Bristol City Women 2019/2020: Surviving WSL relegation – scout report
In the final part of our series, looking at the WSL relegation battle, we have a tactical analysis of Bristol City Women. At time of writing, they sit tenth in the table, two places clear of Liverpool Women at the bottom, and a whole three points above them. However, they cannot be complacent with this, as we have seen how much a single point can change a team’s fortunes, especially in this series when we have looked at what each team can do to help them survive relegation.
This scout report will look at the same factors as we did for Birmingham City Women and Liverpool Women; their attack, defence and key players who can help them to survive. We will look at the positives and negatives of their tactics in these areas too.
Beginning the analysis with their attack, we need to look at two points. They usually line up with both Charlie Wellings and Ebony Salmon as a front pairing, giving them more options in the final third.
The first thing it allows them to do is play in wider attacking positions, as we can see below.
This image illustrates a front three in attack, but what it tells us is that, because Bristol have spread the attacking line into very wide positions, they have much more control over the Liverpool defence. In fact, if you look at Liverpool’s Niamh Fahey in the middle of the pitch, she has been isolated by this move, because whilst the ball is currently with the middle Bristol attacker, it can be shifted out to either wing at ease. This formation therefore makes it harder for opposing defences to stop Bristol’s attacks when in these situations.
The fact that all three players are roughly in the same line shows you that this is not just coincidence that this has come about either. As we mentioned above, Bristol like to play with wide attacking forwards, and this is a perfect example of how they organise it so that it gives them the advantage.
Another example of their wide attacking play is shown below.
Here, we see former Liverpool player Yana Daniels in the wide position, but the difference is that this time, there isn’t an attacking line in place. Instead, Daniels has run beyond where the ball is, with the aim of creating space for her team to move the ball into. This space has been created because Liverpool Women left-back Leighanne Robe has drifted inside to help defend the central attack, but as a consequence, she has left the wing open for Bristol to exploit.
What we can say therefore, is that Bristol’s wide play is one reason that their attack is generally a major weapon of theirs. By attacking in wide areas, they increase their chances of scoring, and by drawing the opposing defence together, crowding around the ball, they open up those areas to move their wide players into.
We mentioned how Bristol City Women like to play with a front two, moving often into a forward attacking line of three to increase their chances of scoring. However, because both Wellings and Salmon also tend to move into wider positions themselves, this sometimes means that the central areas are left without an attacking player in – or are they? This is where our second point about their attack comes in.
If we see below, we notice how these gaps are filled.
Charlie Wellings has chased the ball onto the wing here, and has won it back. As she turns around, she plays it back inside, as shown by the red arrow, where a teammate has run from the midfield into the attack, as shown by the black arrow. This is a common feature of Bristol’s play, and is an effective way of them keeping possession of the ball under pressure.
To look at this a bit more, it allows Bristol to keep the ball, and ensures they occupy the central channels when the strikers have moved into wider positions, but it also allows them to have more shots on goal. This is because, if the midfielders move into the final third, then they can shoot as well as the strikers, increasing Bristol’s chances of scoring.
The statistics back this up. From midfield positions this season, New Zealand international Olivia Chance has had 12 shots, and Belgium’s Yana Daniels has had 15 shots, whilst Ebony Salmon has had 24 shots and Charlie Wellings has had 15.
You might say that both Chance and Daniels are attack-minded midfielders, so of course they will have stats like these, but the point is that not all managers would encourage their midfielders to get into these areas, as they would be fearful that it would leave a hole in the middle of the pitch, allowing opponents to counter-attack. That shows the way that Bristol’s attack is set up.
If we look at a final image of their attack, we see another example of a Bristol player running inside and beyond the player in possession.
What this image shows is that Bristol City Women have moved the ball into the wide areas, where they are now unable to take it forward due to Birmingham City Women’s tight defending. However, because there is a player making the run forward into space, as shown by the black arrow, a pass can be made into that area, which is what the red arrow shows. Therefore, this ensures that Bristol keep possession, and can continue to attack and create opportunities, rather than being forced to play the ball backwards and lose momentum.
Both points raised have been positives about their attack, so now let’s highlight the negative side of it. The thing about Bristol City Women is that, for all their good attacking build-up, and what we have shown about how they attack using their midfield to cover the central channels, they have only scored nine goals all season. Five of those have been scored by Ebony Salmon, who is in her first season with the club after moving from Manchester United Women, and she is their top scorer.
What Bristol need to do if they want to maintain their league status, therefore, is to make more of their opportunities count, by converting more chances. They have the players to do it, but sometimes they get into a good shooting area and then a tame shot happens, which is easy for the opposing goalkeeper to save.
