Liverpool Women 2019/2020: Surviving WSL relegation – scout report
In the second part of our series on the WSL relegation battle, we will look at Liverpool Women. Whilst their EPL counterparts are two wins away from winning the league, the women’s team are sitting at the bottom of their division, fighting what seems to be a losing battle to survive relegation. This scout report will show through tactical analysis the positives and negatives of their attack and defence, as well as looking at some key players they will need to be in top form if they have any hope of surviving.
Beginning the analysis with a look at the attack, the first point to mention is that they like to play using a forward line, usually consisting of three or even four players. They spread these lines widely across the pitch, as seen below.
We can see how, in both of these examples, the wide players are positioned on the outside of the opposing defence. This allows Liverpool to isolate the central defenders and get in behind the defence from the wing areas. The most obvious thing to note is that it increases the area Liverpool can cover when attacking, but there is more to it than that. We can see how Niamh Charles, circled, is able to attack forwards into relatively open space. That’s because the Arsenal Women defenders have been drawn towards the ball in the middle, where Rinsola Babajide has it. They are more concerned about stopping her running through the middle and using her pace to beat them.
However, Charles is as dangerous to give space to as Babajide, and so that is where Liverpool’s wide attacking line now comes into play. The space is there; now they can use it.
If we look at the second example, this time against Bristol City Women, we can see as well how the same thing has happened. Bristol have been caught in the middle again, with Liverpool controlling the wide areas. This movement also creates passing options for the attack; if the defence moves to one side, the ball can be passed to the other, ensuring that Liverpool Women always have the advantage. It becomes frustrating for opponents, because they can’t get the ball no matter which player they choose to mark. Therefore, these tactics are a big positive in their survival fight.
Another way in which Liverpool look to keep control in attacking situations is here.
Above, Liverpool’s attack has surrounded the Chelsea defence, cutting them off, and Charles is about to cross the ball into the box from the left-hand side. The thing that we can add here is that, in theory, Liverpool now have their target player in the middle, in Babajide, who has split the central defence, but they also have Melissa Lawley on the far side, who can pick up the ball if Babajide doesn’t reach it.
In practice, this is where Liverpool’s attack needs some improvement, as this season they have constantly moved the ball onto the wings, but haven’t had players in the box to receive the cross. By not making these runs, Liverpool have then been forced to play the ball backwards or sideways, which is one of the reasons why they have only scored eight goals in their 14 games this season, the second-lowest in the league.
The second point to make about their attack is to do with Babajide’s wide play. At times, she drifts onto the wing when playing as a central striker, which can be a negative for Liverpool, but here, we see the positives of it.
In this example, we can see how Babajide is advancing forwards at pace, on the outside of the Bristol City Women defence. We have already established that this helps Liverpool attack more freely, so now let’s analyse it more deeply. We can see how the Bristol defence has been caught out in the middle, and there is a second Liverpool attacker on the far side of the defence. Now, if we bring in this next example, we can analyse what happens when Babajide takes up these positions.
Here, against Birmingham City Women, there are gaps appearing between the defenders. This is because they are starting to get pulled apart as they look to close down Babajide on the wing. The result of this is that the other Liverpool attackers can move through the defence, increasing their options in the central channel for when Babajide attempts to cross the ball into the goal area. However, as we have already said, they don’t get into the box enough times to offer these options, and that is where their attacks need improving.
The final thing to mention is that, because Babajide likes to take up these wider positions, Liverpool can move their wingers into more central areas.
This is a way of ensuring that, when there is no-one in the box, Liverpool can still cover that area. In this case, Melissa Lawley has made the movement inside, and, because Babajide has taken the defender with her onto the wing, there is a gap for her to run through. We will come back to Babajide as a key player for Liverpool, but for the moment, we have shown how she is central to Liverpool’s attacking tactics in many different ways, and they will need her to be in good form when the season commences again.
The final point to make about their attack is that they like to get their full-backs as high up the pitch as possible. We can see both players in advanced positions below.
By using their full-backs to control the wings, they allow their wingers to cut inside much more often, increasing their options in the central channel. Both Becky Jane and Leighanne Robe are able crossers of the ball, and are very good at going forward, as both images above show.
However, there is a downside to their forward advances. That is that they leave gaps in the defence, and this is not just something that Liverpool do; it is a common feature of teams that play with attacking full-backs, and is a way of beating them or of simply forcing those teams to pin them back. We looked at this last time with Birmingham City Women.
With Liverpool Women, the picture looks like this.
This might sound like a criticism of their play, but it’s not. This is just something that they need to be aware of when the WSL gets going again, and they face their survival fight.
