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Aston Villa Women v Birmingham City Women - Barclays FA Women’s Super League

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Lasses Opposition Analysis: Former WSL runners up Birmingham City Women

The 2022/2023 FA Women’s Championship has two new teams - Birmingham & Southampton. Let’s take a look at what SAFC Women might need to watch out for from the side relegated from the WSL...

Photo by Eddie Keogh/Getty Images

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After the ‘21/22 FA Women’s Championship season, Sunderland Women secured another year in the second tier of women’s football after finishing in ninth place.

So ahead of the ‘22/23 season, we at Roker Report wanted to learn more about the two new teams heading into the division - Southampton, who were promoted from the Women’s National League, and, first up, Birmingham City who were relegated from the Women’s Super League.

I’ve been analysing their style of play, statistics, players to watch, and what we can perhaps expect from each side in preparation for the new season. And I also wanted to speak to people who know these sides the best - the fans!


Birmingham City Women

Birmingham City Women v Everton Women - Barclays FA Women’s Super League Photo by Kate McShane/Getty Images

2021/2022 Season Recap

Despite the positive news that the Blues relocated from Solihull’s Damson Park to St Andrew’s for ‘21/22, I think it is fair to say that it was a tumultuous and arduous season for Birmingham City Women.

After only a few months in charge, manager Scott Booth was sacked. Apparently, this came as a huge surprise to the Birmingham players as they had built a good rapport and understanding with Booth. Nevertheless, it was hard for club management to ignore that Birmingham had only picked up one point after their first seven games.

Darren Carter took over as interim manager and saw out the season which saw Birmingham relegated from the Women’s Super League. However, it is worth noting that Carter did almost lead the Blues to safety despite operating on the lowest budget in the division, with some impressive performances towards the end of the season, particularly with wins over Arsenal and Aston Villa.

Birmingham played 22 games, won 3, drew 2, and lost 17 times across the year, only scoring 15 goals and conceding 51. This meant the Blues finished at the bottom of the table, two points behind Leicester City and with a -36 goal difference. We took them to extra time in the FA Cup Fourth Round and were not overawed by the WSL side.

Their top scorer was 31-year-old centre-back, Louise Quinn, with 5 goals, followed by 24-year-old Greek winger, Veatriki Sarri with 3 goals and 2 assists.


Playing Style

Last season the Blues mainly adopted a 5-4-1 formation, using it for 22% of their matches. However, they have trialled almost every other possible formation at some point in the season.

Birmingham Formations 21/22
Wyscout

Birmingham generally like to play a passing game, averaging around 231.64 passes per game, with a success rate of 64.6%. They also average 76.41 recoveries per game and 36.83% possession. They register an average 6.73 shots per game, with a 32.4% shot accuracy,

The clips of Birmingham that I have watched confirm that they like to play a passing game. They’re happy to take their time in getting forward and building up the play from the back and midfield. They wait for opportunities to present themselves by luring opposition players out of their position with their passing.

It’s then that Birmingham like to play intricate one-twos in the space, before surging forward, with the likes of pacey winger Sarri getting up the field and taking on defenders. She is very skilled with the ball, using both feet to dribble past opposition players or forcing them to commit into a tackle, before taking the ball around them to continue her run.

It’s almost as though she has a magnet in her boots as the ball seems to effortlessly stay by her feet as she carries it forward. Sarri links up very well with the likes of Libby Smith, who has fantastic acceleration and vision to run in between defensive lines to beat the offside trap.

Birmingham City Women v Arsenal Women - Barclays FA Women’s Super League
Veatriki Sarri of Birmingham City celebrates with teammates after victory in the Barclays FA Women’s Super League match between Birmingham City Women and Arsenal Women at St Andrew’s Trillion Trophy Stadium on January 09, 2022 in Birmingham, England.
Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images

Blues goalkeeper, Emily Ramsey who was on loan from Manchester United, was a brilliant asset for the side. Despite the number of goals conceded, Ramsey was instrumental in keeping Birmingham in the game with her outstanding saves and tremendous bravery. Unfortunately for the Blues, Ramsey will be returning back to her parent club this summer.

Thankfully for the side, they are reassured by having the veteran and experienced presence of Marie Hourihane, who has also put in some terrific performances against big opposition.

In terms of weaknesses, Birmingham are susceptible to playing too high up or getting caught up the pitch, meaning when they are dispossessed it provides the perfect opportunity to play in a through ball, which is perfect for the likes of Neve Herron’s pinpoint passing and Emily Scarr’s pace.

The Blues can be guilty of playing the passing game too much and trying to be too cute at the back. Instead of clearing the danger with a lofted ball up the field they can try to play it out from the back whilst under pressure, which has led to goals being directly scored from these errors.

They hold onto the ball for too long, inviting players to challenge them and stopping any chance of either a counter or surge up the pitch. They struggle to maintain their shape and at times are quite guilty of ball watching.

Some of the clips I have watched show Birmingham standing off opposition players and allowing them to run at them. Occasionally, two players will rush towards the attacking player, which then allows them to be caught out and leave a gap for a player to run onto.

They struggle to notice other threats running up the pitch, usually on the opposing wings, allowing the opposition to play the ball out wide and then cut back or cross for their forwards to slot home.

On occasion, Birmingham seem to lack bite or physicality. As previously mentioned, they may double up, but they stand off players, inviting pressure and pulling them out of their defensive shape. There have been times where there has been a lack of team cohesion and communication, with players failing to call for the ball or make themselves known as a potential option, meaning that the ball has failed in being cleared in a dangerous area.

Whilst they are good and fast at getting forward on the counter, they do struggle to cope when the same is done to them, playing with a high defensive line when some of their players are slow to react and get back.

