The fight for the Women’s Super League title looks like it will decided on the last game of the season when Manchester City travel to Arsenal in May. Manchester City have clawed their way to top spot (having played two games more than the Gunners!) which seemed unlikely as Arsenal had demolished every opponent in sight up until early December. The two sides also come face to face at the end of the month in the League Cup final at Bramall Lane which should be a spicy encounter.
One of the main reasons why City might pip Arsenal to top spot is the form of Nikita Parris. While most media attention has been focused on the goal scoring prowess of Arsenal’s Vivianne Miedema (rightly so as she has smashed many records this season), one should not neglect the contribution that Nikita Parris has made to last season’s runners up.
Parris is Manchester City’s top scorer in the league with 14 goals (11 from open play and 3 from the penalty spot) with her xG numbers from open play being quite similar. Only Miedema at Arsenal has scored more goals than her in the league with 16.
When looking at her shot map, it’s clear that she shoots consistently in high value areas. She takes high quality shots, with a lot of attempts inside of the 6-yard box (with both head and feet). She’s only taken two shots from outside of the penalty area.
That is almost the opposite of City’s second top scorer, Georgia Stanway. Her expected goals numbers are half of her actual goal numbers, due to many shots from outside of the penalty area and non-central positions inside of the 18 yard-box. Stanway’s goals might be flashier, but it’s Parris’s that are more likely to continue.
From looking at Parris’ radar below, what is impressive is that beyond offensive output, she has excellent defensive numbers, constantly pressuring the ball and winning it back.
It’s easy to see why Nick Cushing has played her more centrally this season. With Manchester City looking to put opponents under pressure as high up the pitch as possible, Parris’ pace, work rate and pressing qualities are vital in order to box in opponents and start attacks close to the opponent’s penalty area. Parris’s ability to lead a press has been key to Manchester City’s counterpressing attacking style this season with her defensive contributions keying quick attacks.
Parris haunts opponents just outside their own penalty area.
And the rest of the City squad follows suit.
By unsettling opponents high up the pitch, City is able to create chances quickly and effectively. Parris is part of that process too. In addition to her scoring and defending contributions, she is second in the team in expected goals assisted from open play.
Parris is a top contributor for City in every phase of play. Her disruptive pressing wins the ball back, her passing helps others take advantage of those opportunities and her goal scoring his second to none. The combination of her stellar overall play with Weir’s creative contributions and Stanway’s sharp shooting is a potent mix that opposing defenses simply have not been able to stop.
But, beyond just City, Parris’s contributions bode well for the England’s chances this summer at the World Cup. Her versatility in attack suggests that Phil Neville could depend on her to fill any number of roles if necessary. She could either facilitate the rest of England’s talented attacking score, or do the bulk of the shooting and scoring herself depending on what is required. A player who is an elite attacking force, an elite defender from the front, and a stellar creator is the kind of luxury any manager dreams of being able to deploy.
Parris is in an exciting battle with Miedema for the golden boot, one in which, like the title itself, could be decided on in a winner takes all heavyweight clash in May at Meadow Park. With the Continental Cup final between the two sides later on this month, Manchester City’s chances of silverware depend a lot on Parris maintaining her impressive form with and without the ball. If she can do that, and then replicate that form all summer, Parris will literally have the world at her feet.
Header image courtesy of the Press Association