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London City Lionesses 2021/2022: Their fight for WSL promotion - scout report - tactical analysis tactics

“A very hungry group”: Why London City Lionesses will be a team to watch in 2022/2023 – scout report

The 2021/2022 Women’s Championship season has long since finished, with Liverpool Women securing the league title and promotion back to the WSL after two years away. However, whilst Matt Beard’s side were barely challenged as things turned out, next season’s promotion fight could be more closely contested, with several teams fancied to compete for the top spot.

One of those is London City Lionesses, who overtook Bristol City Women near the end to secure second place, and the quality and balance in their squad has made them potential dark horses for 2022/2023. This tactical analysis will look in more detail at their players and tactics, seeing why they could be surprise contenders to go one further than this season.

Attack

When in the final third, London City Lionesses, who play at Dartford FC’s Princes Park, have relied a lot this season on their wingers, aiming to move the ball into the wide channels and then deliver accurate crosses into the middle.

London City Lionesses 2021/2022: Their fight for WSL promotion - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
London City Lionesses look to use the wings to create goalscoring opportunities a lot of the time.

This is one reason that coach Melissa Phillips brought in ex-Chelsea Women forward Jamie-Lee Napier in the summer, because she has the quality and awareness needed to fit into these tactics, and she is looking to transfer the ball into the goal area from the wing here, creating a chance for her teammates. However, her positioning also influences how Watford Women set up defensively, with her threat meaning that Watford, who were eventually relegated from the second tier, have to make a decision about whether to come out and close her down or hold their position, and this doubt leads to gaps opening up that London City’s central attackers can exploit.

Therefore, the first thing we can take from this analysis is that London City have a clear idea of how they want to play and have brought in players who fit that model, and this makes it easier for everyone on the pitch to work towards the same shared goal.

London City Lionesses 2021/2022: Their fight for WSL promotion - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
London City Lionesses work together to support attacks.

However, even with the ball in the wide channels, there still needs to be the right movement in the middle to offer passing options. Brooke Nunn has been one of their key target players this season and is leading the line in this situation. However, the key thing to focus on here is the positioning of Lily Agg and ex-Liverpool midfielder Amy Rodgers, who are running behind Nunn and giving her support. Both are players who like to get on the ball and make things happen for their team, meaning that they get into positions where they can get on the ball in the second phase if needed.

In this case, Charlton Athletic Women managed to prevent Nunn from meeting the ball cleanly, so Agg’s support was key to the Lionesses not losing their momentum. This teamwork in attack is another reason that they will be difficult opponents to play against next season.

London City Lionesses 2021/2022: Their fight for WSL promotion - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
London City Lionesses look to fill spaces when teammates move into different positions.

The advanced midfielders become even more important when the space that Nunn occupied in the previous image is left open, as she is not a natural centre forward and does like to drift into other areas of the pitch too. When this happens, Agg tends to move forward and become the central player whilst Rodgers stays back and acts as a playmaker, with this allowing both to play to their strengths. Another midfielder, Mollie Rouse, has also got forward here to add further support, and this again highlights how their players support each other in the final third.

The key point here is that the players are adaptable and can operate in multiple roles, and this helps to increase their unpredictability, which is another reason that they have a good chance of competing for the title next season.

Midfield

As well as using the wings to create attacking opportunities, London City Lionesses have also been known to keep the ball on the ground and play through the thirds, and what makes this work is the different roles of the midfielders.

London City Lionesses 2021/2022: Their fight for WSL promotion - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Charlotte Fleming has tended to play in a defensive midfield role.

The first is the holding player, and Charlotte Fleming has tended to operate in this role. Here, she has won the ball in front of her defensive line and has the presence of mind to look for a passing option in front of her, with the other Lionesses players making forward runs to give her options, and this is key in ensuring that their opponents can’t launch another attack straight away.

It is worth noting that there are some dangerous strikers in the Championship, such as Crystal Palace Women’s Millie Farrow and Durham Women’s Beth Hepple, who like to play on the shoulder of opposing defences. Therefore, having this extra defensive protection is important in making the defensive line more robust too, with Fleming breaking Charlton’s attack down and preventing them from transferring the ball into the spaces behind.

London City Lionesses 2021/2022: Their fight for WSL promotion - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Amy Rodgers has been London City Lionesses’ playmaker in attacking situations.

Having Fleming in the deeper spaces means that Rodgers can play in her favoured box-to-box role, giving her freedom to get forward and support attacks. As mentioned, her main job in the team is to be their playmaker, providing a link between the defensive and attacking areas of the team and having as big an impact on the game as possible. As such, it is common to see her moving into holes between opponents and building attacks, and London City’s 73.1% passing accuracy last season was largely down to her link-up play.

