Round three of the Women’s Super League was a miserable, grey, drizzly day for both Manchester teams.
The early kick off saw United subdued by Chelsea and was bookended when City was silenced by Arsenal hours later in London. Score lines of 6-1 and 5-0 respectively signalled a very tough day in the office.
The common problem
The warning signs were there in the first 90 seconds for United. Play out from the back and there will be trouble. But the Reds persisted despite the blaring fire alarm going off and suffered for it. Barely a minute later there was another turn over out of defence and Kerr fed Kirby for the opening goal.
Hands in the head type of moment.
City clearly didn’t watch the highlight reel of their neighbour’s match. Instead went out against Arsenal with a similar game plan of playing it out from the back. It took a little longer for City’s plan to come undone, but a wayward back pass and clinical Miedema was all it took.
Interestingly Chelsea and Arsenal both pressed differently, despite exposing the same problem.
A high aggressive press was implemented by Chelsea. They put specific pressure on the defender in possession with the direct press. The forwards led the charge and United defenders constantly had no time to find a pass. Instead of adapting, United persisted and constantly turned the ball over, being stripped in 1v1 challenges, loose first touches and being unable to pick out a pass.
Arsenal used a more suffocating the opponent approach. They permitted City defenders to have possession of the ball, but cut out passing channels and produced a creep up approach that clearly rattled City’s defence. It’s the type of press that means statistics lie because it’s the type of possession that City can’t threaten with. The ball wasn’t turned over quite as often, quite as deep. What it did do was restrict the first and second ball forward and when the turn over did inevitably happen, create a lot of space in the final third for Arsenal to expose.
The Manchester sides not only shared defensive woes, but lacked composure in the final third too.
United were the more attacking of the two and the score line proved more a reflection of Chelsea’s execution and United’s lack of. There was movement and time spent in the final third all without the quality of the final pass. Russo provided a more direct route when subbed on at half time. However Chelsea packed the box with bodies meaning United had plenty of time on the ball out wide, but couldn’t translate that to threatening the goal.
Less time was spent in the City attack. Despite all the possession, they were largely limited to the counter attacks often through Hemp. This was a reflection of the different press City was under. The organisation of Arsenal to cut out midfield options across the park had an effect in nullifying them further up it. City do have the ‘luxury’ of a goal hunter in White, but Arsenal was able to silence the forward.
Having an alternative plan is like having toast or a packet of noodles on standby if the dinner you had planned turns out to be terrible. Mistakes happen, plans for a ‘fancy’ meal can be high risk, high reward scenarios.
Wanting to play out from the back is the same. High risk, high reward.
But when you pull your ‘fancy’ meal out of the oven and realise you forgot to turn the kitchen appliance on so it’s 7pm and you don’t feel like waiting another two hours, a back up plan is needed. That’s where it’s time for toast or noodles to truly shine.
United and City need a plan b for when their high press is undone. The good old long ball game comes to mind as the most obvious way to alleviate the problem.