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Leicester City Women 2022/2023: Their recent WSL revival - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

“This group is far from done”: Why Leicester City’s recent revival has led to hopes of WSL survival – scout report

When Leicester City Women brought Lydia Bedford’s tenure as head coach to an end in early November, the East Midlands side sat rock bottom of the WSL and were without a single point to their name. At that point, things looked very bleak for them, and there wasn’t a great deal of hope between then and Christmas either under former Everton Women boss Willie Kirk, who had moved from his Director of Women’s Football role to take charge of the side, with them unable to kickstart their season into life and seemingly destined for a return to the Women’s Championship.

However, following the resumption of the league after the winter break, Leicester have undoubtedly been one of the form teams in the division, with Kirk’s side picking up two wins from their opening three matches, against fellow strugglers Brighton and Hove Albion Women and Liverpool Women, and managing to keep Manchester City Women out for an hour in the other game before falling to a defeat, and there is now definite hope that they can avoid the drop and will be in the top flight next season.

This tactical analysis will look at what has improved in the last few weeks, focusing on what Kirk has changed tactically and how he has got the whole team moving in the right direction. The scout report will look specifically at their defensive setup, how they have used spaces around the field well and how their final third play has improved, with all three playing a vital role in Leicester’s seemingly impossible quest to stay in the division.

Defensive strength

When looking at Leicester City Women’s last three results in the league, it is difficult to miss the fact that their two wins were also both clean sheets, and that suggests that they have been working hard on their setup out of possession as they look to improve on the first half of the season when they conceded 25 goals in nine matches – an average of 2.8 per match.

Leicester City Women 2022/2023: Their recent WSL revival - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
CJ Bott has been a key player for Leicester City Women in recent matches.

One of the main reasons that they have become more robust is because they have started to defend on the front foot in 2023, with their full-backs in particular often pushing forward to press their opponents and keep the ball as far away from their goal area as possible. In this case, it is Liverpool’s Taylor Hinds who has been closed down early, with her prevented from moving into a threatening area by right-back CJ Bott.

The New Zealand international is a player who likes to get up the pitch, but, before the winter break, she had been limited in what she could do by Leicester’s defensive setup, as they had been playing with her and Jemma Purfield as their two full-back options. Both are good players, but both have attacking mindsets, so neither was able to push forward as much as they wanted because that would have left the two centre-backs exposed and open to counterattacks.

However, the January arrival of Australia international Courtney Nevin on loan from Hammarby has helped to address this problem because she has been much more of a defensive player for Leicester and has tended to stay further back. Therefore, having her on the field has enabled Bott to get into more advanced positions and to have a greater influence on Leicester’s performances.

Leicester City Women 2022/2023: Their recent WSL revival - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
CJ Bott’s touch map for Leicester City Women in the 2022/2023 WSL season.

As this graphic shows, the effect of that has been very positive, with Bott contributing nine high regains this season, and the fact that four of her other regains have led to a shot on goal within 20 seconds highlights how important her ability to push up the field has been.

Therefore, restructuring their defensive line to give her this added freedom has really benefitted both Bott and Leicester, and it has been one key reason for the WSL’s bottom side performing better in recent matches.

Leicester City Women 2022/2023: Their recent WSL revival - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Leicester City Women have shown a strong defensive shape when out of possession.

However, defending is very much a team thing, so it is important to look at how Leicester are bringing all of their individual components together to create a solid defensive shape.

Here, against Manchester City, they knew that they would not have the lion’s share of possession and so would need to focus on how they set up without the ball to make themselves hard to break down. As is clear to see, they didn’t overcomplicate matters and simply looked to do the basics well, with the back four remaining in a compact line whilst those ahead of them worked to press Gareth Taylor’s side and tried to force mistakes, and the fact that they were able to keep the title chasers out for a full hour of play is down to each player knowing their role and maintaining this structure every time the ball got into their third of the field.

The other thing that is worth noting here is that this setup isolated Manchester City’s key attacking threats, with the trio of Chloe Kelly, Khadija Shaw and Lauren Hemp all in different areas of the field and unable to link up with each other as they like to do. As a result, even when Leicester did let their opponents play through their first line of defence, Manchester City never looked entirely convincing chance and were continually frustrated by the home side.

