Aston Villa Women 2019/2020: Attack analysis – scout report
In this second part of our look at Aston Villa Women, who have been promoted to the WSL following Liverpool Women’s relegation, we will look at their attack, focusing on the tactics they use in it. This scout report will look at how they create shooting options, how they use their full-backs high up the pitch, how they keep their wingers wide to ensure they control the channels, and how their front three work together, with all helping them to finish top of the Women’s Championship before it was ended prematurely.
Firstly, in this tactical analysis, we will look at how they create options to shoot at goal from.
Here, in the game against Leicester City Women, you can see how the ball has been taken wide by the Aston Villa player in possession, which has forced the Leicester defenders wide as well. The space that has been created in the foreground is now being occupied by another Aston Villa player.
This situation comes because of Aston Villa’s tactics in attack. Despite playing with a lone striker in former Leicester striker Melissa Johnson, they tend to allow their wingers and midfielders to also get forward and use spaces to create passing options, which is what we are seeing here.
The other thing to mention, which is perhaps more obvious to say, is that with the ball being moved to the wing and two Leicester players going with it, chances are that it will not be able to advance too much further, and so the second Villa player moving into the central space offers the passing option to ensure that the attack can continue.
This is the opposite of what we saw previously, with the ball in the middle this time, and surrounded by Leicester players, and the Aston Villa player in the space is on the far side, on the wing. With the previous example, we mentioned how the wingers are encouraged to move forwards and offer a threat from wider areas, and this is how that happens. Aston Villa’s tactics of playing with a single striker means this is necessary, as otherwise the ball would be stuck in these central areas, and Aston Villa would not be able to move the ball into any space.
The second part of this analysis will look at how Aston Villa’s attack starts from the back, in that they push their full-backs high up the pitch to aid the other players in attack.
In last week’s piece, when we looked at Aston Villa Women’s defence, we saw how they only leave their two centre backs behind, and they still advance to the centre line. Therefore, we can now add to that picture by looking at how the full-backs get forward. In these two examples, its not so clear, but what we can see from the lines is that the full-backs are further forward than the centre backs, who are split apart, almost across the pitch. This is the reason that the full-backs can get higher up the pitch; their starting positions are being covered by the centre backs.
If we think about how the full-backs are playing further up the pitch, we see how this then leads to Aston Villa’s wing play, and also leads to us looking at how they keep the width even when attacking centrally, and therefore we see how pushing the full-backs further up affects their play.
In these examples, we see how Aston Villa Women have players close to the goal line, but positioned tightly against the side line too. The first example shows the effect of the full-backs pushing up the pitch. To explain this, if we consider that the centre backs are stretching across the pitch, and the full-backs are therefore playing higher up it, then the obvious knock-on effect of that is that the wingers will play either higher still, or will be able to cut inside much more, increasing the number of attackers in the central channel.
That is what the second example shows us. The full-back and winger work together in the wide channel, and because of the full-back staying wide, the winger is able to move infield, as they have done. The two Charlton Athletic players in between the full-back and winger have focused on the full-back, who is on the outside, and that has meant that space has been created behind them, where the winger is. Therefore, the winger can run inside and join the striker, increasing Aston Villa’s central threat.
Wingers keeping width
The last section looked at how the full-backs and wingers interact in the wide areas; now we will look at how the wingers keep the width by themselves.
In both of these examples, we see how Aston Villa Women have players close to the side lines, and this is so that they can stretch the play, and force wide gaps to appear in the opponents’ defensive line. In the first example, we see this very clearly, because in the centre of the Charlton Athletic defence, there are clear gaps between the defenders, and the two central Villa attackers can run through them when the ball reaches them in those areas. This is reminiscent of how Arsenal Women’s front line operates, with Vivianne Miedema operating centrally, and Lisa Evans in particular drawing the opposing defenders apart in order to allow the likes of Jordan Nobbs to run through and shoot at goal.
The player circled is also in space, which shows you how they ensure that the width and available space in the wide areas is never left unoccupied. This also works in that the winger is an obvious passing option for Aston Villa to get the ball forward to. This is because, if you look at where the other attackers are, then you can see how the gaps are present, but the Aston Villa players don’t have enough space to collect the ball, turn and run through them. Therefore, by playing the ball into the winger instead, the opposing defenders will naturally want to drift over towards the ball; that will then give Villa the space to make their runs beyond the defence to meet the ball in the box.
