UEFA Women's Champions League Performance Insight: Taking the central route to goal
Tuesday, 14 March 2023
Ahead of the UEFA Women's Champions League quarter-finals, UEFA's Technical Observers looked back on the tactics that brought most goals in this season's group stage.
Article top media content
When it comes to finding a way to goal in the UEFA Women's Champions League, teams are increasingly looking for a central route.
This is one of the key conclusions of an analysis of all the goals scored in the 2022/23 group stage which found that teams are breaking through the opposition centrally on their way to scoring.
Of the 177 goals scored in the group stage, 130 were from open play and progression inside the pitch accounted for 36% of that number. In many cases, this was the product of excellent movement between the lines, while the high number of goals from first-touch finishes (93%) was indicative of both that high-class movement and the quality of the final pass.
Examples of both feature in the video analysis at the top of the page which breaks down a number of the goals from the group stage of this season's competition. As the video shows, the competition's leading teams are increasingly effective at hurting their opponents with a central penetrating pass and their movement between the lines. A team may look organised defensively but suddenly find themselves exposed by a pass between the lines.
As one UEFA observer said: "Good movement will take one defender out of position and the very best teams will play a pass into the space the defender has left."
This focus on goalscoring is part of a wider analysis supported by Redzone and consolidated and scrutinised by the Performance Analysis team at UEFA. Additional insights have come from members of the UEFA Technical Observer Panel.
Other notable trends
Almost two-fifths of goals were scored with the defending team in a low defensive block and structured shape. Meanwhile, there were 23% of goals from fast attacks and 11% from counterattacks.
One UEFA observer pointed to the kind of contests in which these goals against a low block are prevalent – namely matches between higher-ranked sides and lower-ranked opponents. "In some of the games it’s more a defensive vs attack game," she said. This was certainly true of the games featured in the video analysis above involving Albania's Vllaznia who, playing at this stage for the first time, experienced a steep learning curve.
As for teams' effectiveness at putting goalscorers under pressure, there was direct pressure (an opponent trying to intervene within a five-metre radius) in the case of 38% of the goals scored, no pressure for 33% and indirect pressure for 29%.
The video analysis at the top of the page offers five examples of goals scored from central progressions. The first, by Wolfsburg’s Jule Brand against Slavia Praha, comes from a player finding space between the lines. Jill Roord is free in a large pocket between the midfield and defence as she collects the pass and has time to play in Svenja Huth down the right and her cross brings the goal.
The second goal in the video, scored by Chelsea’s Lauren James against Paris Saint-Germain, is notable for a couple of actions. First, there is the progressive pass by Millie Bright to Sam Kerr who drops deep to receive, drawing a centre-back out of position and opening room behind for Fran Kirby. When Kerr turns, there is space to attack and what is also interesting as the sequence unfolds is how Chelsea end up with four players in a parcel of space in the inside-left channel. As the observers reflected, attacking sides are looking to overload one area of the field to draw opponents in to create space elsewhere.
UEFA Technical Observer
"Many goals are initiated from wide areas and you can see there are lot of one vs one or two vs two or three vs three situations, sometimes to use that area to overload it with extra players to then find space to attack box from there."
The eventual finish by James follows a fabulous pass behind the defence by Guro Reiten and lovely lay-off by Kirby who has the presence of mind to tee up James. As mentioned above, that 93% of goals were first-time finishes could be seen as indicative of the quality of the attacking and this is certainly the case here. "This goes back to the quality of the final pass, the final movement to get that space to be able to pass and finish," said an observer.
The third goal, from Paris Saint-Germain's Magnaba Folquet against Vllaznia, shows Kadidiatou Diani take out three opposition players with a penetrating forward pass to Lieke Martens who is in space between the lines. Martens in turn supplies Folquet to score.
From the perspective of group-stage newcomers Vllaznia, there was a useful lesson here about putting more pressure on Diani, the player on the ball. "You have to find a way to have an impact on the player on the ball," said an observer, adding: "From a lower-ranked team’s perspective, impact on the opposition ball-carrier in possession is really important. Then it is controlling those players in the approach areas, the pockets and half-spaces between the lines which is crucial.
"Very often issues happen as the key defenders are being dragged away from the key goal-prevention areas too early which leaves the good attacking teams space to utilise."
The ability of the competition's bright attacking talents to profit from pockets of space is clearly visible in the last two clips of the analysis video. For her wonderful run and finish against Vllaznia, Real Madrid's Caroline Weir starts in an inside-left position before seeing her opportunity to move into the space behind the opposition’s midfield line where Teresa Abelleira picks her out with a penetrating pass.
Another Spain-based player, Barcelona’s Claudia Pina is highlighted in the final clip for her work between the lines prior to a goal scored by Geyse against Bayern München. We see Pina play a ball back to defender Mapi León and then point to the space where she wants to receive it between the lines. When closed down by a Bayern player she lays it off again but is soon back in that space between Bayern’s defence and midfield and, after receiving from Patri Guijarro, is able to set up Fridolina Rolfö to cross for the goal.
Under the microscope
Ahead of the start of the Women’s Champions League quarter-finals on 21 March, the UEFA analysis team will be providing more of its conclusions on the group-stage action and further articles will follow as the competition's latter stages unfold.
Atle Rosseland, the team leader for performance analysis in UEFA's football department, said: "With regards to performance analysis we will do our utmost to ensure that all national associations and stakeholders across the football landscape have access to the latest information on technical and tactical trends from the Women’s Champions League and Women's EURO tournaments.
"We will also do analysis projects across the women's youth tournaments to ensure all stakeholders are up to date with technical and tactical demands in the women's youth game which are increasing year by year."