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Sandy Baltimore at PSG Feminine 2021/2022 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

Sandy Baltimore: Why the France forward “well on the way to stardom” has been irreplacable for PSG this season – scout report

French women’s football is currently as good as it ever has been, with plenty of up-and-coming players establishing themselves both in the Division 1 Feminine and on the international stage. One of those, who has been starring for PSG Feminine this season, is forward Sandy Baltimore. She ordinarily plays as a left-sided wide forward in their preferred 4-3-3 system (which they have used 73% of the time so far), but she also contributes to her side’s attacking play in many other ways too. In this tactical analysis, we will look in detail at Baltimore’s game, focusing on her different roles during matches, her spatial awareness and how it fits into PSG’s attacking tactics, and her ability to link up with teammates to create goalscoring opportunities in tight games.

Different roles in the team

The first thing to analyse is the variety of roles that Sandy Baltimore can play in. As mentioned, she is primarily a wide forward, but can also cut inside to support teammates in the final third when needed, which is why she has become such an integral player for PSG Feminine this season.

Sandy Baltimore at PSG Feminine 2021/2022 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Sandy Baltimore mainly plays as a winger, and is comfortable when under pressure from opponents.

When on the wing, she shows a good awareness of what is happening inside the box, and has a good habit of delivering balls at the right moment. Here, in PSG’s recent Champions League meeting with WFC Zhytlobud-1 Kharkiv, Baltimore has been closed down by one of their defenders. However, this is where one of her key qualities comes into being, as, instead of rushing the cross, or playing a pass back to one of her teammates, she looks to throw her marker off with quick movements, creating a gap to enable her to make the cross.

When she does manage to catch the defender out, Canada forward Jordyn Huitema, in the yellow circle, is ready to meet her cross, converting the chance into PSG’s opening goal against the Ukrainian champions. Baltimore is comfortable in tight spaces such as this, having won 40.4% of her offensive duels in all competitions this season, and defenders being drawn out towards her means that there is more space in the middle for PSG’s central attackers to occupy, so it benefits them for her to be in these positions.

The France international has so far registered eight assists this season, with an average of 0.61 per game, which demonstrates the threat she poses when in these areas and how her teammates have a consistent and reliable source of balls into the box, helping them to be a more productive attacking side.

Sandy Baltimore at PSG Feminine 2021/2022 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Sandy Baltimore is capable of playing a supportive role when needed.

Her good positioning can also be seen in this image, with PSG counter-attacking against domestic rivals Lyon Feminin. Lyon have plenty of players back to prevent the three central PSG attackers from finding a way through, but Baltimore’s run up the field is the key to unlocking them here. She initially stayed back once the ball had gone forwards, but has now taken up a supportive role and maintained PSG’s width, which has forced at least one of the Lyon players to stay close to her, whilst the other defenders inside have to be wary of not allowing her too much space to run into, should the ball come her way. As a result, they are forced to spread out more, which opens more gaps in the middle for the central attackers to exploit. Therefore, even when not directly involved in the attack, Baltimore still plays a key role in breaking opposing defences down.

Sandy Baltimore at PSG Feminine 2021/2022 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
When the full-backs advance high up the pitch, Sandy Baltimore can play in a more central role.

One reason for PSG’s quality in offensive play this season has been their attacking full-backs, with Canada’s Ashley Lawrence and France’s Sakina Karchaoui often finding themselves in line with the forwards when the team are in the opposing half. Here, Lawrence has the ball almost on the goal line, and is now looking to move it into the goal area for a teammate to get on the end of. Baltimore, who has been given the freedom to play more centrally by Lawrence getting up the field, positions herself in a way that provides her teammate with this option, and this highlights how she can play centrally as well as on the wings. Having this level of versatility is important in the modern game, and the fact that Baltimore can fill in wherever required makes her a much more attractive player for coaches to have in their matchday squads.

