Aston Villa Women 2020/2021: Their new strike force – scout report
Aston Villa Women have been busy in the transfer window this summer, bringing in eight new players ahead of their first WSL season. However, one of their summer departures was last season’s top scorer, Melissa Johnson, who scored 12 goals in 14 games for Villa last season. Head coach Gemma Davies has signed two players to replace her; Portugal forward Diana Silva and Denmark striker Stine Larsen. In this scout report, we will see how they could feature in Aston Villa’s attacking tactics next season, and whether they could play as lone strikers or form a partnership. The tactical analysis will also compare both players’ statistics from last season, allowing us to see even more what both players offer Aston Villa in 2020/2021.
Aston Villa Women
We will start the analysis by looking at how Aston Villa Women set up their attack last season in the Championship.
The first thing to mention is that Aston Villa’s most common formation last season was 4-1-4-1, which they used 46% of the time. Johnson played at the top of the team on her own. The midfielders were encouraged to get forward and join the attack, giving Johnson passing options when she needed them.
This is what we can see in this image. Villa have moved into space against London Bees, but it’s their midfielders here who have made the run forward, as the red arrow shows. This confirms how their midfielders get into key areas, not just staying back and passing the ball forward to Melissa Johnson.
The effect on the opposition of this tactic is that they never know who is going to be running forwards next, so they have to watch each of Aston Villa’s midfielders, spreading out across the pitch, and that means that gaps can appear in their ranks which can then be exploited.
If we look at what happens when the midfielders don’t run forward, we can see why it is important in this formation.
Here, we see how Aston Villa Women have the ball in the box, but London Bees have cut off the central run that Melissa Johnson could have made. The yellow square marks the space where she wants to move the ball into, but there are no teammates in there to receive the ball. Therefore, it is easy for the Bees to stop her attack.
This, therefore, is the downside to having one striker. If the midfielders don’t make runs forward to support the striker, then the striker becomes isolated, and this causes problems for the team in possession because four defenders against one striker is relatively simple to defend against.
We have seen why the midfielders running forward is so crucial to Aston Villa’s tactics working; now we will analyse why having midfielders in attacking areas can alter Aston Villa’s formations and the effect that that has on opposing defences.
In both of these images, you can see how Aston Villa have two players in attack.
The first image, against Coventry United Ladies, shows one Villa player in possession, being closed down by a Coventry defender. However, there is a gap between the two defenders, which has allowed another Villa player to make the run-through, offering a passing option behind the Coventry defence. If this wasn’t the case, then Aston Villa would not be able to move the ball forward with any ease here, because the player in possession would have been closed down. Therefore, it is clear that Aston Villa’s attacking threat is increased significantly when the midfielders get forward to support the attack and create passing options.
In the second image, we see how Aston Villa again have the ball in an attacking situation and are looking to play it into the box. A second Villa player has run through the Bees defence, which hasn’t come back quick enough and is now in a good position to receive the ball and shoot at goal. If you remember the image beforehand, where Melissa Johnson was in the same position but wasn’t able to cross into the middle as she didn’t have a teammate there, then you can see how having two players in the attack benefits Villa, and helps them to create more goalscoring opportunities.
In this image, we see a slightly different thing. Instead of having one player joining the attack, there are two. One is already in an attacking position, working alongside Johnson to create a front two, whilst a third is behind them with the ball. Coventry have three defenders trying to stop Aston Villa’s attack, but the front two have split, and are playing on either side of the defence, isolating them. This gives Aston Villa Women the advantage in this situation because they can now attack from either side. If the defence looks to cover one player, then the other is left open, and if they cover both, then a gap through the middle will be opened up.
This is similar to the way that Chelsea Women set up, with a front two and an attacking midfielder at the tip of their midfield diamond, playing the ball through. Therefore, we know it is a tactic that works. This gives Aston Villa more options in attack and is therefore arguably better for them than having a single striker.
Here, we see how Aston Villa have morphed into a front three, with two players on either side of the central attacker. Again, because they have formed a wide structure, you can see how London Bees have been forced to spread apart, rather than narrowing and being able to stop the attack easily. This has therefore created gaps, which the central Aston Villa attacker is now looking to run through.
The ball is on the near-side of the pitch, being passed into the central channel, and you can see how this will then give Aston Villa three forward options to move the ball to, again increasing their attacking threat. They used a 4-3-3 formation 30% of the time last season, showing that this is intentional, and we can see how it increases the threat they pose to opposing defences.
This setup is similar to Arsenal Women, who play with a front three, relying on their wingers to cross the ball into the box for the likes of Vivianne Miedema and Jordan Nobbs to get on the end of. Therefore, again, we know this system works in the WSL.
What we have done in this section is to provide some ideas about how Aston Villa play in attack, and how their formation morphs as the midfielders make runs forward. We have mentioned how they use either a single striker or a front three as their main attacking structures; now we will turn our attention to their new strikers, beginning with Stine Larsen, and then Diana Silva, seeing how each plays and can fit into Aston Villa’s attack next season.
The first point to make about Stine Larsen last season, at Fleury in Division 1 Feminine, is that she is a striker who tends to play in advanced positions, mostly in the wider areas.
