Mia Eriksson uses TransferLab to showcase how the platform can be used when scouting fullbacks to fit into a particular system
Norwegian football coach Alexander Straus has been at the wheel of the Frauen Bundesliga Winners FC Bayern München since last summer. In order to look properly at what the German Champions might be looking for in the fullback position, we need to start by looking how Straus wants to play.
The style of play
From looking at how Bayern have been playing since the Norwegian took charge it seems like he wants his team to use a lot of minimum width. This suggests that fullbacks in Straus’ team need to be able master the art of how to play very narrowly. The core of the idea seems to be about creating overloads in the midfield in order to fully dominate the central zones both in and out of possession. With a holding midfield, containing the double pivot of players like Georgia Stanway and Sarah Zadrazil, this idea has all the prerequisites of success.
Moving up the pitch Straus, sets up his attacking play with wingers and fullbacks that interchange positionally: if one inverts the other goes wide which means a fullback at Bayern needs to have the skill of inverting into the midfield. This style of play often means, although not always, that only one player on each flank is wide at the same time, never two. Using inverted full-backs can give a team a greater defensive compactness in transition as they can counter-press effectively in midfield with good spacing behind the ball, while the team’s wingers can play in positions where they thrive and attacking midfielders can push into more dangerous space. Reflecting on this, it’s easy to understand the signing of Denmark captain and former Chelsea player, Pernille Harder.
Playing like this suggests that what Straus wants his team to do is to create goal scoring opportunities from zone 14, ideally making the first pass threat straight into that area. When diving deeper into the position and role of fullbacks at Bayern, this shows the emphasis on playmaking skills. They need to master every sort of pass and way of crossing but especially low crosses or cutbacks to move the ball into dangerous areas.
Bayern’s player with the most assists this season is Carolin Simon, the left fullback. She has played 1315 minutes in the Frauen Bundesliga (16 matches) and she has 13 assists and two goals across the season. Simon’s xAG (Expected Assisted Goals) is 8.4. She has created 73 shot-creation actions and 18 goal-creation actions. To say it straight: Simon has been their biggest chance creator per 90 in the 2022/23 season.
Simon’s profile in TransferLab ‘Full back-Attacking’ shows that she is good at all above-mentioned abilities needed to fit into Straus’ idea of how he wants to use his fullbacks. We will use Simon as an example when finding similar players in the same position.
First, a few clips that showcase Simon’s role and positioning:
Here, Simon receives wide while all players in Bayern are on the half off the pitch. They use half of the pitch in width in total to play around their opponents. This exemplifies how they look to minimize the ‘width’.
In the second clip, Simon starts the run as the widest player down the flank, yet she holds a narrow position before making a through pass centrally.
Lastly, here we can see Simon running centrally before passing it, while the winger takes the wide stance and receives.
Giulia Gwinn, who probably was Straus’ first-choice full-back for the right-hand side, got injured in October when she tore her ACL which saw him move Maximiliane Rall, whose preferred position is as a right-winger, down to cover for Gwinn as right-back.
New signing Katharina Naschenweng
This called for the addition of more fullbacks into Straus’ squad and in January, Bayern announced the signing of 25 year-old Austrian national team player Katharina Naschenweng from TSG Hoffenheim. In TransferLab’s tool searching for similar players, she is found as the fourth most similar player to Carolin Simon in the profile ‘Full Back – Attacking’, looking across the big five European Women’s Leagues: Super League, Division 1, Liga F, Bundesliga and Serie A.
What sets Simon and Naschenweng slightly apart is how they rank on the percentile regarding interceptions (quality), where the latter ranks slightly higher (69) compared with Simon (20).
Using the tool for player plots in TransferLab showcasing Goals + Assists per 90 vs Expected assists (key passes) in the big five European Women’s Leagues we also find proof for both players’ abilities in passing to add to their teams compared to other attacking fullbacks.
That new signing Naschenweng and Simon are two very similar players is undoubtable, and this also shows in both players’ heatmaps and progressives passes. These are shown below to demonstrate movement, positioning, and passes when taking part in the offensive play.
What is interesting is that both are left-footed, while Giulia Gwinn is right-footed and she has been playing on both on the right- and left side. The ability to move and invert into the midfield could be a factor that Straus will be able to use his new signing down the right-hand side as well where the player’s left-foot will be as valuable as if they would be playing on the left. Looking at the market and the current competition when recruiting full-backs it could be seen as unusual to use a left-footed player on the right but Straus’ idea could show that a left-footed right-back can open up intriguing attacking possibilities for Bayern in the future to maintain his playing principles both in attack and defence. This could be especially true if he wants the team to seek to attack the halfspaces where it could open up better passing lanes with angles. Getting back Gwinn from injury and the signing of Naschenweng allow for even more possibilities for FC Bayern Munchen when continuing to build a solid, successful way of playing ‘Strausball’.
Header image copyright IMAGO / Michaela Merk