Abdullah Abdullah looks at Manchester City’s new recruit Khadija Shaw and compares her with her teammate Ellen White.
Manchester City have had arguably one of the best transfer windows of the summer, signing several top-class players, including Filippa Angeldal, Hayley Raso, Alanna Kennedy, and Vicky Losada to name a few. However, the most exciting transfer was the signing of striker Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw to bring depth to Gareth Taylor’s forward line.
Last season, City resorted to playing White but lacked any real second option with Georgia Stanway playing as a false nine at times. Shaw comes in with a reputation of being a pure goal scorer, having scored 32 goals over two seasons in France for Bordeaux. If City are to challenge on all fronts, they’ll need to be diverse in their tactics and utilise the squad smartly depending on the opposition in front of them. But what are the fundamental differences in both strikers’ style of play? Where is it that Shaw differs from White?
Using TransferLab, we’ll compare both players, highlighting their key traits to determine what the two strikers bring to the table.
Ellen White has been leading the line at City since the start of the 2019/20 season. She has had relative success for them so far, not just in terms of her goal-scoring but in terms of what she has added to the team’s flexibility. Since joining the club, she has allowed City to become a little bit more of a fluid side in the forward areas. Her first season yielded nine goals with another eight in the following season. While she hasn’t scored a lot of goals, her effect on the team has been notable.
White can be described as an advanced/deep-lying forward hybrid, who is agile enough to both run in behind defences as well as create space through dummy runs. She is also an effective link player and her ability to drop into pockets of space in midfield enables her to create passing exchanges with the midfielders. With a good first touch, White’s ability to create attacking moves involving Caroline Weir and Chloe Kelly means there is a lot more fluid movement in the final third. This moves defenders out of position and creates space for other players to make penetrative runs.
White’s heatmap is exactly what you’d imagine for a complete forward:
Her most active areas are through the middle, stretching down to the centre circle area. The amount of activity in and around the 18-yard box demonstrates a high work rate and willingness to be flexible especially with two direct wide players in Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp.
Looking at her data in the pre-set Striker profiles in TransferLab, White ranks best in the All Round and Goalscorer profiles, something you might expect from her description:
Striker – Target Striker: 91
Striker – Goalscorer: 97
Striker – All Round: 93
The most surprising thing about her numbers from the last 12 months is that she doesn’t exactly rank in the high 80s and 90s for most metrics in the Women’s Super League except for Expected goals (shots from open play) which is at the 85% mark. The numbers don’t exactly paint White in the best light. However, we should equally analyse her on-pitch displays to judge her effectiveness.
One of the first traits we’ll examine is her link-up play and movement between the lines. White is much more of a deep-lying forward than Shaw which makes her much more involved with City’s slick midfield. The example below shows White in a good position to link-up the City attack:
As you can see, White drops into a position nominally taken up by a number 10 to then hold up the ball and plays a through ball down the left flank. As soon as the ball reaches Lauren Hemp, White makes her way to the middle of the 18-yard box to get on the end of the cross. Though she doesn’t reach it, it just demonstrates her ability in and around the box and how she interchanges with her midfield.
Even in this short clip, we see just how predatory White is in the box. In the next clip, look at how her subtle movement across the defender to get on the end of a cross against Arsenal makes the cross much more dangerous than it could be:
Both of these examples tell us why White has a high rating when it comes to expected goals from open play. At 5’7, she is slightly bigger than most players which inherently makes her a decent aerial target which is reflected by her 70 percentile rating of headers. Her touches and goals per 90 are in the top 30% of strikers in the WSL which might suggest she isn’t as clinical with her play in the box but the ability to do so.
Khadija Shaw has been an outstanding talent in French football for a couple of seasons. During that time, she scored goals for fun, rivalling Ada Hegerberg and Marie-Antionette Katoto in terms of goals. Over those two seasons, Shaw has scored 32 goals with her second one yielding 22 goals.
What Shaw majorly brings to the table is speed and precision as a poacher. The Jamaican striker excels at timing her runs and taking on players in 1v1 positions. She operates well when given space but also does well in tight spaces using some exquisite touches to get past players, leveraging her pace to get away from them.
The 24-year-old’s heatmap is indicative of how she finds good goal-scoring positions to score goals. Most of her activity is heavily centred around the 18-yard box but there are highlights around the box too:
Being closer to the box indicates that she’s a very effective presence and knows how to be clinical. Shaw’s data points towards a player that has excelled in several metrics but what stands out is her excepted assists and key passes, both of which put her in the 90th percentile. For a player who isn’t known for her playmaking, it makes for good reading and one that suits City’s style. In her second season at Bordeaux, she registered seven assists.
Looking at Shaw’s statistics, then, we get the picture of a player who has been excellent over the last 12 months. Her profile scores are up there with some of the best in the WSL, let alone Europe, where she stands out in the goalscorer and all-round profiles.
Striker – Target Striker: 97
Striker – Goalscorer: 99
Striker – All Round: 99
Shaw’s numbers are good, then. But what does the tape show?
This passage of play against Montpellier is a clear example of how Shaw was used at Bordeaux, positioned on the shoulder of defenders getting onto line-breaking passes. From here, she is confident in beating players in solo situations before either taking a shot or passing it for another player. This is exactly how Shaw scored a number of her goals.
Already in her short City career, we’ve seen Shaw adapt to their style of play combined with her repertoire of skills. The games against Real Madrid and Everton represented a chance to come up against two teams that would try and sit deep and block any easy gaps for City to exploit.
The following two examples will demonstrate what we can expect from the player moving forward. The first is a goal taken from their first league game against Everton where City win the ball high up the pitch with Shaw’s positioning on the left side:
As soon as the ball reaches Hayley Raso, the centre-forward immediately darts inside and finds space in the box behind Everton’s defenders. Once the pass comes in, she manages to score a relatively easy goal.
The second example is a passage from their UEFA Women’s Champions League qualifier against Real Madrid where Shaw illustrates an excellent piece of skill including a great take, touch, and turn to find space behind Madrid’s defensive line:
The deeper starting position means she’s trying to connect with her midfielders a lot more and once again leveraging the space available to her. Although this play doesn’t end up with a goal or assist, Shaw has shown that she’s willing to adapt.
When it comes to comparing these two players, the ultimate question is: who suits City’s style of play better? The answer is both players have their advantages. Shaw is a younger, much quicker player who can stretch opposition defences and provide real ruthless quality. White, however, is more of a link-player, someone who can bring the midfield into play much more by bringing the wide players into more goal-scoring positions.
The comparison above is clear-cut and illustrates the vast improvement that Shaw brings to her new club. Now that City are out of European competition, all eyes will be on the Women’s Super League, and for City, the games against Arsenal and Chelsea will be what will ultimately decide the title winners. Gareth Taylor now has two very capable options up front for different circumstances.
Header image copyright IMAGO / Sports Press Photo