If we move now to their defence, we can see where they can improve in these areas.
The main problem is their defensive organisation, and how the defenders communicate with each other, to ensure that they aren’t leaving too many gaps for opposing attackers to run through.
In the two images above, we see how Liverpool Women are being invited to play amongst and through the Bristol defenders. Liverpool forward Rinsola Babajide in the first image is actually in between two defenders, and in the second, Bristol have been stretched apart by Reds winger Melissa Lawley taking up a position on the outside of the defensive line. This has led to Babajide having a good opportunity to run through the defence, as shown by the black arrow.
These are not the only examples where Bristol have given their opponents too much space at the back, as we can see below in a match against Birmingham City Women.
Now, admittedly here they are stretched because they are trying to cut off the run of the Birmingham attacker, who is running onto a pass from left-back Adrienne Jordan, but Bristol have two defenders doing this job. If the defender between both Birmingham players was to cut off the pass, then the second defender in this move, positioned in the middle of the red lines, would be able to play in a more central position, ensuring that, whilst there may still be a gap, it would be harder for Birmingham to attack down the middle, as they are looking to do.
We know that both Birmingham and Liverpool like to attack centrally, using the pace and passes of their midfield and attacking players, and so Bristol need to be aware of giving them too much space centrally. Bristol have conceded 38 goals this season, which is the most of any team in the WSL this season, and when you look at examples like this, it’s not hard to see firstly why they concede so many, but also how they can very easily fix the situation.
They are capable of being more organised in defence, as we can see below.
In this example, Bristol have ensured all the gaps between the defenders are even, making it harder for Birmingham to get the ball into the central areas. You can see how there are two Birmingham players waiting for the ball to be crossed in, but both are behind the Bristol defence, and it will take a very good cross to bypass all of the defenders and find one of the two central Birmingham attackers. Bristol are also pushing towards the goal line as one, decreasing the time that the Blues have to get the ball into the area, and ensuring that, in this situation, Bristol have the advantage.
In this example, we can see another way that they defend well.
Liverpool Women are in possession on the far side of the pitch, with two Bristol City Women defenders working together to ensure that the ball stays there, and can’t be crossed or passed inside to another Liverpool player. However, Bristol have some insurance here, because even if the ball does somehow come inside, there are two more Bristol players working together to close down this second Liverpool attacker, as you can see from the two red lines marking both defensive duos. Again, because Liverpool’s central attackers are positioned behind the ball, like Birmingham, they will find it harder to attack here.
This is what comes when Bristol City Women organise their defence, and ensure that there are no gaps for opposing attackers to move through. As mentioned at the start of the analysis, they are currently three points clear of Liverpool Women, so if they sort out their defending, and do nothing else, they can give themselves a really good chance of survival.
There are a few key players that they will need to rely on for the rest of the season, mainly their attackers. Yana Daniels and Olivia Chance both help the attack out in numerous ways with their movements and positioning, but Ebony Salmon and Charlie Wellings both play in a way that gives Bristol City Women an attacking threat, even if the team doesn’t score too often.
In both of these examples, Ebony Salmon is leading from the front, and that’s what you need when you are in a relegation battle like this one. Salmon is stretching her team’s central attacking point, increasing the space they cover, ensuring that they have the best possible chance of scoring. In the first image, she is running in behind the defence from the side, and without being seen, whereas in the second image she is running through the middle, between the defenders.
Therefore what we can say about her contribution is that she positions herself wherever she needs to be, constantly looking to offer an attacking option to her team. This is crucial, especially as she is their top scorer, and because Bristol have only scored nine goals all season, and we have already mentioned how they can improve their goal-scoring rates.
Her strike partner, Charlie Wellings, does something similar to this, as seen below.
Like Salmon, she is stretching the defence, but does it in width as well as length. In both images, she is on the outside of the defence, and this means the opposing defence has to think even more about their defending. They will inevitably split, with some defenders moving wider to cover Wellings’ run, and gaps will appear centrally. This is something we have seen from both Birmingham and Liverpool in the previous articles in this series. Therefore, these four examples show why Wellings and Salmon will need to be at the top of their game if Bristol want to stay up.
To conclude, Bristol City Women have the best chance of staying up out of the three teams in the relegation fight, due to their position in the table, but that is not to say that they are doing everything right. We have shown in this scout report by way of tactical analysis how their attack and defence can be improved, and how they have players they can rely on in their fight to survive.
This also concludes this miniseries on the WSL relegation fight, and we have seen and analysed in great detail how Birmingham City Women, Liverpool Women and Bristol City Women all have positives and negatives about the way they play, and have highlighted exactly what each team needs to do to stay in the WSL next season.
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