In the second half, Taylor’s players did make a tactical tweak that saw Kelly and Hemp take up more central roles, but the fact that they had to make that sort of change in order to break Leicester down shows how Kirk’s side have been tougher to beat of late, and they will need to keep this up if they are to stave off the drop down to the second tier.

Leicester City Women 2022/2023: Their recent WSL revival - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Leicester City Women’s January signings have had a big impact on their recent fortunes.

Defences deservedly get a lot of praise when tactics like this lead to impressive results, but the goalkeepers sometimes go without most of the time. In Leicester’s case, they knew that they needed a more secure pair of hands between the posts if they were to survive relegation and made the move to sign Janina Leitzig on loan from Bayern Munich Frauen in January, and it is safe to say that she has made a big contribution to their recent good form.

What really stands out when looking at her performances is that she is proactive and doesn’t wait for the ball to come to her, which has helped Leicester as it has enabled the back four to make blocks and tackles and know that she will come out to tidy up any loose balls and end threats quickly. In this case, Brighton’s star forward Katie Robinson has found her way into the goal area but has been closed down well by Bott, and it would be easy for Leitzig to sit back here as her teammate seemed to have everything under control.

However, she instead runs out at speed and gets her hands on the ball, knowing that there is a chance that, in the form that Robinson has been in this season, she will recover and look to get a shot away at goal, and it is moments like this that will really give Leicester confidence during the second half of the season and belief that, every time they step out onto the field, they can win games and get the points that they need to stay up.

Attacking threat

When it comes to their attacking play, what is again clear is that Leicester City Women have not tried to overcomplicate things by altering too many aspects of their play, with Kirk instead picking two main areas to focus on as he aims to give his side a more clinical edge when they get into promising positions.

Leicester City Women 2022/2023: Their recent WSL revival - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Leicester City Women have looked to support each other in the final third and create numerical overloads.

The first thing that Kirk has worked on, as with the defensive side of things, is Leicester’s ability to work as a team and to support each other around the field, and he knows that getting that part of the game right will always give them a good chance of converting opportunities as it will enable them to move the ball around more and put opponents under added pressure.

In this case, against Manchester City, Bott has again got forward to win possession for her side, having read what was happening and moved to intercept Alex Greenwood’s poor pass, but the key thing to look at here is that, previously, she would have more than likely been left on her own here and outnumbered by the opposition.

However, both Aileen Whelan and on-loan Manchester United Women forward Carrie Jones are in close proximity to her here and both move forward to turn the numerical advantage in Leicester’s favour and to give the New Zealander options, as the yellow arrows show, and that makes all the difference as it enables Leicester to play through their opponents and deliver the ball into the goal area.

On this occasion, Missy Goodwin fails to find the target with her headed shot on goal, but the fact remains that, if Leicester can keep making the most of these situations and testing their opponents, then they will always have a chance of coming away from games with positive results.

Leicester City Women 2022/2023: Their recent WSL revival - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Leicester City Women have been working on new ways of playing under Willie Kirk.

The second thing that Kirk has worked on is opening up opposing defensive lines in order to create avenues that Leicester’s key attackers can exploit with the ball, and what he has asked his players to do is to make runs in different directions when they don’t have the ball in order to keep their opponents guessing as to where the attack will come from.

This tactic was particularly prominent in their first game back after the break, a Continental Cup trip to second-tier Sunderland Women, and the fact that Leicester came away with a 5-0 win was largely down to them successfully manipulating Sunderland’s defensive line and making themselves less predictable to set up against. In this case, Bott has the ball and both Goodwin and Ava Baker are in the decoy roles, with both staying away from the ball and giving Sunderland something to think about, and neither ex-Rangers Women defender Brianna Westrup nor Abby Holmes were able to get into the right position to stop Leicester’s advance as a result.

Leicester City Women 2022/2023: Their recent WSL revival - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Leicester City Women have looked to manipulate their opponents into leavinf gaps open in their defensive line.

With it being a tactic that had the desired effect in that game, Leicester also used it against Manchester City, although this time it was utilised when they counterattacked after their opponents had given the ball away. In this case, Molly Pike is moving up the field, as the blue circle shows, and there are again two players on either side of her in Baker and Josie Green who are looking to keep the Manchester City players guessing.

