Matchday three in the FAWSL brought a matchup between two of the last three perfect records in the division. Everton LFC looked to continue their impressive start as they hosted juggernaut Manchester City WFC. In this tactical analysis, we will look at the key points from each side during the match.
The weather was a heavy factor on this day. Both teams had to adapt their tactics to play in less than ideal conditions. This analysis will show how Manchester City looked to add to their early lead, and how Everton attempted to counter their opponents in what ended in a 1-0 victory for the visitors.
Manchester City (4-3-3): Ellie Roebuck, Aoife Mannion, Steph Houghton, Gemma Bonner, Demi Stokes; Kiera Walsh, Caroline Weir, Jill Scott; Tessa Wullaert, Pauline Bremer, Janine Beckie
Nick Cushing lined his City side up in their usual 4-3-3 formation. The Cityzens made no changes to the team that beat Reading 2-0 a fortnight ago. During the match, players continuously rotated to occupy different roles. City worked in a variety of shapes throughout the ninety minutes. Examples of this include a 2-3-5, 3-2-2-3, and 3-3-4.
Everton (4-1-4-1): Tinja-Riikka Korpela; Kika van Es, Megan Finnigan, Gabby George, Danielle Turner; Maeva Clemaron; Simone Magill, Lucy Graham, Molly Pike, Chloe Kelly; Hannah Cain
For Everton, two changes were made to their side since the last league match. Kika Van Es replaced Esme Morgan at right-back. Upfront, Hannah Cain returned to the side, and Simone Magill was moved back to right midfield at the expense of Inessa Kaagman. Willie Kirk’s side operated mainly in a 4-1-4-1 shape. They were pinned back for large parts of the match and would look to get their wingers forward when possible to attack.
Everton’s pressing tactics
For Everton, Kirk would have been well aware before the match began that chances would be hard to come by this afternoon. The side was set up to defend with numbers and look for the specific moments to earn a result. They created the chances they were looking for, but could not produce the end product in the end. One tactic the Toffees used against City was a high initial pressing scheme.
Everton pressed high up the pitch with four players. Below you can see the shape they pressed with during City’s buildup.
In their press, City keeper Ellie Roebuck was allowed to keep possession without pressure. Everton allowed her to hold the ball rather than leaving one of City’s centre-halves or number six to have time and space on the ball. The idea behind this was to try and force Roebuck to go long and win possession back on these attempts.
Above we can see an example of this idea. Everton’s press arrives and forces Demi Stokes to pass back to Roebuck. The keeper tries to continue with the short passing build-up with a pass to Gemma Bonner. Once this pass is played, the attackers immediately converge on the ball.
Bonner comes close to giving up a penalty trying to keep possession, but Everton could not take advantage of the situation. As the match went on, City became more comfortable dealing with the press. Roebuck identified that she was the extra player in the build-up. She began taking her time on the ball and making effective outlet passes down the flanks and into the midfield.
Manchester City’s full-backs a constant threat
Manchester City have quality throughout their entire team. This makes it very difficult for opponents to completely neutralise every potential threat during matches. Everton set up in this match in a low block when City worked through their initial press. With this focus on marking the attacking talent City possess out of the game, the full-backs took the responsibility to create chances.
Stokes, in particular, had a lot of success getting forward down the left side. Her ability to run with the ball at her feet and combine quickly with teammates allowed her to set City up for multiple opportunities.
Above, you can see Stokes on the ball. She cuts back centrally to look for support from teammates. When help comes, Stokes backs up to the touchline to keep the width of the side. Weir gets her head up and finds Wullaert who dropped deep to create numerical superiority. As soon as the winger drops in, Stokes bombs forward. With a quick passing play from City, she is sent down the channel behind the Everton defence.
Aoife Mannion was not called upon to get forward as often as her counterpart. She was just as effective when she was, however. After an Everton attack broke down, Roebuck played a pass under pressure to Stokes at the top of City’s penalty area. The full-back found a teammate for a quick outlet to Mannion in acres of space.
She runs forward all the way to the Everton penalty area. Mannion finds a quick layoff to Bremer who is unlucky not to get on the scoresheet. City’s full-backs continued to be a constant threat to Everton throughout the match. The Toffees’ wingers were targeted as a weak link in their defensive scheme.
Everton’s attacking outlets
With City keen on having the lion share of possession in this match, Everton needed to take advantage of the times where they were in control. A specific outlet Kirk has looked to take advantage of since his arrival is Gabby George. The centre-half is excellent on the ball and has been given the freedom to get up the pitch when possible.
Above you can see Everton beginning to build their attack. As the match wore on, City became more conscious of the slender lead they were holding. They began sitting deeper when defending, and this gave George the opportunity to get forward.
Once she exploited a gap in City’s first line of press, the second line had to step forward to defend her. This created the gap for George to find Molly Pike up ahead.
When Pike receives the pass, she finds Turner down the flank immediately. The attack came to nothing, but the move showed the threat that comes from George’s ball-playing ability.
Chloe Kelly is Everton’s most dangerous attacking threat. Willie Kirk tries to put an emphasis on getting Kelly in situations where she can have a major effect on the match. Danielle Turner is a key part of this coming to fruition.
The full-back is adept at getting forward and providing the width on the left side of the pitch. This allows Kelly to operate in the half-space. She looks to receive possession to her feet before making a turn into the middle of the pitch and running towards goal.
Kelly had a 15 minute period in the second half where City were unable to contain her. The example above shows her beating multiple City defenders and getting into the centre of the pitch. This happened on numerous occasions in the second half and could have easily produced the equaliser.
City’s tactics to bypass Everton’s press
The match ended 1-0, but City could have scored three or four on another day. They dominated throughout the match using their possession principles. City’s midfield made life for Everton’s defence extremely difficult.
To counter the host’s attempts to limit the space in the middle of the park, the midfielders spread out as much as possible. During the match, it was common to see the three central players occupying different horizontal lines. This created space for City’s attackers to drop into and defenders to push up into while in possession. Everton struggled to press City effectively due to their player’s abilities to occupy multiple positions. In the first 20 minutes of the match specifically, Everton could not put together anything in the match due to City’s possession game working so well.
The defenders in Cushing’s side are given important roles in creating opportunities. When Everton pressed high, City’s centre-halves would look for outlets. One of these was over the press into one of the attacking players. The forwards would often find themselves in one-on-one situations when receiving this pass because Houghton or Bonner recognised the number of players high up the pitch for the hosts.
In the example above, you can see Everton are pressed high as they attempt to win possession back in a dangerous area. Bonner recognises the threat of attempting to play short and gets her head up.
She is able to find Bremmer. The City striker flicks the ball over her defender and is in behind Everton’s backline. As the match went on, Everton had to change their tactics. They started sending fewer players forward to press in the final third because of this ability of the City centre-halves.
Manchester City continue on their quest to the title this campaign with their 100% record intact. This 1-0 victory over Everton will not be remembered for any specific moment of magic. A match severely affected by the weather, City dug deep and could look back on this day as a crucial three points at the end of the season.
As for Everton, the side is continuing to improve following Kirk’s arrival at the beginning of 2019. There are clear tactical points he is working with his side on, and they will look to continue to progress as the season goes on. Six points from the possible nine so far is a major plus for a side who amassed double that figure in the entirety of the last campaign.
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