Abdullah Abdullah looks at how Georgia Stanway, one of England’s outstanding players this summer, will fit in in southern Germany
In one of the more surprising transfers of the summer, Bayern Munich announced they had signed England international Georgia Stanway at the end of last season. The former Manchester City midfielder left the club after seven years of service. The journey saw her become City’s record goalscorer and an extremely versatile midfielder, filling multiple positions and consistently performing at a high level.
Bayern will be expected to improve their standing in European football this season with a carefully crafted squad containing some burgeoning talent. While competitive domestically, Bayern are still trying to make the next step on the continental stage and compete against the likes of Barcelona, Lyon, and Wolfsburg. The signing of Stanway is another significant step in that direction.
The idea of an Englishwoman heading overseas to compete on foreign soil is unusual but Lucy Bronze’s success in France was resounding; she has now ventured into Spain to join up with Barcelona. And although not every English export has met with the same levels of success, that should not put off those, like Stanway, who are seeking to broaden their footballing horizons and pursuing success away from the WSL.
The decision by Stanway to move is both a bold and interesting one. Her game is quite physical by nature but has an elegant, creative side. The German school of technicality and tactical focus should elevate Stanway’s play tenfold and will only benefit both Bayern Munich and England.
After a highly successful European Championships where she was a significant part of a winning midfield, attention now turns to Stanway’s role at her new club. So far, it seems that new coach Alexander Straus has shifted towards a new 3-5-2 system.
With Stanway’s arrival, it’s important to dissect and understand the qualities she brings to this Bayern midfield and whether there is scope to enhance the system for others to thrive. There are a variety of positions and roles Stanway could fill in this new look Bayern side and it is important to understand what she offers to a side already filled with central midfield talent.
Bayern Munich’s 3-5-2 Era
Based on their first two preseason games, Bayern aren’t using their central midfield as an outlet for build-up. Instead, as is often the case with wing-back oriented formations, the build-up tends to come from the wide players. Bayern Munich are happy in possession and are comfortable passing between the central defenders until they find an opening to progress the ball forward through their wing-backs or play it forward into the central midfielders in a more advanced position.
Given that their centre-backs are each comfortable on the ball with a diverse passing range, the central midfield duo must be capable of playing a dual role of defensive competency and attacking prowess. Bayern are bless with players who can do this, though, and have a huge amount of depth and quality across their three midfield positions: Sarah Zadrazil, Saki Kumagai, Georgia Stanway, Lina Magull, Sydney Lohmann, and Linda Dallmann.
The way they played against Sassuolo saw the 3-5-2 look more like a 3-4-1-2 with the No. 10 floating between the lines. This cleared space for one of the double-pivot players to make late box runs. There were moments where Klara Bühl drifted into a wide left position and even dropped into a left wing-back position in build-up, which shows the fluid movement of the centre-forwards. Stanway and Zadrazil played as deep-lying playmakers and box-to-box hybrids, both interchanging into the single pivot position in build-up, while also moving up towards the edge of the box. A few moments in the first half saw both players interchanging positions.
Each option gives Bayern something a little bit different and pairing up Stanway with any of them introduces an interesting dynamic. The Zadrazil – Stanway double pivot looked like it had good potential but what could be interesting is a Lohmann – Stanway partnership. Here, Stanway could play as the deeper midfielder in games that require more penetration against a low block.
Georgia Stanway – The player
While the sample size is small, the evidence so far shows that there are a couple of positions in which Stanway can operate. Her natural tendency is to look for pockets of space in the middle and become a primary ball progressor through carries. A good range of passing and the ability to bypass the press with quick, incisive passes makes Stanway a good fit in a technical midfield.
Off-the-ball, Stanway might need a bit more discipline but has most definitely improved in the last 12 months. She’s able to anticipate and understand game state and moves into good defensive transition positions. If successful, these tackles put her team in a good position to counter-attack. The one downside is that she commits the odd foul that leads to an eventual yellow card.
Straight off the bat, Stanway’s profile highlights the qualities mentioned earlier with several standout traits and qualities. A score of 98 as a central midfielder in a box-to-box role ranks her as one of the highest-rated players on the TransferLab platform in her position.
Progressive short passes, carries, and touches in the final third are three metrics to focus on as they summarise her game perfectly. Stanway is a player capable of working well in tight spaces, playing a short passing game with progression qualities that put her team in the final third. A high percentage of touches in the final third translates to excellent positional qualities and carrying ability. A lot of these qualities have developed from her experience playing in multiple positions for City, ranging from full-back to centre-forward. Not nailing down a set position meant she had to adapt and learn her new positions, which eventually gave her a new perspective going back into her natural midfield role.
