Case for the defence: how Man United and Tottenham pressed their credentials for survival in the WSL

Man United's Abbie McManus battles for the ball against City's Janine Beckie (PA Images)
Man United's Abbie McManus battles for the ball against City's Janine Beckie (PA Images)
16:22pm, Mon 09 Sep 2019
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While WSL newbies Manchester United and Tottenham both lost their opening fixtures they will find plenty of positives to take from solid defensive performances that might even have earned a point.

Their conquerors, Manchester City and Chelsea, did not look in total control and were not able to play in their trademark expansive styles.

It has to be said neither side were at full strength due to injuries, but the defensive stability of the new kids on the block was admirable and should stand them in good stead for the season ahead.

The high press was in high demand

Over the last few years, the phenomenon of high pressing has taken over football at all levels and at the weeekend it was in full force again.

United in particular used the high press on a number of occasions as Leah Galton, Ella Toone and Jane Ross rushed towards City players to deny them space.

Keira Walsh literally has nowhere to go because of United's high press (FA Player)

In the situation above, City’s Keira Walsh runs into space to gain possession but as soon as United sense the danger, four players crowd around her and ultimately she's forced to play a long ball which is deflected off for a throw-in.

In isolation this may seem inconsequential in the game, but the fact United did this time and again when they could have easily allowed City time and space to pick a pass that could create danger, was what made their performance so impressive.

Tottenham had the worst start possible at Stamford Bridge after Beth England’s sensational strike within four minutes but they recovered well and also used the press to good effect.

Ashleigh Neville is anticipating the pass to Ji So-Yun (FA Player)
Neville presses high enough and quick enough to dispossess Ji (FA Player)

As can be seen in the above two pictures, Chelsea captain Magdalena Eriksson is looking to pass the ball to Ji So-Yun, but Tottenham’s Ashleigh Neville anticipates the pass and intercepts. This then leads to a chance which is saved brilliantly by Ann-Katrin Berger.

These small moments can lead to big chances as Tottenham showed yesterday and had it not been for Berger, the visitors could have ended their first game in the top flight with a point.

A spread backline gives structure

It would have been understandable for Tottenham's and United's players to have felt overwhelmed by the venues and the crowds, leading to unforced errors but they both kept their composure - and their discipline - to maintain their shape for large periods of the game.

Man United had a spread backline for most of the derby (FA Player)
Tottenham's midfield ably supported the defence against Chelsea (FA Player)

On many occasions their defenders spread across the back to deny their opponents any obvious space through the channels.

The midfield would join in too and often it would prove to be very difficult to break down as both Chelsea and City were forced to play the ball back.

The raw statistics from both games suggest Chelsea and City were deserved winners but Tottenham and United showed they can survive and thrive in the Women’s Super League.

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