A Close Manchester Derby As City Struggle In Attack
On the surface, the top three – who were hugely dominant last season when looking at xG – starting the season with wins doesn’t feel particularly interesting, especially given two of them played newly promoted sides, but there were still some interesting points from the games.
The Manchester derby, played at the Etihad, was the main attraction of the weekend, both before the season started and also because it broke the attendance record for the FAWSL with over 30,000 people attending. Focusing on the action on the pitch however, it was incredibly close with few chances between the two sides.
This is pretty good from a Manchester United perspective, allowing just 0.4 xG away to the side who finished 2nd last season, while creating a strong chance at the other end that was well saved by Ellie Roebuck.
From a City perspective, it’s not so good. They moved the ball out of defence well, having the 2nd highest progression via passes as a team and Steph Houghton having the most of all players this weekend, but struggled once they got into more advanced areas.
If I worked this out properly, which is a big if, they had only the 7th most possessions reaching the final third and 6th most reaching the box while also having the lowest percentage of possessions reaching the box to end in a shot. Looking at the shot map, they managed only one shot inside the box, which was also of low quality.
It feels easy to point and say that City missed a striker but it did seem to be the case on Saturday. Janine Beckie led the league in progression via carries this weekend and got the ball into some good areas, but rarely had anyone to pick out once she got there.
It feels as though the four of Weir, Wullaert, Stanway and Beckie all want to do a bit of the same thing, it was rare one of them would be making runs in behind to stretch the defence or into the box should the ball be moved out wide in position for a cutback.
It’s only one game so I don’t think there’s any reason for City to worry just yet, especially as they scored seven in the week, but I would hope to see some improvement from the front four against Reading.
It feels like they either need more attacking full-backs, particularly on the left if Weir and Beckie are going to be more central, or go for a more conventional 4-3-3. Beckie and Wullaert can play wide while Scott and Weir can be attacking #8s who support Stanway down the middle and give City more presence in the box.
Full-backs Aoife Mannion and Demi Stokes can be more defensive/inverted, which feels as though it could suit them, particularly with Mannion playing centre-back rather than full-back for Birmingham last season. With the exception of Beckie’s position, their pass map wasn’t exactly far off this.
City got the result they wanted but you’d expect their performances to improve over the course of the season.
If they’re going to stick with the same front four until Ellen White is back they need to make sure they get bodies into goalscoring positions, with it feeling as though they’re more likely to hang around the box than get into strong goalscoring positons at the moment.
Quickly coming back to Manchester United, they gave a good account of themselves and will be disappointed to lose after restricting City to shots they did. It’ll be interesting to see whether the low xG for City came thanks to some good defending and organisation from them or some teething issues in this current City front four, although it likely lies somewhere in the middle.
Individually, Jackie Groenen had a strong game, having the most pressures this weekend as well as some decent numbers for progression via carries.