Tactical analysis: Washington Spirit’s performance vs Gotham FC

D1 Arkema Text graphic for The Data Scout by Marc P. Lamberts.

On Friday, March 25th, Washington Spirit hosted Gotham FC in the NWSL. While we all know that the game resulted in an exciting 1-1 draw, we also want to have a deeper look at the performance of Washington Spirit.

In this article, we will use data and images to support the analysis of this game, from Washington Spirit’s perspective.

Formations Washington Spirit vs Gotham FC

Credit: Wyscout

In the image above, you can see the formations employed by the two sides in this NWSL match. Washington Spirit has a 4-2-3-1 formation, which sees Andi Sullivan and Taylor Aylmer in the double pivot as the two defensive midfielders.

Trinitiy Rodman and Tinaya Alexander posed as wide midfielders and wingers, depending on the state of play. Tara McKeown was the sole striker.

Opponents Gotham FC did play in a bit of a different formation. They started in a 4-3-1-2 with three central/defensive midfielders and one player on the #10 role (Kristie Mewis).

On top, they had the striker duo of Margaret Purce and Ifeoma Onumonu. They employed a more defensive approach with being secure in having more defensive numbers at the back to support their back four.

It’s important to illustrate that these are starting positions and roles of individuals are more important than positions in the modern game, as we will see in the next section of the analysis.

Washington Spirit’s style of play

This game was played at a high pace between the transitions, meaning that there many attacks from both sides. But, when the ball was lost the teams needed to switch from attack to defence, and back again. This leads to an open game, with many chances and space. So how did Washington Spirit deal with this and construct their attack?

They favoured playing on the right side which also can be seen on this pass network below:

As you can see, the left side is not as utilised as the right side. On average the positioning of the players on the right is higher and more clustered. At the same time, there is more space on the left side. Rodman (#2) inverts to a more central position, while the attack often consists of three: McKeown, Sanchez and Alexander.

Washington Spirit: Two different styles of attack

The attacking pattern could be seen in two different strategies. One was to pass via and attack using a triangle on the right side. By using three players in passing, you could use your own positioning and the movement of the ball to go up the field and provide a cross.

Credit: Wyscout

As illustrated in the image above, they use this way of playing to get out of the marking, using passing and pace, and continue their attacking play. The most threat in terms of expected goals was generated from that left-side with 50% of the positional attacks being conducted there. This translated into 0,78 xG for Washington Spirit.

Another way of attacking that proved to be fruitful was luring defensive players into the middle third and then sending the long ball over the defence for the attacker, who used pace to utilise it. That was the intention, but more often it also had to do with the positioning of Gotham FC after the transition.

Credit: Wyscout

As Gotham tried to attack frequently and move the whole squad up the pitch, the positioning on transition was fragile. And, Washington Spirit recognised that. Using the pace of their attackers, with McKeown in particular, they could hurt Gotham with long balls.

Shots

Credit: Wyscout

In the image above, you see the shot map of Washington Spirit in their game against Gotham. They had 26 shots in the entire game with nine shots on target, one of which resulted in a goal.

They accumulated 2,1 expected goals, which might suggest they should have scored 2,1 goals based on the quality of the chances. This also suggests that Washington Spirit have underperformed in this game. But, this can’t be a conclusion of good or bad finishing.

Final thoughts

Washington Spirit’s attacking style of play to create chances can be divided into two clear styles. On the one hand, they have managed to use triangles on the right side to create chances and utilise them via crosses. On the other hand, they have also managed to use the high positioning of Gotham FC, to use the long ball. This has resulted in 26 shots in the whole game. But, couldn’t convert the chances enough as the expected goals might suggest. In other games, they might take those chances and be on top of the scoresheet.

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