Best of Three: How do Manchester City replace Jill Roord?
Plus Arsenal's midfield and Tottenham's front two
How do Manchester City replace Jill Roord?
Manchester City’s hopes of winning a first WSL title in eight years have taken a blow after the club announced that Jill Roord had suffered an ACL injury. The Dutch midfielder has been a revelation after signing for the club in the summer, having seemed to finally found a team that suits her after inconsistent spells at Arsenal and Wolfsburg. Now, however, City will have to find a way to replace her for the rest of the season as they look to keep up the pressure on Chelsea.
City manager Gareth Taylor started the season pairing Filippa Angeldahl with Jill Roord before more recently switching to Laura Coombs. In his sides 2-0 win over Tottenham at the weekend, it was Angeldahl and Coombs who lined up together but City did seem to lack impetus in midfield as a result. City had their lowest xG of the season since their 1-1 draw with Chelsea where they ended up playing with nine players, managing just 0.7 from 12 shots.
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Roord’s ability to crash the box later on into moves allows her to generate high quality chances with defences distracted by City’s threatening front three of Lauren Hemp, Chloe Kelly and Bunny Shaw. Neither Coombs nor Angeldahl are that kind of player with both of them having the ability to shoot from range but not in the kind of repeatable way that has allowed City to come to rely on Roord’s goals.
City do have other options when it comes to replacing Roord, but they are somewhat untested within the City system. Mary Fowler has played in this kind of deeper role in the past but has predominantly been used by City in the front three, whilst Jess Park will be more familiar to WSL viewers as playing on the wing even though she was brought on for Coombs against Tottenham.
City have also been linked to a deadline day move for Laura Blindkilde-Brown. The Aston Villa midfielder has long been highly thought of but in her career so far has looked closer to the profile of someone like Angeldahl than Roord.
Throughout Taylor’s time as City manager, he has preferred a settled starting XI than looking to rotate. Roord had started every WSL match for City this season, playing 912 minutes. Finding a solution may require being brave and using a younger player because the more familiar options look far less dynamic.
Should Tottenham be playing Martha Thomas and Bethany England together?
Martha Thomas started the season in great form, scoring six goals in her first four matches. Since then she has scored once more, and although it was an important goal that secured Tottenham’s first ever win over Arsenal, her effectiveness seems to be wearing off. With Bethany England now back in the team after recovering from surgery on her hip, Spurs manager Robert Vilahamn has been playing the two together.
Out of possession, they work as an extremely effective pressing front two but in possession, how their roles are supposed to work is less clear. Against Arsenal, Thomas dropped to play more as a 10 but in the weekend’s match, they found themselves much closer together. At points, this left them very isolated from Tottenham’s midfield who were understandably cautious to push up against a City team that had inflicted a record defeat on them back in November.
Tottenham’s formations have been hugely affected by injury with all three of Olga Ahinten, Evelina Summanen and Drew Spence being out towards the end of 2023. Spence is the only one still not to return but it feels like Spurs are missing her ability to drive up the pitch. Clinton has been able to offer that same skill but with her collecting the ball from deep areas on the wing, it is not always easy to get the ball into dangerous central ones.
One option which might be worth exploring is using Jess Naz more. Naz has started only three games this season but Vilahamn has emphasised that he sees her as a striker even though she has played previously on the wing. In his press conference before the City match, he specifically emphasised her threat in behind and speed. It is that kind of dynamism that with the pairing of Thomas and England, Tottenham seem to be missing.
Who will end up as Arsenal’s first choice midfield three?
It is notable that as opposition teams in the title race have seen key players succumb to injuries, Arsenal are seeing their players return to full fitness. The intriguing challenge for Jonas Eidevall this year has been to rotate his squad in a way that makes them harder to predict and allows them to enact different game plans.
With Vivianne Miedema now looking back to her old self and Kim Little also back on the pitch, Eidevall faces an intriguing decision in his midfield. Victoria Pelova has been one of Arsenal’s stand out players this season in her right hand-sided 8/10 role whilst Miedema looks set to be first choice in the more free 10 position. But club captain Little has long been a much relied upon piece in the midfield.
Further up the pitch, there is a clear focus on starters and finishers. Stina Blackstenius has looked far more effective coming on later in games than she did as a starter, even if her finishing still does leave something to be desired. Similarly, the signing of Emily Fox has allowed Steph Catley to come on as a fresh pair of legs in defence. How and if Eidevall implements something similar with his midfield is something to keep an eye on.