The other thing to look at here is the effect that Baltimore’s positioning has had on the Bordeaux Feminines defenders, as two of them have had to mark the France international, meaning that only one is closing down Lawrence, making it a simple 1-v-1 situation for the right-back to deal with. Therefore, even when not in her usual role, Baltimore plays a major part in her team’s ability to create goalscoring opportunities, making her a useful player to have around.

Spatial awareness

However, whilst being able to play in different roles is important, the most notable quality that Sandy Baltimore brings to PSG Feminine is an excellent spatial awareness, which helps them to access dangerous areas of the pitch and ask questions of opposing defences. Again, this has been a key reason for them being so productive in the final third this season.

Sandy Baltimore at PSG Feminine 2021/2022 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Sandy Baltimore sees spaces and keeps her distance from the ball, stretching the play.

PSG were dominant against Kharkiv, and Baltimore’s inclusion in the team was a major factor in the final score reading 6-0 to the French champions. What she is very good at is keeping her distance from the ball, which ensures that her teammates can stretch the play across the pitch; a key coaching point in any team’s attacking play. Kharkiv’s defensive structure is very narrow and high up the pitch, meaning that there is always plenty of space available alongside and behind them, and a better ball through from Norwegian summer signing Celin Bizet Ildhusoy would have given Baltimore a shot on goal.

As it turned out, the angle for the pass was too tight, meaning that Kharkiv were able to win the ball and clear their lines, but the point here is that Baltimore doesn’t get drawn towards the ball, as some attackers might be tempted to do, and instead stays further out to make the pitch as big as possible, giving her team a better chance of creating a shot on goal.

Sandy Baltimore at PSG Feminine 2021/2022 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Sandy Baltimore anticipates play well and moves before teammates turn to pass to her.

This works lengthways too, as this image shows. PSG don’t hang around when playing the ball from defence to attack, with each player required to play their part in the chain up the field. Poland defender Paulina Dudek tends to dribble out from the back before passing it to a teammate, but has on this occasion played it up to Karchaoui early. However, before the left-back has received the ball, Baltimore has already made a run towards the Breidablik goal area, looking to put as much distance between her and the ball as possible. Icelandic champions Breidablik proved to be strong defensively against PSG, and continually made it difficult for them to get into dangerous spaces, and this is highlighted by a defender tracking Baltimore closely here.

However, we know that the France forward is calm under pressure and has the capability to play her way out of tight spaces, so, even though she is being marked, her teammates know that they can still get the ball to her and rely on her to create a chance in the final third, which was essential in PSG winning this particular game.

Sandy Baltimore at PSG Feminine 2021/2022 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Sandy Baltimore sees spaces and gives her teams passing options, leading to chances at goal being created.

We have seen one example of PSG not taking advantage of the open spaces left open by Kharkiv, but this image shows another time when they did. This time, Baltimore has come inside the pitch a little more, making it easier for Switzerland and former Chelsea Women forward Ramona Bachmann to play the ball into the area behind, marked by the red square, and this leads to Baltimore scoring PSG’s third goal of the game.

This situation came through Baltimore anticipating what Bachmann would look to do, and angling her body to make the run early, ensuring that the ball could travel through the gap before Kharkiv knew what was happening. Baltimore has so far scored four goals in all competitions this season, at an average of 0.3 per game, and has a shooting accuracy of 45.5%. Whilst these may not be as high as we perhaps expected, we need to remember that she primarily plays as a wide forward, so scoring goals is not usually her job unless she happens to be inside the box. Therefore, with that in consideration, these are not bad values for her to have at this stage of the season.

Sandy Baltimore at PSG Feminine 2021/2022 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Sandy Baltimore gets into areas where she can open up options for her team and cause opponents problems.

Even when defences are set up with more organisation, Baltimore still helps her teammates to find a way through them. Here, in France’s 2023 World Cup qualifying group match against Kazakhstan, she has positioned herself between the three defenders closest to the ball, giving her teammates a way of moving it into the space behind. France have slightly favoured a 4-3-3 formation in 2021, having used it in 40% of their games, and this has helped Baltimore to play with the same quality and confidence for her country as she has for her club, because she doesn’t have to adapt to different systems or tactics.

