’t already is Birmingham City Women. They have recently lost USA international left-back Adrienne Jordan, who has moved back to the NWSL to play for OL Reign in her home country. Jordan was an attacking left-back, who loved to run up and down the wing and play balls into the box as well as shooting herself. Pattinson is of the same mould, as we have shown. She likes to run up and down the wing, making good transitions from defence to attack and back to defence. She also chases balls down and fills spaces; another thing Jordan did well. Therefore, with Pattinson available on a free transfer as it stands, Birmingham would be wise to look at her, as she would more than fill the hole left by Jordan’s departure.
To conclude, from what we have seen in this article, there is little doubting that Poppy Pattinson is one of the best left-backs in the WSL, and there is no doubting that she has the qualities to play for a top side in the league. We have seen how she affects her team’s tactics in defence and attack, and also suggested some improvements she could make to her individual play to help her develop as a player. Wherever she does end up next season, that team will have signed a really exciting and talented player.