Blues women lost 3-0 away to Manchester City on Saturday and the scoreline was arguably favourable to the visitors as young goalkeeper Hannah Hampton made a number of saves to prevent the home side running up the score any further. Nick Cushing’s side were in control from the first minute to the last due to their physical and tactical superiority.
Blues started the game with an attacking set up which saw Brianna Visalli and Connie Scofield stationed ahead of Chloe Arthur in midfield, while striker Rachel Williams made her first league start of the season after grabbing a goal in the Conti Cup win against Everton. Lucy Staniforth missed out after picking up a knock on England duty.
Man City’s first real chance came on the 15 minute mark when Rebecca Holloway carried the ball out from the back and passed it straight to Keira Walsh. Walsh picked out the run of Janine Beckie who exploited the huge gap between Kerys Harrop and Adrienne Jordan. Beckie’s shot went wide of the far post but this passage of play was an indication of what was to come in the game.
After 25 minutes, Walsh picked out Beckie’s run in behind the defence (again), but Hampton got down well to deflect the ball wide. From the subsequent corner, the ball was partially cleared but it fell to Walsh on the edge of the box and her shot found the net via a deflection off Sarah Mayling.
The score stayed at 1-0 until half time, but Man City came out for the second half intent on putting the game to bed. The opening of the second half was an onslaught, with Man City creating chance after chance:
- 47’ Lauren Hemp shoots wide from 5 yards out as Blues are caught on the counter (again).
- 48’ Walsh picks out Beckie’s run (again), but this time the Canadian international puts a cross into the box and Tessa Wullaert gets away from Holloway to convert at the near post.
- 53’ A free kick from the left finds Houghton in plenty of space but the England centre back shoots wide from 10 yards.
- 56’ Caroline Weir’s effort from just outside the box forces Hampton to get down quickly to her right to parry the ball away.
- 57’ Beckie gets in behind (again) but shoots straight at the keeper from the edge of the box.
- 57’ This time it is Wullaert who is clean through but her effort comes back off the post.
Man City finally got their third goal in the 80th minute when Geum Min-Lee buried Hemp’s cross after the young winger breezed past substitute Harriet Scott with ease. Hemp missed another glorious chance in the 85th minute that was almost identical to her earlier effort.
Blues only managed 4 shots in the game, none of which were on target while Man City took 13 shots (6 on target). Blues shots amounted to 0.25 expected goals, while Man City put up 3.86 and the disparity can be seen clearly in the shot maps below. (Data from Statsbomb, graphic from WSLstats.org)
Blues should not be judged too much on their efforts in this game, as very few teams will come away from the Academy Stadium with points this season. However it is worrying that the systemic issues that were evident in the first few games of the season are persisting.
Blues continue to attempt to play the ball out from the back in spite of the fact that their centre backs are not good passers and their midfielders have shown no ability to receive the ball under pressure in central areas without losing possession. Their high defensive line and lack of structure in possession (see images below) leaves the slow centre backs horribly exposed to counter attacks. They are unable to generate quality chances, with Staniforth’s pot shots from 25+ yards looking like the most likely source of goals. On top of this they seem incapable of defending set pieces.
There are clear holes in the squad:
- Blues seem to lack a true holding midfielder after Marissa Ewers and Hayley Ladd left in the summer. Chloe Arthur suits a box-to-box role, while Staniforth, Visalli and Scofield are more effective when deployed further forwards.
- They only have 2 centre backs, in Harrop and Holloway, both of whom do not fit the style of play Tejedor is trying to implement.
- 31-year-old Rachel Williams, who had played no football for 2 years before this season, is the only out-and-out centre forward in the squad.
It is reasonable to give manager Marta Tejedor the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the squad building deficiencies, given we do not know the restraints she was operating under this summer when it comes to transfers.
However, Tejedor should be held accountable for persisting with a system that is clearly not working and shows no signs of improving with the current personnel. Given the lack of options in the squad, Tejedor will need to adjust her system in order to arrest this worrying run of performances.
Blues best spells of play this season came when they progressed the ball up the flanks utilising the enterprising runs of Jordan and the creativity of Mayling. Blues could look to direct their attacks out wide earlier in the build up, rather than forcing it up the middle where they have found little success.
The centre backs that Tejedor has at her disposal are dominant in the air and very good at defending their box, so Blues could deploy a system that utilises their strengths, rather than one that exposes their weaknesses. By playing a deeper line and ceding possession to the opponent, Blues could frustrate teams and look to hit them on the counter attack by playing more directly.
A more direct style of play would also allow Blues to take advantage of the talented front line that they have, which up to now has been woefully under-supplied. Rachel Williams is a physical match for any centre half in the WSL and would relish the opportunity to battle with defenders if Blues went from back to front more often. Abbi Grant has looked lively when she has seen the ball and Claudia Walker showed at the end of last season that she can be a dual threat, scoring and assisting goals from wide areas. However, none of Blues attacking players have been given the platform to succeed given the team’s inability to progress the ball into the final third consistently.
Tejedor will have to find a way of improving the team’s performances soon or Blues will be heading towards relegation and she may be looking for a new job.