The main quality that Rodgers has brought to the Lionesses is an ability to play in every area of the field, making it hard for opponents to cut her off. In this case, she is in the half space and looking to find a passing option inside the goal area, but she also carries a significant goal threat, having been London City’s highest goalscorer last season with seven, whilst she also registered five assists. Therefore, her threat in the final third cannot be underestimated.

London City Lionesses 2021/2022: Their fight for WSL promotion - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
Lily Agg works with the forwards to create goalscoring opportunities.

With Fleming looking after the defenders and Rodgers linking up play, Agg is able to focus purely on working alongside the forwards to create opportunities, with this scout report already showing how she can fill in at centre forward when needed. However, she also has good spatial awareness, seeing routes through opponents’ defences, and here she plays the ball through the Liverpool players for Shanade Hopcroft to run onto.

As a result of players like Agg creating these opportunities, the Lionesses have averaged 1.46 goals per game in 2021/2022, up from 0.86 in the previous campaign, and they always pose a threat with the 28-year-old, who was called up by the Republic of Ireland in March, helping to unlock defences.

Defence

Whilst it is clear that they have plenty of threat going forwards, it is also important for London City Lionesses to stay organised at the back and not give their opponents any opportunities to break through them. However, this is where they have at times fallen down and need to improve.

London City Lionesses 2021/2022: Their fight for WSL promotion - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
London City Lionesses defend from the front once they lose possession.

When they lose the ball, London City’s mindset instantly turns towards winning it back as quickly as possible, pressing from the front and closing opponents down. Here, Karin Muya has got tight to Charlton’s Anna Filbey, forcing the former Tottenham Hotspur Women player into losing possession in her own third and giving Muya an opportunity to shoot at goal.

The key thing here is the speed at which this happened, as Charlton didn’t have a chance to get back and close off the spaces once they had lost the ball, and this is the danger that the Lionesses pose when out of possession. It is worth noting that they won 35.9% of their offensive duels last season, forcing errors like this to happen, and Muya was a key player for them in the final games, both in terms of scoring goals and in helping to create problems for their opponents. There is no doubt that her and London City’s ability to get on the front foot will be vital to their hopes of going one step further next season.

London City Lionesses 2021/2022: Their fight for WSL promotion - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
London City Lionesses have quick players in their defensive line who can regain the ball.

The reason that the Lionesses look to press high up the pitch in this way is because they tend to play with a high back line, so don’t want to risk the ball moving too far up the pitch and their opponents having a chance to break through them. When that does happen, they instantly look beatable, with Sheffield United Women striker Courtney Sweetman-Kirk, who proved to be one of the most consistent strikers in the second tier last season, now in a position to shoot at goal.

However, for what London City occasionally lack in defensive awareness, they make up for in pace and desire, with Republic of Ireland international Hayley Nolan getting back here and ending the threat, closing Sweetman-Kirk down at speed. Therefore, what looked initially to be a difficult situation for the Lionesses became an example of their ability to make vital tackles, and this is highlighted by the fact that they won 65.7% of their defensive duels last season. Therefore, opponents have to make faster decisions in the final third against them than they potentially have to against the other teams in the league, and this is a big positive for the Lionesses to take into the next campaign.

London City Lionesses 2021/2022: Their fight for WSL promotion - scout report - tactical analysis tactics
London City Lionesses occasionally give their opponents too much space to play in.

Where London City have at times been caught out, and what they need to address ahead of next season, is that they have been too open when players have got back behind the ball. Here, Sheffield United have again got into the final third, but this time Lucy Watson has time and space to cut inside and shoot at goal, sending the ball through one of the gaps in the Lionesses’ back line.

Whilst Watson was another of the Championship’s biggest threats last season, London City would have been wondering if they could have defended better and prevented her from getting a shot away. Promotion to the WSL is tough, with only one team going up each season, so teams have to be virtually flawless in order to secure that place in the table, and moments like this could be decisive in who ultimately claims it.

Conclusion

In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked at London City Lionesses, who were arguably one of the most improved teams in the Championship in 2021/2022, focusing on why they are looking like a side who could challenge for the title next season. There is undoubted quality in all areas of their squad, with forwards who can score goals, midfielders who can defend and attack and a back line with pace and desire, so they have the raw ingredients necessary to compete.

However, there will be plenty of other teams likely to fight for a place in the WSL, including Bristol, Sheffield United, Durham and newly-relegated Birmingham City Women, so recruitment will be key to maintaining squad depth. Last summer, Melissa Phillips did well to bring in players like Rodgers and Napier and has already said that her aim this summer will be to keep building and complimenting what is, in her words, “a very hungry squad”. It will therefore be interesting to see who does come in at Princes Park to help nourish this appetite for promotion.