Manchester City Women 2020/2021: Analysing their new full-backs – scout report
Manchester City Women have made some very good signings over the summer, as they look to take the WSL title back after three seasons without winning it. However, the two signings that could give them the edge over their title-chasing opponents are England full-backs Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood, who have both signed from Champions League winners Lyon this summer. In this tactical analysis, we will look at how both Bronze and Greenwood will fit into Manchester City’s tactics this season, and see how each will improve the team both in defence and in attack. The analysis will also look at last season’s statistics for both players, compared to their positional rivals in the team, which will directly identify their strengths and weaknesses.
Firstly, in this scout report, we will analyse Lucy Bronze, looking at her game last year at Lyon. If we look at the image below, we can see a key part of her play.
Here, in the game against Fleury, we can see how she takes up a very wide position, acting as an attacking right-back. This means that her team always has a passing option on the wing, which is important, especially when they play teams who like to narrow the central spaces. Instead, they have to stretch across the pitch, meaning that gaps are more likely to be seen in between the defenders, instead of them narrowing.
This image shows us what Bronze can do if the defence doesn’t stretch apart, and you can see how she has time and space to get behind them now. From these positions, she can then cross the ball into the box, and this is one of her main strengths. This is what she brings to the team when they are on the attack.
When her team are defending, she closes down the ball and stops it moving forward, therefore giving her teammates time to get back and close off the spaces. If we look at this image, we can see how Paris Saint-Germain Feminine are in attack, but Bronze has moved out of defence into midfield, with the intention of preventing the attack from getting too far up the pitch. This means that opponents have to move the ball more quickly when they are on her side of the pitch, which can then lead to more mistakes in those areas.
However, the main effect on the opposition is that they can’t move the ball forwards once Bronze has got out to them, and again, this gives her team time to organise themselves behind her. Therefore, we can see how Lucy Bronze plays an important role in her team’s defending and attacking tactics.
Therefore, it should go without saying that these are the things we can expect to see from her at Manchester City Women this season.
This image shows us how, in Manchester City’s game against Brighton and Hove Albion Women, Bronze is again looking to run behind the defence, as she did for Lyon, and she again controls the wide areas for her team. You can see how Brighton have set up well defensively, with two lines of four between the ball and the goal. Therefore, Bronze’s wide run to offer the passing option behind is critical, because it gives Manchester City a way of unlocking this defence and continuing their attack.
Again, we can match this image to what we saw from Bronze at Lyon. Brighton are looking to counter-attack, but Bronze comes across and cuts it off, stopping it in its early stages. Again, we can see how she gets her body in the way of the ball, just as before, and this means that, like PSG, Brighton can only play the ball sideways or backwards. Therefore, this is something that Manchester City can really benefit from this season, because they know they have a right-back who can defend and attack equally as well.
However, there is something else to her play too that Manchester City Women will be happy about. This image shows how the ball has been crossed into the box, but Bronze has positioned herself between the two central attackers, winning the ball in the air. Her willingness to take control in the air means that opponents can now only play the ball across the ground in attacks, but we have already seen that Bronze is equally as good at closing these down. Therefore, with her in the team, Manchester City become much more difficult to score against.
Perhaps the best way of seeing what Lucy Bronze will bring to the team is by comparing her statistics last season with those of Aoife Mannion, who only played four games before an injury ended her season, and Esme Morgan, who spent last season on loan at Everton Women, and has started this season in good form at Manchester City.
We can see that Bronze has the highest values for crossing accuracy, percentage of dribbles that were successful, and aerial duels won. This is therefore where we need to focus. We know that she is good in the air, because we have seen how she clears dangerous balls from her box. As the statistics suggest, this is what Manchester City were missing before her arrival.
However, the main thing that Bronze will bring to the team is in the forward areas, with her crossing ability. Canada forward Janine Beckie filled in at right-back last season, but she prefers to play in attack and cut inside, shooting at goal from relatively close range. Therefore, it makes sense that Manchester City bring in a right-back who can control the wing and support the attack, crossing balls into the central attackers and constantly creating chances. With Bronze’s crossing accuracy higher than both Morgan’s and Mannion’s, this seems to be the main thing she will add tactically to the team.
If we now turn our attention to England left-back Alex Greenwood, then we can see the main parts of the former Manchester United Women defender’s game at Lyon, and what she will add to the left side of the Manchester City Women team this season.
Greenwood’s most important trait is her pace, and desire to get up in support of the winger, which is demonstrated in both of these images. These runs mean that her team, in these examples Lyon, can speed up the play on the left-hand side, increasing their chances of catching opponents out before they have had time to organise themselves defensively.
To explain this, the winger in the first image has the ball, but there is no option for her to pass the ball to, because the Dijon defenders have all gathered around her and closed off the options. However, Greenwood is looking to make the run beyond her teammate into the space, from where she can then cross the ball into the box. Therefore, this is where Greenwood’s pace becomes useful, and, like Bronze, she has a clear desire to get behind defences and get crosses into the box, creating chances for her teammates in the middle.