What we can see is that Leighanne Robe has advanced forwards, but Bristol City Women have counter-attacked before she can track back. Now, Liverpool captain Sophie Bradley-Auckland is having to come across to block the run of the Bristol player, but that then leaves the central channel open, with two Bristol players ready to run into that area. For Bradley-Auckland, it’s become a 3-v-1 situation, and one where both she and Liverpool have a huge disadvantage.
The biggest problem with Liverpool’s defence though is that they have too many gaps which opposing teams can run through. They have conceded 20 goals this season, but if we look at the examples below, we can see why this is, and see how they can tighten up their defence for the remaining matches.
The common theme in both of these examples is that the gaps are not equal between the defenders. This is where Liverpool are being caught out. In the first example, we can see how Arsenal Women have the ball on the wing (shown by the player in the black circle), and that has drawn the Liverpool defender out towards that area. However, because none of the other defenders have moved across to help cover the space, a gap has been created, and another Arsenal player is now looking to move through the gap and in behind the defence.
In the second image, we can see the same thing. Bristol City Women are about to play the ball through the gap created by Liverpool’s poor defensive structure, and Ebony Salmon is running behind Becky Jane, unnoticed, ready to collect the pass and run through onto goal.
So now we have seen the problem, let’s see how it can be fixed. In the first example, if the entire defensive line moved across to join Becky Jane, then the gap would be filled. There would be another one created on the far side of the pitch, but given where the ball currently is, it would take a very good pass to reach the other side of the pitch, where the space would be, without the ball being intercepted and cleared by Liverpool.
With the second example, it’s more difficult, because the ball is already in the middle of the pitch, but if Becky Jane were to move more centrally, then whilst Salmon would be free to run in behind, the pass to find her would be more difficult to make, and that’s where Bristol could make a mistake with an over-hit or under-hit pass.
The final point to make about their defence, which is linked to this idea of the gaps in Liverpool’s defence, is shown below.
If we look at this situation, we see how Arsenal Women have the ball in a good attacking position. Again, we can see Liverpool’s defensive structure, and how they have allowed Jordan Nobbs (in the black circle) to run through them and take up a position in behind the defensive line. The black arrows show the path of the ball towards Nobbs, as Arsenal move it through the defensive gap.
This example serves to highlight exactly how what we have identified about Liverpool’s defensive frailties allows opponents to score goals. If we run the situation on a little, we find ourselves at this point.
Now the ball is being passed through the gap, and look at Nobbs’ position. Liverpool are now powerless to stop her attacking and crossing the ball into the box, which she does, and they concede from this situation. Whilst there might not be much to add to what we have already said, in terms of the analysis of Liverpool’s defence, it does prove that these gaps are not helping Liverpool’s bid to survive, and the Reds need to improve these situations in the future.
There are several key players that they will need to look to in order to have a chance of survival. One we have mentioned a lot of is forward Rinsola Babajide, who we can see in this image.
From this, we notice how she is running through the middle of the Arsenal defence, and her pace enables her to win the ball ahead of the defenders and score. We have shown how she can play very well on the wings, and is a good asset to them there, and centrally, if she can score more goals from these sorts of positions, then she will be useful there too. However, as well as the whole of Liverpool’s attack, she needs to improve her end product, as too many times she and other are wasting good opportunities to score.
Another important player for them is Jess Clarke, who thrives in 1-v-1 situations. We can see below how her positioning in attack will also be important in giving Liverpool the best possible chance of survival.
Clarke has drawn the Bristol City Women defender over to one side, allowing her teammate, Melissa Lawley in this instance, to get in between the defenders, and make a run through to get on the end of any cross Clarke puts in. Again, you can see how, because Clarke has drawn one defender over towards her, the rest of the defence is out of shape and out of position, and that gives Liverpool the advantage here. When Jess Clarke plays, Liverpool always seem to play better, and her ability in these 1-v-1 situations is a primary reason for this.
Their December signing, Rachel Furness, will also need to carry some of the burden. They have looked more creative and more threatening since her arrival, and she has the ability to create opportunities for the likes of Babajide, Charles and Lawley, all of whom have shown this season that they can score goals, but with Furness adding to the attack, Liverpool may carry more of a threat to their opponents.
In conclusion, we have seen by way of this scout report how Liverpool Women have the ability to make a good fight to stay up. In attack, we have seen how they have the ability to unlock defenders, and ensure that they have the advantage in those situations. We have also highlighted how their defence is the area where they are struggling the most, and have suggested how to improve it. The tactical analysis also showed how several players can make the difference, and so overall, Liverpool might be struggling, but they won’t go down without a fight.
Next time, we will complete this series, with a look at the final team in the relegation battle; Bristol City Women, analysing their attack, defence, and picking out some key players that they will be relying on in their bid to survive.