Birmingham are also quite weak on set pieces, particularly on corners. They appear to lose their defensive shape and struggle to pressure opposition players in the box, allowing them to freely challenge the ball or make a run towards the back post.

It would be well worth the Sunderland forwards using their pace and tenacity to close the defenders down on the ball to try and force a mistake. Birmingham lose the ball on average 123.32 times per game.


Ones to watch

As mentioned earlier, it is hard to ignore the likes of Greek winger, Veatriki Sarri. Whilst she may not always dominate in terms of statistics around goals and assists, it cannot be understated just how much Sarri contributes to this side in terms of involvement. Sarri averages 81.74 total actions per game, along with 32.35 passes, 6.88 dribbles and 31.25 duels.

A bundle of energy and talent, no matter what the stage of the games the women are in, be it losing by a significant margin or heading towards the latter stages of the match, Sarri gives her all and continues to get forward, make herself an option on the wing and cause trouble for the backline.

She is tantalising to watch, with her tricky feet and the way in which she carries the ball forward. Sarri will definitely be a difficult player to manage in the Women’s Championship next season.

Sarri Average ‘Heatmap’
Wyscout

Whilst it may be hard to see positive in the Birmingham defence after the 54 goals conceded and relegation, there was the performance of 19-year-old centre-back, Gemma Lawley which should give Blues fans lots of hope for next year.

Lawley played in 19 of 22 games in the WSL, averaging 45.7 total actions per game, 13.97 duels, 5.81 interceptions and a 72.7% passing accuracy. It is unsurprising that Lawley was rewarded for her accomplishments when she picked up Players’ Player of the Season and also Young Player of the Season.


What the fans say

Following on from Birmingham’s relegation from the FA Women’s Super League. We spoke to one of the hosts of the ‘Brum is Blue’ podcast, Craig Hadley (@CraigHadlee) about how their season went and what to expect from them next season. You can catch their podcast on Spotify at Brum Is Blue

Roker Report: Thank you for taking the time out to speak to us! Firstly, how would you say the season has gone for your team?

Craig Hadley: It was always going to be a tough season given the number of players going out and coming in during the summer. We signed a lot of players that were unproven at WSL level and needed more time to get used to the league. We expected to be in a relegation fight and sadly this time we just missed out on survival.

RR: What would you say are the expectations for this season?

CH: My expectations for next season is to finish in the top four. With key players likely to attract interest from the WSL we will need to rely on our young players coming through and with established sides in the Women’s Championship I don’t expect an easy ride but think the players will be up for the fight.

RR: Which areas would you say the team needs to improve/strengthen?

CH: Goals have been a problem this season with our top scorer being a defender which isn’t ideal. I would like to see a striker which experience at WC level come in during the summer to give us a more consistent option up top.

RR: Who is a player/ who are some players to watch?

CH: When you have quality youngsters coming through you don’t want to put pressure on them to succeed but I do think Delphi Cole could be one to watch next season. She’s still incredibly young but has just been called up to the England U18 squad and scored 52 goals this season at just 16 years of age.

RR: Lastly, we acknowledge it can be hard to do so, but where do you predict they will finish and how will their season go?

CH: I think if Darren Carter gets the job on a permanent basis (currently interim manager) and we keep a few senior players alongside the solid academy players we can finish in the top four.


We also spoke to Award-winning author, scriptwriter and women’s season ticket holder, Steve Wright (@SWright58) to ask his thoughts on this Birmingham team. You can find his work at stephenlwright.uk

Roker Report: Thank you for taking the time out to speak to us! Firstly, how would you say the season has gone for your team?

Steve Wright: It’s been very strange, but fantastic, to be back at games for the first time for a good while. As far as the team’s performance is concerned, it’s been mixed. There wasn’t a good start under Scott Booth but things certainly began to turn around with the arrival of Darren Carter. That said, it was still mixed. Clearly the win against Arsenal and the end of season seeing Villa off were immense, but that level of performance couldn’t be sustained; and supporters struggled to understand why.

RR: What would you say are the expectations for this season?

SW: It’s heartening to know that only two players have not renewed their contracts. I’m not surprised with Marie. It was her second time at Blues and she’s put in two might shifts. Vea, I am surprised at, as I thought she’d give it more time; but, hey ho. So, I’m hoping to see a squad hungry to get back in the WSL. The players have taken shedloads of stick about their quality; but there’s a bunch of senior Internationals in the squad, and that’s no small matter. We need more players, and news is already out about those who are moving on; so maybe there’s some there that might fancy it.

RR: Which areas would you say the team needs to improve/strengthen?

SW: There’ve been problems since I’ve been following Blues (2016) with the Vital Third; playing out from the back; giving opponents too much space and time, amongst others. they’ve shown how they can take on the mighty Arsenal and win with a clean sheet, so more of that. I think they’ve got to trust each other more, too.

RR: Who is a player/ who are some players to watch?

SW: I’m going to go with some of our younger ones first:

Lucy Jones - she’s our only ‘keeper right now - earned her stripes in the match against Leicester when Emily Ramsey was sent off - huge season with the Academy.

Gemma Lawley - she came on leaps and bounds last season - still very young but hugely talented - deserves her place in the senior squad

Lily Simkin - when she’s match fit she’s top drawer.

Abi Cowie - another Academy alumna who has well and truly earned her place in the senior squad.

Abbi Jenner, Louanne Worsey, Delphi Cole - all played at St A’s and been phenomenal for the Academy.

RR: Lastly, we acknowledge it can be hard to do so, but where do you predict they will finish and how will their season go?

SW: I Tweeted about Blues being back after one season and was rounded on by one fella who said my comment was a prime example of misunderstanding the Championship. It’s true that no relegated team, so far, has gone back up after one season. I live in hope! So I’ll say top three; with top spot being ideal!


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