In these images, we can see how Larsen takes up a wide position, often looking to feed the ball into the area for a teammate to get on the end of. Her pace and confidence with the ball ensures that her team can get away from opposing defenders quickly, opening up the space behind them. You can see particularly in the first image how she is ahead of the Olympique de Marseille Feminin defence and is in a perfect position to cross the ball into the area for her teammate, who is running in a more central position.
In the second image, she is on the other side of the pitch, and is being closed down by the Marseille defender. There aren’t any teammates in the box this time, but the fact that she gets into these areas will benefit her team. Essentially, because Larsen is such a threat with the ball, the defence have to move to cut her off, and there is, therefore, a possibility that her teammates will then have more space centrally to operate in.
She is not only a provider of the ball when in these wide spaces, as we can see below.
Here, Larsen has shot at goal from a wide position against Montpellier, as the red arrow shows. Therefore, opposing defences need to take notice of her when she is in the final third because she can shoot as well as cross when in these areas. This increases the threat she poses and makes her a dangerous opponent.
You can see how she did have teammates in better positions here, but this provides us with an interesting point. She shoots not just when she needs to, but when she wants to. Some wider players would always cross in these situations, and only take a shot themselves when they have no other option. Larsen shoots when there are other options, again highlighting her confidence in the final third.
The final point to make about Larsen’s play is here, with the Denmark striker playing on the shoulder of the opposing Marseille defender. By doing this, she opens up passing options for her team. The red line shows you how she is in a front two formation with her teammate, and the yellow arrow shows you her movement to meet the ball and shoot at goal from. Therefore, she makes movements to open up opportunities and can play in any position in the front line. This versatility is perhaps what caught Aston Villa Women’s attention.
If we now look at their other attacking signing, Diana Silva, then we see how she played for Sporting Lisbon Feminino last season.
Straight away, we can see a similarity between Silva’s positioning and Larsen’s. Both are strikers who are capable of playing in the wider positions too, crossing the ball into dangerous areas for their teammates. In these images, Silva is on opposite wings, against Braga in the first image and CF Benfica in the second, but the point is still the same; the ball can be played into the middle from her cross.
In the second image in particular, Silva is on the right side of a front three structure, and this is similar to Aston Villa’s structure, which we saw previously. This is perhaps what gained Villa’s interest this summer, as Silva is again versatile, and can play as a winger when needed to.
Another similarity can be seen here, because we saw how Aston Villa Women like to play with a front two, isolating the defence and have a third player behind, who can play the ball into either attacker. In this image, we see how Silva is positioned on the nearside, having formed the same triangle shape, and is in space. Silva is a quick player, like Larsen, and so her pace enables her to find and unlock these spaces. You can see how Benfica’s central defenders have been isolated in the middle, shown by the blue line, so that shows how effective this tactic is. Given that Aston Villa do this, we can see how Silva might fit in at the Bescot Stadium next season.
We have looked at how Silva plays in wider positions, and these images show us how she operates in the central areas. We can see in the first image how her teammate is looking to play the ball into the space marked by the yellow square, and that is because Silva is running through the gap in the opposing defence to get into that area, as the red arrow shows. You can see how the Benfica defence have split, leaving this gap open, and that means Silva then has a clear route through to goal.
In the second image, Silva is in the goal area, playing as a poacher. This offers us a new insight to her play, because we haven’t yet seen her in this area. However, getting behind the opposing defence is something we know she can do. This is likely to be something that Aston Villa Women will rely on her for next season, because they will come up against some strong defences, and will need someone to make a run behind and create a passing option when they are struggling to break them down. Silva can perform that role, as can Larsen.
We have seen how both Larsen and Silva play, and how both could fit into Aston Villa’s tactics next season, and now we will compare both players’ statistics from this 2019/2020.
We can start by saying that both players exceeded their expected goals value for last season, with Larsen scoring seven goals and Silva five. However, what is significant is that Larsen exceeded her expected assists value too, whilst Silva didn’t. Therefore, Larsen would perhaps be the better option if Villa want to play balls into the box and create opportunities for others. Silva is perhaps a better option in the central position, getting on the end of these crosses. This is supported by the fact that Silva has more touches in the penalty area, as she tends to play there more often.
The Portugal international does have a better passing and crossing accuracy, so she would be the better option for perhaps playing behind another player, feeding the ball through to wingers or to the central striker when Villa need this type of player too.
Therefore, what we can see from these statistics is that both players, whilst playing in similar positions, are different in what they offer Aston Villa Women. This will help Villa next season, with their versatility in the forward line being a key factor we have already picked out.
In conclusion, we can say that both Stine Larsen and Diana Silva have qualities that can help Aston Villa Women next season. We have seen how both operate in areas that match what Aston Villa do, and this will mean that they won’t need to adapt too much next season when they play at the Bescot Stadium. Whether they play on their own or not is the question we have been looking to answer, and the answer is that Silva would be the better option as a lone striker because we have seen how she gets into the box more often. Larsen would be better used in a front two or front three formation, because we have seen how she drifts wide quite a lot, and this would mean she would need a strike partner in the middle to give her a passing option when she had the ball.