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UEFA Women's Champions League Performance Insight: Pressing pays as regains bring rich reward

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.

Women's Champions League Performance Insight: Regains

When the UEFA Women's Champions League quarter-finals kick off next week, the ability of teams to press and win the ball high up the pitch is expected to be a significant factor in the tactical duels ahead.

This is the view of the UEFA Technical Observer panel after it digested the group stage action and identified goals following regains as a noteworthy tactical tendency in the elite women's game.

Goals from fast attacks – moves of five passes or less – accounted for 23% of the 130 open-play goals recorded in the group stage. In a notable number of cases, this followed a team winning the ball near the opposition penalty box and then requiring only one or two passes to score.

Watch every Arsenal group stage goal

As the technical observers explained: "One trend from the better teams is their counter-pressing and regaining the ball in higher areas. When we look at the stat around fast attacks, an interesting discussion is the counter-press; teams are getting repeated chances because they win the ball back higher."

This focus on goalscoring is part of a wider analysis supported by Redzone and consolidated and scrutinised by the Performance Analysis team at UEFA.

UEFA's data shows that 14% of open-play goals in the group stage came from rebounds or regains. To elaborate on the kind of regains, the data shows that 42% of the regains were in the final third. More than half (53%) happened in the central lane of the pitch which indicates where teams are focusing their pressing energies.

As the technical observers added: "Defending of the opposition half with high pressing – trying to win the ball early, or disturbing the build-up – has a clear impact."

Teams are increasingly sophisticated in the way they set up and in group games between the more experienced, higher-ranked sides and lower-ranked rivals, it was evident that some stronger teams were purposely inviting their opponents forward so they could secure opportunities to counterattack.

As for the knockout stage ahead, the observers are looking forward to seeing which teams fare best at bypassing the high pressure and restricting their opponents' regains.

Analysis explained

Arsenal's Caitlin Foord after finding the target against Lyon
Arsenal's Caitlin Foord after finding the target against LyonUEFA via Getty Images

The analysis video above offers examples of goals scored after regains and it begins with an example from Arsenal, identified by the observers as a "high-level counter-pressing team" who have scored the majority of their goals with four or fewer passes.

For the goal in question – Arsenal's fourth in a 5-1 victory at Lyon, scored by Caitlin Foord – the north London side have four players pressing high up the pitch closing down possible passing lanes and restricting the options of Wendie Renard, who eventually attempts a long pass out to the right. Foord anticipates well, intercepting the ball before curling a shot into the far corner.

The second clip features Benfica scoring against Barcelona, and it begins with the Lisbon side ceding possession with a forward ball picked up by Barcelona centre-back Mapi León. Rather than retreat, Benfica have six players pushed up and the video pauses to show five different Barcelona players, each at risk of an immediate intervention by a red shirt. This is precisely what happens next as Keira Walsh plays a short pass inside to Aitana Bonmatí. In steps Pauleta to intercept, touching the ball forward to Jéssica Silva who scores with an excellent shot from outside the box.

A goal from Roma's Andressa Alves against Wolfsburg is the focus of the third clip – specifically, the terrific anticipation by Alves as she reads an intended pass back inside by Wolfsburg's Lena Lattwein to centre-back Dominique Janssen. It is worth noting also the pressure from Giada Greggi, right on top of Lattwein as she rushes her pass inside. Cue an audacious dipping effort from long range by the Brazilian.

The fourth sequence in the video shows Chelsea rewarded for the pressure they apply as Paris Saint-Germain look to build from the back in the Londoners' 3-0 success at Stamford Bridge. Emma Hayes' team begin with two forwards on the perimeter of the penalty box and the video shows Sam Kerr, the left-sided forward, pointing to the space centrally that she expects Guro Reiten to fill should Sarah Bouhaddi attempt a vertical pass to midfielder Oriane Jean-François.

As the sequence unfolds, the video shows how Chelsea have seven players each ready and waiting to press a possible recipient of the pass. When Bouhaddi plays short to Amanda Ilested, Kerr closes down first the centre-back and then the goalkeeper, whose ensuing loose kick out is intercepted by the stretching leg of Lauren James. The combination that follows brings a fine team goal.

The video analysis concludes with goal against Benfica by Bayern München, another team cited by the UEFA observers for their counter-pressing work. We see six Bayern players occupy a central area of the pitch to limit the passing options for Benfica defender Lucia Alves and the result is an interception by Sarah Zadrazil, after which Georgia Stanway picks up the ball and supplies Klara Bühl for a goal which would certainly fit into the category of fast attack.

Bayern celebrate a Klara Bühl goal against Benfica
Bayern celebrate a Klara Bühl goal against BenficaGetty Images

Under the microscope

The Women's Champions League quarter-finals kick off on 21 March and the UEFA analysis team will be providing further articles as the competition unfolds.

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."