The second image shows another example of this. This time, we can see that she has run in front of the winger, who has remained close to the sideline. The defenders have naturally watched the winger, as she is the player in possession, leaving Greenwood free to run through and behind the opposing defence. You can see how Lyon’s central players are looking to position themselves in the box to receive the ball, because they know what happens when Greenwood gets into these positions. This threat and constant source of crosses is what she adds to her team’s attacking tactics, like Bronze does.
Now we have established what Greenwood does on the pitch, we will look at how she can fit into Manchester City Women’s tactics this season.
We can see that Greenwood is making the run forwards against Brighton, opening up the space behind their defence. As we will come to later, this is where they have been lacking a little in recent seasons, and therefore signing Greenwood unlocks more opportunities in attack for Manchester City. The yellow arrow shows how far the left-back has run to get to her current position, so we can see how her first thought is always to get forward and help her team in the final third.
If we now look at how Greenwood plays in defence, we can make some interesting observations.
In the first image, we can see how she has closed down her opponent, but not enough to make an interception. This is because she seems to be less confident at winning the ball in these situations than Bronze is. Therefore, she instead shadows her opponent, as the arrows show, and this forces the attacker to move the ball sideways or backwards, but not forwards, as Greenwood uses her body to close that option off.
In the second image, Greenwood has positioned herself to block the ball into the box, putting it behind for a corner. Whilst we have said she doesn’t seem to confident in 1-v-1 duels, one of her defensive strengths is using her body to stop opposing attacks. For Manchester City, when you consider that they have Greenwood who can block shots from going into the box, and Bronze who can clear them in the air if they get past Greenwood, then immediately we can see that, as a pair, they will significantly improve Manchester City and make them harder to score against.
We mentioned that Greenwood doesn’t seem as confident at making interceptions as Bronze, and instead looks to close down the ball. This image shows us why this is.
We can see that Brighton are looking to get the ball out of their half, but Greenwood has come up the pitch to prevent a counter-attack from happening. However, because she has got too tight to her opponent, the ball is simply knocked past her. Therefore, we can see here one thing that Greenwood can improve on through this season, but this is why she likes to shadow the ball instead of challenging for it like Bronze does in these situations.
Like with the previous section, we will finish our analysis of Alex Greenwood off by comparing her statistics last season with Demi Stokes’, who will be her direct competitor for the left-back place in the team.
From these statistics, we can see that both players offer different qualities. The values show us that Stokes is more accurate with her passing and has more successful dribbles, as well as making more interceptions. The last one is not surprising, given the last point about Greenwood not being as good in these areas.
However, the Greenwood has a higher crossing accuracy value, and this is the key thing. Like with Bronze on the right-hand side, Manchester City need their full-backs this season to regularly get the ball into the box, ensuring that the central attackers consistently have chances to score. We have included the offside count for both players, as it indicates how often the players move into attacking positions, and you can see how Greenwood does this more. This, and the higher number of shot assists, means that Greenwood is perhaps the better option in attack, but Stokes would be better when they need to sit back and make interceptions to stop teams attacking against them.
How will they improve Manchester City Women?
We have looked at both Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood separately, and now we will use the points we have made on each to see how Manchester City Women will benefit from having both in their team.
These first two images show us how Manchester City Women struggled last season with blocking crosses into the box from the left-hand side. The first shows how Demi Stokes and Lauren Hemp, who often played on the left wing, have tracked back, but Chelsea Women right-back Maren Mjelde has still managed to cross the ball into the box.
The second image shows us another occasion, with Stokes caught out of position, and running to get back and block Erin Cuthbert from crossing into the box. However, Stokes lacks in pace in these situations.
Clearly, this is a problem last season that needed to be addressed, and, in the image below, we can see what they did last season to minimise this issue.
Lauren Hemp has had to stay further back and help out. Here, she is the one stopping the cross going in, but the difficulty here is that, as a winger, she should be getting forward and helping the attack. Therefore, Manchester City Women needed to bring in a left-back to help here, who has the pace to get back and block shots when needed to. As we have seen in this analysis, Greenwood does all of this, so this is how she can fit into Manchester City Women’s tactics in defence.
Demi Stokes does like to get high up the pitch, but doesn’t do it as often as Greenwood is likely to, which the comparison of the statistics in the last section told us. Therefore, to see Stokes behind the opposing defence here is not as common a sight on the field, as she tends to stay back and stop opposing counter-attacks. This is another thing that Greenwood will bring to Manchester City Women this season; the ability to get up and down the wing as necessary, helping in the final third, but also getting back and blocking balls into her own goal area.
As for the right side of the pitch, we have already mentioned how Manchester City Women used Janine Beckie as a makeshift right-back last season, but she is a natural attacking winger, who gets into threatening areas and creates opportunities for her teammates. Therefore, Lucy Bronze’s arrival means that Manchester City have a double threat on the right side of the pitch, with Beckie cutting inside and creating opportunities from inside the goal area, and Bronze providing crosses into the box using her ability to run behind the defensive line.
In conclusion, both Lucy Bronze and Alex Greenwood will bring plenty of quality to Manchester City Women this season. We have seen in this analysis how they both like to attack, and often are the furthest players up the pitch, but we have also seen how both can defend well and stop opponents scoring against them, but in different ways. It is likely that both players will now be first choice in their positions, and this scout report has shown what both will add to Manchester City Women for the rest of the season.