Aston Villa Women 2019/2020: Defence analysis – scout report
The WSL will welcome a new name to the league next season, with Aston Villa Women being promoted to the top flight of English women’s football from the Championship. They will replace Liverpool Women, who were relegated following the premature ending of the WSL this season. They have already agreed a groundshare with EFL side Walsall as part of their preparations for playing in the top flight.
Over the next few weeks, we will look at Aston Villa, with tactical analysis on their defence and attack, as well as scout reports on some of their key players. We will look at their tactics in both defence and attack, ensuring that, when women’s football returns, we know what to expect from this team.
Formations and setups
Firstly, in this analysis, we will look at how Aston Villa Women set up defensively, with a look at their tactical formations at the back.
In this image, we see how far forward Aston Villa push their defence, aiming to squeeze opponents into their own half. This is a good tactic to use, in that it means the opposition has less space to play the ball in. You can also see how there are three players in this formation, which gives us an idea of how their defence tends to become a back three whilst they are out of possession.
They also spread apart from each other, which increases the amount of space they cover, again ensuring that the opposition have little room to manoeuvre around in when they are in possession. The final thing to mention about this defensive structure is that the player nearest to us has moved further forward, which gives Villa the structure of a curve, and this again just adds more strength to the defence.
However, as you perhaps would expect with something like this, there are downsides.
Here, we see how Charlton Athletic Women are on attack, and Aston Villa are looking to track back and prevent anything coming from it.
We see how they have now become a back five, and this transition to add more players to the defence is something we will come back to later on in this article. However, what we can see here is that Aston Villa’s defence has become narrow in its structure. This is odd, given that they played with the same width across the pitch when they had three players. However, they now have five at the back, with two more racing back to fill the gaps, but the defence has become narrower in its structure. This may be because there is a Charlton player in the middle, who is now being marked by two central Villa defenders, however the player on the left wing, who is in possession of the ball, is now able to attack into the space.
Therefore, in the WSL, this is something they will need to watch, and perhaps work on, because teams like Arsenal Women and Chelsea Women like to use the wings in their attacks. Arsenal use a 4-3-3 formation generally, or a 4-2-3-1 with Miedema playing centrally but drifting wide. Chelsea use their full-backs, Maren Mjelde and Jonna Andersson, to control the wings, and will thrive if going up against this setup.
If we look at Aston Villa’s formations across the 2019/2020 season, we see that 50% of the time, they used the 4-1-4-1 setup.
That allows the team to have a strong, traditional four-player defensive setup, a defensive midfielder to offer them protection, and to slip back into that line as a fifth defender when necessary. Then they have two wingers and two central midfielders, who feature in a box-to-box or attacking role, and then a loan striker. However, because this formation has two lines in defence and midfield, it means the team can defend from the front as well as the back.
In this image, you can see how Aston Villa set up in this formation. The two lines are marked out, and the two single players are in circles.
This shows you how they look to contain the opposition in the different areas of the pitch. Again, Villa’s back line have pushed high up the pitch, and this squeezes the opposition back into their own half. The only negative from a defensive point of view here is that they have become too narrow, and whilst it may be that that is because the ball and the majority of the opposition is in that area, there is a Charlton player on the wing nearest to us, in the red square. If the ball reaches her, then we end up in a situation like the previous example, when Villa defend too narrowly. Again, this is something they might want to look at as they begin life in the WSL next season.
Here, we see how they begin their defence from the front. Charlton have two lines of three in their own half, but Aston Villa have their lone striker positioned against the first line, and the midfield four next to the second line. Their rigid and wide structure also gives them an advantage in this situation, because they can drift across the pitch as necessary, in order to block off the passing channels for the ball to move through into the Villa half.
However, when the ball does breach these lines, the defensive section of the Villa team are also ready to block the ball from moving into the goal area, as you can see in the image below.
Here, the defensive line is clearly marked, and you can see how Charlton’s attacker is in the middle of the two central defenders. That might cause a problem if Charlton manage to get the ball to her, but for the moment it doesn’t. That’s because Aston Villa Women’s single defensive midfielder and the midfield line of four have come together, and you can see how there are five Villa players on the halfway line to prove this. The defensive line is staying back, ensuring that Charlton can’t get an easy break from the midfield, and allowing the midfield to tackle the ball and get it away from the Villa half, as you can see in the square. Another way that the defence is protecting the goal and stopping a break from Charlton is by spreading across the pitch, so that there is no space for the opponents to move the ball behind them.