Kazakhstan have done well to slow France down here, and, had Baltimore not seen a way of providing a passing option, it is likely that France would have simply passed backwards and looked to build in another area of the pitch. Therefore, her awareness has again been crucial in helping to keep her team’s attacking momentum going, and this image demonstrates how she has the same importance for her country as well as for her club.

Link-up play

The final aspect of Sandy Baltimore’s play to examine in this scout report is how she features in PSG Feminine’s link-up play, again helping them to find ways through opponents who have set up to keep them out.

Sandy Baltimore at PSG Feminine 2021/2022 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Sandy Baltimore plays a key role in her side’s overloads on the wings when facing a defensive opponent.

This was particularly important against Dijon Feminine, who play a defensive style of football that involves having two clear lines of players behind the ball. These tactics force attackers to use the wings, where it is ordinarily easier for the defenders to block potential crosses before they come into the box. However, this is only the case when there are one or two players working together, because the defending full-back and winger can mark one attacker each and close off all the available passing options. PSG therefore used at least three players in these situations, making it harder for Dijon to win the ball back in the same way.

The area of the team that helped the most in this was the midfield, where PSG have had a good balance this season. Former Barcelona Femeni midfielder Kheira Hamraoui has operated mostly as the holding player, whilst fellow France midfielder Grace Geyoro and Germany international Sara Dabritz have been the creative attacking midfielders in the team, supporting the forwards and helping to overload the final third. Their freer roles have also meant that they can move out to the wings to help find ways through opposing defences, creating this numerical superiority for PSG and making it harder for Dijon to close them down.

Focusing on Baltimore, the forward run from Karchaoui has allowed her to move inside and get into the half-space, which is where there is a gap in Dijon’s defensive line. She now has two options, as she can either move through this space with the ball, or she can play it behind for Karchaoui to run onto, so there are different ways that PSG can turn this attack into a shot at goal. Whilst the success of these moments is more of a collective effort, Baltimore is still a key part of its success, as her positioning was essential in PSG having the ability to expose the gap in the defence, and her passing accuracy of 76.9% indicates that she is a player her team can rely on to make these key passes and set up chances.

Sandy Baltimore at PSG Feminine 2021/2022 - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
In tight spaces, Sandy Baltimore is just as important in breaking opposing defences down.

However, whilst the last image showed PSG’s link-up play when they had space to move around in, this one highlights how they can link up just as effectively when the opponents, in this case Bordeaux, have set up more compactly in the middle. Karchaoui has this time passed the ball to Baltimore before running inside the pitch, with the forward feeding the ball back into her at the right time.

This brings several elements of Baltimore’s play together, including her passing quality and ability to play in different roles, as she sets this chance up instead of taking the ball and shooting at goal herself, knowing that Karchaoui is in the better position to take the shot. What makes this even more notable is that this effort proved to be the only goal in this game, so it again demonstrates how Baltimore’s awareness (another thing we have looked at in detail) can prove to be decisive in difficult matches, and this is yet another reason that PSG have come to rely on her so much.

Conclusion

In conclusion, we have seen in this analysis that Sandy Baltimore is a key player for PSG Feminine, and, as some analysts have noted, she is well on her way to stardom. It is crucial to remember that she is still just 21 years old, so still has so much ahead of her, and she will only get better as her career progresses. There are elements that she can keep working on, such as her crossing, which can lack composure at times (she has an accuracy of just 31%), but her overall play is always enjoyable to watch, and, as this article has shown numerous times, she is important in so many different match situations.

It is worth mentioning that PSG have qualified as the top side in their Champions League group, with five wins from five and only a home match against Breidablik to come, whilst Real Madrid Femenino, who upset Manchester City Women in the final qualifying round, are six points behind them. This points difference shows how PSG this season have looked really dangerous, and are a team that no-one will want to draw in the knockout stages, and Baltimore’s consistently good form in attack is a major reason for that.