Stanway the No. 8 – Movement & decision-making
Bayern will likely use Stanway most in her natural No. 8 position and this is where they can derive the most benefit from her abilities. Stanway is always looking to find space to receive the ball to drive forward. When she’s partnered with a more defensive-minded player, she has more freedom to attack without the worry of leaving space in behind. The 60 or so minutes with Zadrazil showed Stanway’s ability to push up, just as she could for England playing alongside Keira Walsh and Fran Kirby. Walsh’s positional discipline and England’s possession-based game meant Stanway dictated proceedings in the middle at will. Scanning and analysing player movements ahead of her, Stanway can orchestrate and set up the attack.
Here, against Spain, Stanway finds herself isolated in space with no immediate pressure around her. She receives the ball from Lucy Bronze quickly enough to have time to turn and see Patri Guijarro pressing up behind her. The feint and drive past Patri is a classic Stanway move which she does any time she wants to progress forward into space. In this case, once she passes Spain’s anchor, Stanway forces Spain to move from their original positions enough for Lauren Hemp to find space on the right flank to receive closer to the box.
The point here is that Stanway doesn’t have an explosive burst of acceleration but can operate within the half-spaces using precision and technique to get by opponents. You can see how she can receive and turn quickly to continue possession without slowing down play. If Bayern continue to opt to play with two sixes, then Stanway’s progression play during attacks will gain significant importance in ensuring the wing-backs are given space to attack. These qualities can translate to her playing as an attacking midfielder and compensate for Bayern’s strikers taking up wide positions.
The heat map from Stanway’s profile indicates a high volume of her touches and time is spent in the right half-space. Once she enters this region Stanway becomes extremely dangerous in possession.
If teams do give Stanway space when driving, she isn’t afraid to take long shots. We’ve tended to see Stanway want to do this when she has the opportunity to have done this both for City and England.
Though she was more disciplined under Sarina Wiegman, it was this sort of play that ensured England qualified ahead of Spain in the quarter-finals with an extra-time winner. Even in the WSL, the results speak for themselves. Only former teammate Caroline Weir and ex-Chelsea midfielder Ji So-Yun ranked in a similar quadrant for carries and shots, which further proves the point.
The goal against Spain came from a moment of pressure where England caught them out of position. Laia Alexandri a natural centre-back was playing as a defensive midfielder and because of England’s quick transition, was caught in the half-space. The space Stanway ran through is where Alexandari should have been.
As a defensive option, Stanway shouldn’t be made the primary option to play as the No. 6, especially if she’s tasked with being the main defensive player. It’s different when she has to take up defensive responsibilities in her No. 8 role, but relying on her to be the screen is not playing to her strengths. However, there is a world in which Stanway can play the position if needed.
Over the last 18 months, there’s been a monumental rise in Stanway’s ability to defend midfield spaces and block passing lanes before counter-attacking, even to the extent where she’s used as the second line of defence in counter-pressing scenarios to catch teams out-of-shape when building up.
The aggressive nature of Stanway’s style of play means that she’s inevitably going to give away fouls but the tools for being a hard-hitting counter-presser with excellent on-ball qualities are clear. The scatter plot below shows a cross between line-breaking passes and counter-pressing recoveries and though Stanway finds herself in the top left quadrant, it’s clear to see that she’s part of the conversation of being a good off-ball player.
This example is a clear representation of Stanway’s timing and decision-making. She drops into a pivot position as Austria come forward and as the pass makes its way horizontally, she follows the play and makes a clean challenge before putting England in a counter-attacking position.
Her off-ball work does show the potential to play as a deeper midfielder but Stanway is more suited to this in a double-pivot rather than a single one. Her discipline and attacking tendencies are better utilised in the central and final third of the pitch and playing Stanway as a single pivot would waste some of that talent. Given Bayern have Magull and Dallmann as two elite attacking midfielders, Stanway’s best position would be as a No. 8.
Bayern Munich’s choice to buy Stanway is an intelligent one. Bayern know they have an array of midfield options already, but Stanway brings an alternative profile to the table, one that combines the qualities of various players. The right system and role will bring the best out of Stanway and though there is enough evidence to suggest Stanway can play as a No. 10, No. 8, or even a No. 6, how she’s used in these positions will go a long way in bringing out her best performances.
Bayern have amassed a very good squad, capable of retaining the Frauen-Bundesliga title and challenging for the UEFA Women’s Champions League. It will be fascinating to see how Straus uses Stanway in a variety of situations against different opposition; for Stanway, the move represents a chance to further her footballing education and cement her reputation as a flexible, intelligent, world class midfield operator.
Image credit: Shutterstock/Roman Biard