In the second example, it is a little different, because this situation has come directly from a corner, but we can still see the same thing happening. The majority of players are in the box, but Aston Villa also have a player on either side of the central group, occupying the space and stretching the play. In this example, the ball is not going to reach these two wide players, but the point is still the same; if the ball did make it to either circled player, it would create gaps in the middle that Aston Villa could then exploit.
The reason that Aston Villa want to have these central gaps is because, like all teams, their main goal threat lies in that area, in striker Melissa Johnson. She scored eight goals this season and assisted two more, and alongside wingers Emma Follis, who scored five and assisted five, and Shania Hayles, who scored six and assisted one, they proved to be a force to be reckoned with in the Championship in 2019/2020. Therefore, with this spread of goals, it seems obvious that the wingers were able to cut inside and score, as we have already shown.
The below example shows us how Johnson in particular benefits from the wingers stretching the play in wide positions.
Here, we see clearly how Aston Villa form up in attack. Johnson is positioned in the middle, with the two wingers either side of her. This increases the surface area of the attack, as they cover more area when in these distant positions. You can see how Charlton have three defenders in the central channel, looking to block any run that Johnson makes to try and get on the end of a ball in that area. However, because they are all packed around the Aston Villa striker, this leaves the two wingers open. This attacking formation is therefore a big reason why the wingers have such good goal and assist stats.
Therefore, what we have seen from this section is how the wingers operate, in that the spaces in the wide areas are occupied at all times, either by the wingers or the full-backs when they have advanced forwards to join the attacks. Now, we will finish off this analysis by looking at how the front three work together, which has been a major part of Aston Villa’s successful promotion bid this season.
The forward line
In this section, we will analyse two situations; how Aston Villa Women play in a wide attacking formation, and how they play when it becomes more narrow, and we will look at the benefits of each one.
Here, we see how Aston Villa are attacking in a wide formation, with the two Charlton players ahead of them both crowding around the central attacker, Melissa Johnson. Again, like last time, the two wingers are positioned in wide areas, increasing the surface area of this attacking move. The ball is behind them, being passed through from another Aston Villa player, which shows us that Villa are anticipating the through ball and have moved ahead of it to create these passing options.
If we look at another example, we see the same thing happening, but with a small difference.
Here, we see how Aston Villa are again attacking in a wide formation, with the spaces on the wing again, although this time the wingers are moving ahead of Johnson, meaning that the arrow formation we saw in the last image will become inverted. This is because of the Charlton player nearest the ball, who is blocking off the path towards Johnson in the middle. The spaces are therefore open on the wings, as indicated by the arrows, and you can see that the ball is being passed out to the right wing as a result of this. Therefore, even when the route to the striker is cut off, the wingers are open, and this is how the front three of Aston Villa Women work together in an efficient way.
What we have seen is how they work together to increase the spaces in the final third, and ensure that all passing options are open. In both examples, the ball is behind them, which shows how they are anticipating the play, and are taking some of the defenders away from the ball, which also helps to open up the passing options.
Now we will look at how they play when in a narrow formation.
In both of these examples, we see how the gaps between the front three are much smaller. This is because the two outside players have cut inside to help out Johnson in the middle.
The reason they have done this is because, in the first example, there are four Charlton defenders in front of Melissa Johnson. Therefore, Johnson would be unable to get around them on her own. However, with three Aston Villa players against four Charlton defenders, whilst they still have a disadvantage in numbers, there is a better chance of them succeeding. This is why, in this case, the attacking line has been narrowed.
In the second example, we see how Aston Villa’s forward line is again narrow in its structure. This is because there are two Charlton players ahead of Johnson again, and so by bringing in the two wingers to help her, the numbers have again been increased to three against two in Villa’s favour.
What is important to note is that, in both examples, whilst more narrow in their positions, the wingers are still stretching the defence to create gaps, as you can see. In the second example, the wingers do have space ahead of them on the outside of the defenders, which means that they can still move behind the defence. However, by becoming slightly more compact, they have increased the chances of Aston Villa getting around the defence and decreased the chances of the ball being lost.
In conclusion, Aston Villa Women’s attack has been one of their biggest weapons this season. Their successful promotion bid has come because of the tactics they have used both in wide areas and in the central channel, and the way that their attack has been flexible in its structure. We have seen how they look to create shooting options through the movement of players into spaces; how they push their wing-backs further forward to control the wings; how the wingers keep the width to ensure Aston Villa Women occupy as much of the pitch as possible; and how their forward line work together to ensure they have the best possible chance of scoring goals and beating opposing defences. The overall picture is that, as they prepare for life in the top flight, they have an attack that is versatile and can adapt to any situation, which will be important if they are to survive next season.