In and out of possession
Now we have established Aston Villa Women’s general preferred formations and tactics, we will look at them with and without the ball at the back.
The first thing to mention is that they split their centre backs when in possession, and push their full-backs higher up the pitch. This is something you can see very clearly in the image above. The blue line marks the length of the gap between the two centre backs.
In this image specifically, Aston Villa’s two defenders are being marked player-to-player by Charlton’s two forward players, which means it’s difficult for them to get the ball out of this area. This is another thing that they will need to work on ahead of their first game in the Premier League. Chelsea in particular use a 4-1-2-1-2 diamond formation by preference, with Beth England and Sam Kerr playing as the two strikers in that formation. We have seen this season how they have the capabilities to close down players in the way that Charlton are here.
In the next two images, we see how Aston Villa go from being in possession to out of possession, and how that affects their defensive line and its organisation.
In this first image, Villa have a goal kick, from which they are looking to play the ball short. The two centre backs have split, and a third player has tracked back to fill the gap in the middle. This means that Charlton have congregated around the central player, as they see her as the biggest threat. The wider players are left unguarded. What is important to note here is how wide the structure is.
This image comes directly after the previous one, and Villa have now lost possession, and are looking to regroup and defend against the opposing attack. You can see firstly how the gaps between the players have all become smaller, as Villa look to close off the space behind them; something we have already seen them do in this article. Secondly, you can see how a fourth Aston Villa player has come back to help them out, and how one of the two central defenders is taking control and instructing the other defenders on how to stop this attack. Thirdly, you can see how Aston Villa have almost matched the diagonal shape of Charlton’s attacking line, because this is another way that they have closed down the space that the attackers want to use.
The most important thing which we are trying to show here is the contrast between Aston Villa Women in possession, when they are spread out, to when they lose it, and they become much more compact and narrow.
The final section in this analysis will highlight some of the downsides to Aston Villa Women’s defending tactics. Some of these have already been mentioned, but we will look at them in more detail now.
Firstly, in the image below, you can see what comes from Villa’s high defensive line.
We have discussed the positives of their high line, but the obvious downside is what is being shown here. Charlton have stolen the ball back, and have managed to find a way behind the defence. This came from a poor pass from an Aston Villa player, and is something they will need to watch out for when the new WSL season gets underway again. The top teams in the league, such as Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester City, will all punish these errors, especially given the amount of space they will have.
You can see as well how the Aston Villa defence is actually in the attacking half, and the thing here is that perhaps they went too high up the pitch.
In this example, we see the downside of Aston Villa’s narrow defensive structure when out of possession. In the example in the last section, the opposing attack was coming from the middle channel, so this didn’t matter. Here, the attack is coming from the wing, and the narrow defensive line has left space open in the wider areas for Charlton to attack into. The two red boxes show these wider spaces.
You can also see from the blue lines how Villa have not had time to organise themselves into a flatter line, which would have sealed off the areas behind the defensive line. This is another reason that they will need to be careful in the WSL, because these kinds of spaces are what attacking teams thrive on.
The final example comes in two images again, with a before and after scenario being shown.
Aston Villa Women have again only got their two central defenders in any position to defend against Charlton’s attack, and this means that they will have to leave spaces open somewhere. However, you can see how, despite being out of possession, Villa have not narrowed up the defensive line. One of the two defenders has come across to try and stop the ball reaching the goal area, whilst the other has stayed in the central channel.
With this in mind, whilst it may appear that the attacker is going to continue running on the outside of the Aston Villa defenders, she actually cuts back inside, and uses this gap as a way of getting into the goal area.
As well as the defence now being exploited by this cut back, the second Aston Villa Women defender has now come across to try and narrow the gap again, but that has left the space open where she was for the second Charlton attacker to make a run forwards into the far side of the box. Therefore, what we can take from this is that Aston Villa’s defensive strategies don’t work when they can’t get four or five players back to form the line that we have seen them take up. This is the effect of that.
In conclusion, Aston Villa Women’s defence is clearly strong in the Championship, with the team having not lost a single match in the 14 they played before the season was ended. They also conceded only 11 goals in the league, which was the second-lowest, with only Durham Women conceding less (with ten). However, this tactical analysis has served to point out that, whilst in the Championship they may have had a strong defence with good tactics, in the WSL they may be found out much more, and the points we have analysed support that.
Next time, we will flip things, and look at the good and bad of Aston Villa Women’s attack.