FAWSL matchday seven brought us a clash between two teams from opposite ends of the table. Chelsea have yet to lose a match in the 2019/20 campaign and are beginning to settle into a high scoring groove. Birmingham City, on the other hand, are struggling to create goals and find themselves struggling to move out of the bottom three.
Through analysis we find that Chelsea imposed themselves on their hosts in both offensive and defensive phases of the match. Aggressive tactics in both phases proved to be extremely successful. In this tactical analysis, we will see exactly how it happened.
Birmingham City (4-3-3): Hannah Hampton, Adrienne Jordan, Rebecca Holloway, Harriet Scott Lily Simkin, Chloe Arthur, Lucy Whipp, Lucy Staniforth, Abbi Grant, Connie Schofield. Claudia Walker
Chelsea (4-3-3): Anna Katrin Burger, Maren Mjelde, Millie Bright, Magdalena Eriksson, Jonna Andersson, Sophie Ingle, Ji So Yun. Drew Spence, Ramona Bachmann, Beth England, Guro Reiten
Chelsea: High press
Birmingham City came into the match having scored only two goals so far in this season’s FAWSL campaign. With that in mind, Chelsea set out to pressure Birmingham City at all stages of their offensive progression.
By constantly restricting time and space around the ball, Chelsea were able to keep Birmingham City from creating meaningful scoring chances. This was typically done through a player-oriented press that took place high up the pitch. As Birmingham City defenders possessed the ball in their defensive third, Chelsea would remove nearby passing options through player to player marking as well as cover shadows.
Below, we can see that Birmingham City centre midfielder Chloe Arthur has possession facing her own goal. In this moment, Arthur has two clear passing option to each side and a slightly risky passing option to her goalkeeper. If Arthur can turn off of the pressuring Chelsea player, she also has an immediate passing option upfield.
Chelsea recognize that Arthur has too many easy options and begin to press forward as a unit. Arthur chooses to move the ball to the Birmingham left flank to their left-back Adrienne Jordan. Unfortunately for Birmingham, this is exactly what Chelsea want.
As the Chelsea unit presses upfield, they begin to initiate a player to player marking scheme to cut off any nearby passing option. As passing options are cut off, Chelsea’s Ramona Bachmann aggressively closes down Jordan. As Bachmann closes down the ball carrier, Chelsea forward Bethany England maintains a forward position to eliminate horizontal access to the goalkeeper and ball-far centreback through cover shadows (yellow triangles in the image below).
Jordan is left with the only option of a backwards pass. As Jordan passes the ball backwards Bachmann continues her pressuring run while arching her run to cut off a return pass to Jordan. England also initiates pressure, but from the halfspace, to also cut off any passing options behind her.
The Birmingham City defender is left with no safe options and opts to play the ball long to the forward line. This results in a loss of possession for Birmingham City and Chelsea immediately begin an attack.
By aggressively pressuring the ball carrier and removing nearby passing options, Chelsea were able to completely disrupt the Birmingham City buildup. This led to Birmingham City struggling to progress to the middle and attacking thirds of the field.
Birmingham City: Diagonal crosses
Birmingham City quickly became aware that Chelsea were not going to allow any easy progressions up the field. In an effort to bypass the Chelsea press, Birmingham began to employ long diagonal passes to circumvent the Chelsea defensive unit.
To successfully execute a high press, a team must press as a unit. The forward, midfield and defensive lines must shift in unison to prevent space opening up between the lines. If, for example, a pressing team’s forward line presses, but the midfield line remains stationary, the opposing team can find space between the pressing team’s forward and midfield lines to progress through. Chelsea sought to prevent gaps between the lines by pressing with all three lines in unison to smother the Birmingham City ball carriers.
Birmingham City recognized that as Chelsea pressed as a full team, the entire far side of the field was left wide open to attack. Knowing this, Birmingham began to engage in long aerial passes to play over the entire Chelsea press.
Below we can see that the Birmingham City defensive line is in possession of the ball. Chelsea are beginning to slide their team horizontally and initiate a press. In this moment, almost the entire Chelsea team is on the right side of the pitch.
Now, instead of looking to progress forward through short passes, the ball carrier launches a diagonal cross to the far side winger. Birmingham City’s winger, Claudia Walker, has tucked into the right halfspace to receive. By tucking in, Walker has drawn the Chelsea left-back with her as well. This movement opens up the entire right flank for the Birmingham City right-back to make an attacking run into.
Walker holds her position and fights off pressure from behind from Chelsea’s Jonna Andersson. Walker is able to flick the ball behind her with a header. This leaves the ball arriving in space with a quickly advancing Lily Simkin.
Unfortunately, Simkin’s run had started a few seconds too late and she arrives at the ball at the same time as the Chelsea defender. Birmingham are still able to possess the ball in the attacking third, but no effective chances are created.
Birmingham were able to bypass the intense Chelsea press through diagonal crosses. Despite this, Birmingham were still unable to create quality chances on goal.
Chelsea: Progression down the flanks
When in possession, Chelsea focused on progressing through the thirds by playing down the flanks. This was done by setting up diamonds to connect all three lines as well as using off the ball attacking movements to disorganize the Birmingham City defensive unit.
Chelsea sought to build out of the back by setting up a diamond structure. The diamond shape allows the ball carrier to have three passing options at all times. If used correctly, the team in possession can bypass the opponent’s forward and midfield lines to move into the attacking third.
Once in the attacking third, Chelsea sought to use off the ball runs of their forward players to disorganize the defensive unit and create space to attack in dangerous areas. All of this was done at a very high speed and was very effective against the hosts.
In the fourteenth minute, we saw Chelsea defender Millie Bright with possession in the right halfspace with little to no pressure from the Birmingham defensive unit. Right-back Maren Mjelde pushes forward and positions herself on the shoulder of the Birmingham midfield player. Ji So-yun has found space in between the forward and midfield lines, but Birmingham City remain compact centrally to eliminate her as an option.
As Bright looks upfield to select the avenue of attack, Bachmann drops in from the high position of the forward line to offer a passing option as well.
Bright opts to move the ball to Mjelde, who receives across her body and aggressively drives forward into space. As Mjelde dribbles forward, Bachmann holds her relative position to force the Birmingham City left-back to choose between dropping with the defensive line or eliminating Bachmann as a passing option.
Knowing that Bachmann has forced the left-back to hold her position and not move back with the defensive line, Chelsea forward England drives into the space behind the left-back to receive. Mjelde recognizes England’s movement into dangerous space and plays the ball forward for England to run onto.
As the ball is played forward, the Birmingham City left-back abandons Bachmann and moves to prevent England from receiving the ball in the attacking third. Bachmann is then left alone in a vast amount of space in front of the Birmingham City defensive line.
In about four seconds Chelsea have progressed the ball from the defensive to attacking third with attacking players in position to score.
By using diamonds on the flanks when building out of the back as well as effective off the ball movements by attackers, Chelsea were able to cleanly progress the ball from the defensive third to the attacking third of the pitch. This tactic was used throughout the match and led to many chances on goal for Chelsea.
The match was effectively over by the fifty-second minute when Drew Spence put away the fifth Chelsea goal of the evening. With the win, Chelsea retain their spot at the top of the table with Manchester City and Arsenal only one point behind. Birmingham City lurk at the bottom of the table just above Liverpool and now possess a goal differential of negative twelve after six matches.
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