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June 6, 2019

Representing the world with the WSL

By Mark Thompson
Image Courtesy of Press Association
Netherlands striker Vivianne Miedema

If you’re a lover of football, England is the place to be. The men’s side of the club game filled the semi-finals of both major European competitions, and the FA Women’s Super League will be one of the best-represented leagues at this summer’s World Cup.

We covered the English and Scottish players that the WSL is sending to France earlier in the week, but that still leaves a good number still to cover. Another seven nations are represented by English top-tier clubs, although, with the transfer window ongoing, that could well increase before or during the tournament.

A sizeable share of these WSL international stars are from 2017 European champions, the Netherlands.

As a demonstration of how frantic the pre-tournament transfer window has been, Arsenal’s Dutch offering went from four to two to three in the space of a matter of days shortly after the end of the season. However, it’s 2018/19 WSL top scorer and PFA Player of the Year Vivianne Miedema and midfielder Daniëlle van de Donk who are the big names.

Miedema’s radar chart tells the story of a fantastic season, where she breaks the scale on three different stats. The 22-year-old averaged 5.36 shots and 0.76 expected goals per game, an astonishing level of attacking firepower. As if that wasn’t enough, Van de Donk scored a full eight goals from the six-yard box alone.

Further back, the versatile Dominique Bloodworth plugged many a gap for the Gunners over the course of the season, including at centre-back, which is where she turns out for the Netherlands. Interest from Wolfsburg materialised and culminated in a transfer, while goalkeeper Sari van Veenendaal is also departing Arsenal after losing her club starting spot, despite being a significantly better shot-stopper than the league average and a safer presence on the ball.

Sari van Veenendaal vs league average radar, performing well for shot-stopping and safe passing.

She was displaced in the pecking order by France‘s Pauline Peyraud-Magnin who, while seemingly a more questionable shot-stopper, led the league in claiming more crosses than expected.

For Arsenal, perhaps this decision of Peyraud-Magnin over Van Veenandaal makes sense, if the Gunners are facing teams more likely to be limited to throwing in crosses than taking meaningful shots. Internationally, though, Peyraud-Magnin is unlikely to see much game-time behind France’s first choice, Lyon’s Sarah Bouhaddi.

Back with Holland, and Bristol City get some World Cup representation with Danique Kerkdijk in France as a back-up central defender to Bloodworth, if the warm-up games are to be believed. Everton midfielder Inessa Kaagman is also in the squad.

Clearly wanting to restore balance to the Dutch north London Force, Jill Roord has been announced as an incoming Arsenal transfer, and is clearly pretty happy to be joining some of her compatriots.

International teammates joining up at the same club side is a story at Chelsea too, who have key players for Norway (who Katja Kragelund has previewed here) as well as Sweden.

In Hedvig Lindahl, the Swedes have one of the best goalkeepers of the WSL, although she might want to keep an eye on her bottom-right corner.

Hedvig Lindahl's shots faced; with a concentration of goals conceded in the bottom-left corner when facing the goal.

Chelsea’s Jonna Andersson and Magdalena Ericsson will be joining Lindahl in France. At club level, they’re the Blues’ regular left-back and left-sided centre-back respectively, but in recent national team games they’ve occasionally been used as like-for-like replacements.

Ericsson’s defensive activity map shows a concentration of action towards the left sideline, which is interesting. It suggests that the centre-back isn’t afraid to move around and up the field to pressure opponents and cut out attacks.

Magdalena Ericsson's defensive pressure map, showing a concentration of action high up the pitch towards the left sideline.

As a comparison, here’s England’s Steph Houghton. The Lionesses and Manchester City captain still makes those defensive actions towards the sideline, but has a far higher concentration closer to her own goal as well.

Steph Houghton defensive pressure map, showing the largest concentration of action relatively close to her own goal.

The WSL also sees representation on Canada and New Zealand‘s squads, and these players could well face each other, as both nations were drawn in Group E.

On the Canadian side, Janine Beckie struggled to get regular time for Manchester City, with 283 minutes spread over ten appearances, only two of which were starts. Adriana Leon was a more consistent feature for West Ham since joining in January, though. She scored one league goal as well as a brace in the FA Cup, helping the Hammers get to the final (where they lost out to Beckie’s City).

Speaking of West Ham, who have one of the more international squads in the league, New Zealand’s Ria Percival was their regular right-back this season, putting up some impressively solid defensive numbers. Based on the warm-up games in the run-in to the tournament, she’ll likely be lining up as a defensive-minded midfielder.

Ria Percival radar chart, showing a particular strength in defensive actions.

However, national team captain Ali Riley struggled to get time on the pitch for Chelsea in 2018/19 and Everton’s Olivia Chance was out for the year with injury. But how much will this lack of game-time end up mattering? All three players featured in New Zealand’s recent 1-0 win over England and 1-0 defeat to Wales (who didn’t even qualify for the World Cup). National football is unpredictable.

But let’s finish on a note of consistency. Chelsea’s defensive stars have already been touched on, but one of their key attackers, Ji So-Yun, will be a big part of the Korea Republic team. For Chelsea, only Karen Carney created more expected goals in 2018/19, and Ji also popped up with six league strikes of her own.

Chelsea's expected goals assisted chart, with Karen Carney leading the way and Korea Republic's Ji So-Yun second.

Ji will be joined in France by captain Cho So-Hyun, who joined West Ham in January. Cho scored the winning penalty in the FA Cup semi-final against Reading and generally appears to have performed fairly well, a little more creative than the league average.

The transfer window will undoubtedly bring even more international stars to the WSL for the 2019/20 season, but the names mentioned here should give some English-based fans something to look out for in the rest of the World Cup.

Article by Mark Thompson