Toni Duggan scout report: which WSL club should the Atletico Madrid striker join?
With the WSL season having reached its conclusion, transfer rumours have begun to circle, with many clubs looking to rebuild over the summer. One player linked with a move to the English women’s top flight is Toni Duggan, the England striker who has spent the last four years in Spain’s Primera Division, firstly with Barcelona Femeni and now with Atletico Madrid Femenino. The former Everton Women and Manchester City Women player has been linked with returns to both sides, whilst Manchester United Women, Arsenal Women and newly-promoted Leicester City Women are also reportedly interested.
In this tactical analysis, we will look in greater depth at Duggan’s game, focusing on her movement, versatility and spatial awareness, seeing how she fits into those five teams’ tactics. Throughout the scout report, we will give reasons as to which club she should join and why.
Firstly, it is always worth looking at a player’s heat map, as it gives us a clearer picture of the areas of the pitch they tend to frequent.
It is clear from this that she plays mainly on the left of the attack, getting balls into the box and creating opportunities for her teammates. However, it is also worth noting that she operates in her own half at times, helping Atletico Madrid in their transitional play from the back to the front. This gives us a number of ideas to focus on in more detail in this analysis.
The first area we will look at is her spatial awareness. This is a key part of any forward’s game, because they need to get into the right areas to help the team to maximise their opportunities.
Toni Duggan’s movement into spaces ensures that her team don’t waste any open spaces. She is a reactive player, responding to her teammates’ actions, as demonstrated in this image. Atletico Madrid have possession just inside their own half, looking to move it forward, but the wide attacker, in the yellow circle, has had to drop short to offer the passing option, leaving the space open behind them. Duggan sees this and moves into that space, preventing Chelsea Women from using it to their advantage.
This ability to move into empty spaces fits the tactics of Leicester City, as their forward play tends to revolve around the attackers drifting in and out of line, with others subsequently filling those spaces. Given this, Duggan would be a good fit for the top flight newcomers, and would give them plenty of WSL experience on the side, which they are currently missing.
Her ability to play forwards is again demonstrated in this image. This time, Duggan’s teammate has come towards the wing, whilst Real Madrid Femenino are closing her down. The England striker has again reacted to the situation, making the run into the box early and giving her teammate the quick passing option in the box. Duggan possesses plenty of pace, which enables her to get into open spaces like this one so quickly, before defenders have had a chance to block her off, and this is another reason she poses such a threat in the final third.
It is not only when the ball is in the final third that Duggan moves into these spaces. Here, the ball is slightly further out, but Duggan knows that the opportunity is there, so runs behind the Logrono defence anyway. This gives her teammate a target, increasing the likelihood that the cross will be accurate when it comes in.
This is not dissimilar to the way Arsenal like to play, with Scotland international Lisa Evans, a winger by trade, occasionally playing at right-back for them, meaning balls are played into the box from further out. This image shows how Duggan would fit seamlessly into this playing style, giving Arsenal another option in the final third, but one who would suit their current tactics, without any adaptation required.
Excellent spatial awareness leads to intelligent movement around the pitch, and this is another of Toni Duggan’s strengths. The last section showed her being reactive to what her teammates were doing, but we will now show how she can be proactive too.
Duggan is on the far side of the pitch here, having moved out of the central channel. In doing so, she has drawn the Madrid CFF Femenino defenders towards her, creating the gap for her teammate to run through in the middle. We can see how the England international is in a tight space, which she has shown plenty of times that she is comfortable in, and this hold-up play is another quality she will bring to any team in the WSL looking to sign her.
It also shows how she can create opportunities for others, which is something Manchester City would be particularly interested in. The WSL runners-up play with a high forward line, with the midfielders running through the gaps between the front three and getting into the box. Whilst this is not exactly the same, it shows how Duggan can maintain possession under pressure, which brings others into the game.
Duggan has a central role in Atletico Madrid’s defence-to-attack transitions. Here, she has a teammate ahead of her, and plays the pass forwards, as the red arrow shows. However, her first thought after that is to run forward and reclaim the ball behind Real Madrid’s defence. This gets her into an excellent position to transfer it into the box, so, whilst the one-two demonstrates her passing ability and accuracy, it also shows again her excellent spatial awareness.
We noticed when studying Duggan’s heat map how she tends to play in the wide left attacking role, but also drops back into her own half at times. This image shows how she gets back to help her team transfer the ball into the attacking third, providing a link between the defence and attack when it is needed. She has a 60.3% accuracy for passes to the final third, showing that she is a key player when it comes to receiving the ball and moving it forwards.
