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Sunderland v Durham - FA Women’s Continental Tyres League Cup

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Lasses Analysis: Sunderland defender Brianna Westrup!

‘‘Sunderland’s leader plays with passion, is blessed with superb positioning and her technique is similar to that of Leonardo Bonucci or Laurent Blanc,” writes Charlotte Patterson

Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

Brianna Westrup has been a key member of the Lasses’ defence since joining Sunderland.

With the exception of a few brief absences due to injury, this towering and naturally skilled defender has been a dependable presence in the back four and has started every league game.

As a ball player, Westrup’s primary responsibility is to distribute play to the defensive midfielder and full backs, but there’s far more to her game than just her passing skills.

Her repertoire includes spatial and positional awareness, which enables her to predict the positions of opposing attackers and act swiftly to stop them. She’s also made a significant impact at the other end of the pitch, especially with regard to set pieces.

The Scottish centre back has always played to her strengths and has become an unstoppable defensive force.

She can be slow at times, but her game is largely based on positioning. She can eliminate errors by getting into strong positions early on, or alternatively, stall the attacker long enough for her defensive partner to help out.

Durham v Sunderland - Barclays FA Women’s Championship Photo by Mark Fletcher/MI News/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Westrup, 26, is an accomplished player who’s mastered the ability to modify her style of play in response to various opponents, which has helped her to retain her place in the team.

She’s highly proficient with the ball in a system that’s not merely based on playing out from the back and sharing possession, but also being able to hold your own when under attack from opposition players.

That’s what Westrup embodies, because Sunderland’s central defenders are sometimes vulnerable to attacks from more skilled and experienced teams, and therefore they must be able to handle the pressure.

Her leadership, which is demonstrated by her behaviour on the pitch and her position as club captain, is perhaps her most notable trait, as she takes the lead in her play and speaks up when necessary.

At the back, this is what keeps Sunderland afloat.

It’s sometimes easy to overlook but we have two full backs, aged eighteen and twenty respectively, who previously played as wingers and even though we’ve had some outstanding defensive players over the years, Westrup has been a rock.

Being able to coordinate the back four and to ensure everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet is an integral and sometimes under-appreciated part of the game, and this is particularly important when the full backs attack by pushing forward.

Westrup plays to a very high standard, and some aspects of her game are similar to those of the incredibly gifted centre backs in Division 1 Féminine and the WSL. Indeed, the way Sunderland’s leader plays is similar to that of Leonardo Bonucci or Laurent Blanc.

Bonucci and Blanc were mainstays of their respective teams, and Westrup has been just as influential for Sunderland. She possesses Blanc’s defensive positioning and leadership skills, but she also has Bonucci’s technique, tackling, passion, and ball-playing abilities.

Sunderland v Reading - Barclays Women’s Championship Photo by Nigel Roddis - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

Sunderland tend to play with a high line because we’ve dominated possession during the majority of our games this season.

When long balls are fired over the top, Westrup and her centre back partner- either Amy Goddard or Grace McCatty- can serve as a sweeper. She’s prepared to move into position quickly so she can determine how specific phases of the game and attacking moves will unfold.

The teams competing in the Women’s Championship use a diverse range of formations, structures, and tactics. This means that each situation calls for focus and concentration, and Westrup excels at bringing her own skills to bear while adding to those of her partners.

Under the long ball over the top, Westrup frequently tries to get under the ball’s trajectory and handle it there, whereas any long passes that elude the attacker or the defender will be dealt with by Claudia Moan, who’ll be covering from behind.

Despite only being 5’7, Westrup’s ability in the air is impressive.

She makes good use of her size and muscle to pose a threat at both ends of the field, and in defence, she can tower over players to eliminate any problems posed by set pieces.

Sunderland v Watford - Barclays Women’s Championship Photo by Richard Callis/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images

Westrup is equally, if not slightly stronger, in the opposition box when it comes to attacking set pieces.

Since joining Sunderland, she’s already scored several goals and she was also contributing at her previous team, Rangers.

She moves with purpose in the opposition box during set pieces and although her size might suggest that she’d move more slowly, she’s able to make sharp bursts in the box when she loses her marker and can rise highest to meet an approaching cross.

When it comes to defence, Westrup is a proactive player who also possesses outstanding football intelligence. She’s also highly versatile and is blessed with superb positioning, strength, power and poise.

When considering Bonucci and Blanc, they were similar to Westrup in that they could take the lead and speak up when the team needed them to. However, the one significant difference is that Westrup is a very good ball player.

She’s the first member of the team to play out from the back, and by moving forward and applying pressure, Westrup must ensure the ball is first played into the full backs so they may carry it without losing possession.

If the opposition chooses not to play with a high press, Westrup will carry the ball further forward herself, and will look to play in the likes of Liz Ejupi or Mary McAteer, who are adept at making incisive runs and staying onside.

However, Westrup is equally at ease when taking the ball forward, either by herself or by passing it to a central midfielder such as Natasha Fenton or Jenna Dear.

Being able to make use of ball playing defenders and progressive players underpins Sunderland’s current style of play and forms the basis of our game plan. Westrup is at the centre of the defence, which makes her a vital part of our build up.

She’s an astute player with confidence in her abilities, and the ability to remain calm on the ball.

Rather than lump it forward or panic, she’ll use her frame and strength to shield the ball and will wait for an opportunity to present itself. This composure and assurance bodes well for her ability to strike up a good partnership with Goddard.

Given her experience, maturity, skill, leadership and work ethic, it’s been unsurprising to see her emerge as a key player for Sunderland since joining, and she’s a major factor in why the Lasses have conceded so few goals this season and only lost two games.


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