Just as Sunderland did, Gareth Taylor’s side have lost their line discipline and been dragged towards the ball, leaving a gap open for Leicester to run through, and neither Japan midfielder Yui Hasegawa nor Netherlands right-back Kerstin Casparij were able to prevent Wales forward Hannah Cain from running between them and getting on the end of Pike’s pass.

On this occasion, Cain was thwarted by a good save from Ellie Roebuck, but the fact that 54.3% of Leicester’s counterattacks have led to a shot shows that they are a dangerous side to give the ball away to anyway, and, if they can implement this way of playing into their game plan too, then teams who dominate possession against them will always need to be wary of making mistakes with the ball.

Using spaces

Whilst there are a lot of good details in Leicester City Women’s play of late, what has really stood out is their ability to identify and use spaces, and this not only comes down to them playing on the front foot and showing more confidence with the ball but also is a result of players operating in areas of the pitch that suit their capabilities.

Leicester City Women 2022/2023: Their recent WSL revival - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Leicester City Women have looked to play with more rotation around the pitch.

One problem that Leicester have had for a little while is how to fit all of their promising young players into one system, with them continually adding talent to their squad but never seemingly finding a way to bring it all together. However, Kirk has solved that issue by introducing rotational play on the pitch, and it has been common over the last few games to see players like Cain, Jones and Goodwin not have specified roles on the field and instead move into different areas in order to occupy whatever spaces become available, with Goodwin cutting inside here and Jones running out to the wing to cover her.

The effect of this is again to keep their opponents guessing because they now can’t predict which players will make runs, where they will go and when they will make their move, and having this as part of their game plan has definitely given individual players more belief in what they are doing, with Goodwin, in particular, looking dangerous every time that she gets on the ball.

Leicester City Women 2022/2023: Their recent WSL revival - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Leicester City Women have worked on getting the right players into the right areas on the pitch.

What Kirk has clearly done is to look at his squad and see where they would be best placed to have an effect on the game, and, for some players, that has meant giving them a more fixed role in the side. Monique Robinson is one of those, with her main qualities being pinpoint passing and the ability to make late runs into the goal area. Kirk has therefore deployed her in a deeper midfield role, as is shown here against Sunderland, in order to open up more of the pitch for her to pick out teammates during transitions, and the fact that Leicester have an overall passing accuracy this season of 73.1% shows that details like this are helping in the fight to stay in the WSL.

The other reason that this deeper role suits Robinson is because it also enables her to make the delayed runs into the opposition’s goal area that she thrives at, with one such movement resulting in a well-taken goal in the win against Brighton. Therefore, again, by simplifying things and giving some players specific tasks during matches, Kirk’s hard work on the training ground is having the right effect.

Leicester City Women 2022/2023: Their recent WSL revival - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Aileen Whelan has been a key part of Willie Kirk’s new way of playing at Leicester City Women.

Whelan is another player to have been given a specific role, with her tending to stay between opponents’ lines in the attacking half and to provide a link between different areas of her team. This was something that she did well for her previous club Brighton, who she left last summer, and it fits with the system that Kirk used at Everton, which involved the striker holding up the ball and the wingers getting into advanced areas, and clearly wants to implement at Leicester.

However, with the WSL’s bottom side lacking a striker at the moment, due to Natasha Flint being on loan at Celtic Women, Jess Sigsworth recovering from injury and January signing Remy Siemsen still adjusting to her new surroundings, Whelan is the player that he feels has the necessary qualities to play in that role, and the fact that she was arguably Leicester’s best player in the win against her former side showed that she is another who is happy with what she has been asked to do.


In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked at Leicester City Women, with, whilst there being definite signs that they can recover from a tricky start and climb the WSL table, having shown more confidence in what they are doing on the field and with performances and results finally starting to go their way.

Whilst Willie Kirk is getting the response that he wanted after their winter break. he and the players will be only too aware that there is still a very long way to go. However, if they can keep this form up for as long as possible, then they will stand a good chance of beating the drop and doing what, at Christmas, looked very difficult if not impossible, and having that thought in their heads will continue to spur them on as they try to seal a third successive season of top-flight football.

Following the win against Liverpool at Prenton Park last weekend, Kirk stated in his post-match comments that, whilst everyone else had written his side off following their disastrous start to the campaign, “this group is far from done”. At this point in time, it is difficult to disagree with him.