As well as her willingness to help the team, this situation also shows another aspect of Duggan’s play. She knows that she has a Real Betis Feminas player behind her, so quickly turns and runs forward, with the Betis player having been drawn out of position and opening up the space behind. This means that Betis, who are managed by former Tottenham Hotspur Women co-head coach Juan Amoros, have one less player defensively, giving Atletico Madrid more space to play in.
Despite the obvious qualities Duggan possesses, what makes a player really appealing to managers in the modern game is versatility, as this gives them options across the team. Manchester City, for example, have lost USA midfielders Sam Mewis and Rose Lavelle to NWSL sides North Carolina Courage and OL Reign respectively, and are reportedly close to losing another USA international, defender Abby Dahlkemper, to Courage. Therefore, they will need to bring in players who can fit different positions and play in multiple systems, which is something Duggan can do.
We have already looked at Duggan’s spatial awareness in the final third, and how she tracks back in the wide channel, helping her teammates to move the ball into offensive areas of the pitch. However, this image shows how she is constantly on the front foot, staying ahead of the ball and ensuring her teammates have an option ahead of them to move the ball to, which is another thing she will bring to any WSL team who signs her.
With Real Betis crowding around the ball here, Duggan’s ability to play as a winger gives Atletico Madrid a way of moving it into open space, continuing their attack, so the England player has a crucial role in this situation. When she gets into the final third, she has a crossing accuracy of 33.3%, so it is not the strongest part of her game. However, the fact that she gets the ball into the forward areas as a result of her running allows others to get up the field and support her, making it easier for her to find them with accurate passes.
Manchester City, Arsenal and Manchester United Women all play with a front three, relying on their wingers to move the ball into the box. Manchester United will likely lose USA forwards Tobin Heath and Christen Press this summer, whilst Manchester City’s England striker Chloe Kelly, who played on the right of their forward line last season, will be sidelined with an ACL injury for the majority of this season. Therefore, both will be in need of wide attackers this summer, and Duggan would fit that profile if they chose to move for her.
Another major aspect of Manchester City’s tactical play is to position their central striker on the shoulder of the last defender, getting them running into the space behind at the right moments. England’s Ellen White, who has signed a new two-year deal at the Academy Stadium, and Bordeaux Feminines sharpshooter Khadija Shaw, who has been heavily linked with a move to the team, both have that ability, but so does Duggan. Here, she is positioned just in front of the Valencia Femenino defence, and this is a regular feature of Atletico Madrid’s play. When in these spaces, she constantly looks for gaps to run through, giving her team ways of moving the ball into the space behind the defence. Duggan gets 47.2% of her shots on target, so can generally be relied upon to make chances count when balls come her way.
If we add this to our previous analysis of her role as a left winger, we can see just how versatile a player Duggan is, and what this would add to a team looking to sign her this summer. She only has an expected goals (xG) per game value of 0.45, and a goals per game value of 0.17, but this is likely to be because she drifts around the pitch, rather than staying purely as a striker, so doesn’t score as much as others in her position.
Duggan can also play in an attacking midfield role when necessary, finding pockets of space with the ball. This image shows her in a more withdrawn role, from where she can either pass to a player ahead of her or shoot at goal. She chooses the latter here, but getting into these spaces is one way in which she would slot into Manchester United’s tactics. They tend to have England forward Ella Toone operating in these spaces, feeding balls into the forward three. With Duggan able to play in this role, or as one of those further forward, she would give them a lot of options, which could be what helps them to break into the WSL’s top three in 2021/2022.
To highlight this, she has an expected assists (xA) per game value of 0.03, but an assists per game value of 0.25, so did better than expected with this, and also has a 47.5% accuracy for passes to the final third. Given that she gets into these areas and constantly looks to set up opportunities for her teammates, this is not overly surprising.
In conclusion, this scout report has shown how Atletico Madrid and England striker Toni Duggan has the necessary qualities to fit different WSL clubs’ tactics. However, whilst we have mentioned them throughout, the question we set out at the start was which club she should join. Arsenal are the team that perhaps need her the least, because of the forwards they already have in the squad. Everton would benefit from her speed in the final third, as they will be looking to add more goals, but her positioning and versatility means she would bring more to Manchester City and Manchester United, as both need reinforcements in that area this summer, but need to sign players like Duggan who have the correct attributes to improve their current options.