Keira Walsh is brilliant. You know it. I know it. And thanks to the Women’s European Championships, the whole world knows it too. In today’s masterclass, I dissect that brilliance in a long-form Player Analysis, helping you and I come to a greater understanding of how you too can play (or coach) with the brilliance of Keira Walsh. Here is our analysis.
RECEIVING & TURNINGEmbed from Getty Images
While everyone knows her passing quality, range and expert vision, it can often go unrecognized how Walsh opens up space for herself to create chances for her teammates. The Man City midfielder is one of the best I’ve ever seen in creating space on a first touch, and that arrives through a keen understanding of how and when to scan the field, and her ability to adjust appropriately both on technical and tactical control.
As the ball travels into her path, Walsh will scan the situation and ensure she’s aware of the direction of the nearest defender, particularly the one closely applying pressure. She will then position her body in the opposite direction of where she’s about to take the touch, disguising her own momentum.
The first touch will always then end up away from the defender’s momentum in a way that they cannot adjust for. In doing so, she creates time and space for herself to get her head up and assess the situation. This is an example where Walsh’s sound technical quality allows her to roll the ball across her body (using an inside of the foot first-touch spin). Seconds later, she finds herself in acres of space to deliver the next action.
A master of disguise, Keira Walsh knows exactly how to put her body in front of an on-rushing defender and hide her next move. In this example from the FA Cup Final, Bethany England applies pressure to Walsh’s back. Walsh recognizes the direction of that pressure to be more left-side focused, so she takes a touch to England’s right, with the outside of her boot.
Walsh loves an outside of the boot touch, as it allows for the cushion control necessary to ensure a successful second contact. In this situation, she then easily blows by Sam Kerr with a shake and shimmy and then plays a beautiful forward pass down the line.
It’s the same expertise in this situation, where she reads the pressure being applied from Erin Cuthbert to take an outside of the boot touch into space. In doing so, she eliminates all nearby defenders, and then plays the progressive pass with time and space to get her head up.
Beyond just her deception and control upon receiving the ball, Walsh knows exactly how and where to move to make herself available to receive. She may even wait for pressure to be applied to the player on the ball, before vacating the space left in behind.
She has the blueprint of her manager’s principles of play imprinted on her mind, and will then tailor her movement in specific situations to accommodate the moment. This is the test of any top footballer in the modern game, but one that separates the 25-year-old from 99% of the midfielders on the planet.
So when you have a player of such quality to oppose, why not double team her? Well, even if you put two players on the case, Walsh will always find a way out.
This example from the Euro 2022 Final yesterday showcases Germany’s attempts to get touch-tight to the City midfielder and how she would just breeze past them, and eliminate every single defender in the process. Here’s another brilliant example against Chelsea.
In this condensed sandwich, Walsh still has quite a few options. She could play backwards to her teammates, releasing herself from that pressure. She could even take an outside touch into space up ahead, as she so often loves to do. But instead, Walsh fakes the outside touch, and spins inside instead, in a full-on 180-degree turn.
She then creates acres of space for herself to play a wondrous progressive pass down the line for Hayley Raso to chase.
The brilliance at which she receives under pressure is unrivalled, and arises out of her incessant scanning, and even her astute desire to receive on the half-turn. By receiving with an open body shape to play both ways, Walsh can then more accurately assess the situation and perform her next action.
This is where her excellent passing range and vision can then take centre-fold – after the class she exudes in taking her touch into space and setting herself up for that next action.
PASSING RANGE & VISIONEmbed from Getty Images
Keira Walsh is a hyper-aware player, who astutely recognizes the strengths of her teammates and how to tailor passes into their path. Whenever she has time and space on the ball (often from creating that space herself), she will endeavour to hit long passes over the top, or into space for her speedy wingers to run onto. She has that recognition of the dynamism her teammates possess down the wing, and she knows exactly how and when to play passes that reach their path.
As a precursor to any confident footballer, Walsh always looks forward upon receiving the ball, assessing which vertical options she can utilize. If the City midfielder can’t go forward within her line of vision, she may turn again and find a new avenue of space to play a forward pass, or recycle the ball. On this occasion, the weight of her first touch was taken with so much class, that she opened up a massive pocket of space to play the forward pass, and her vision worked out to perfection.Embed from Getty Images
Her long passing range reaches exceptional heights, but it’s her weight of pass in any given situation that allows her to rarely misplace a pass. Completing 11.4 passes under pressure per 90, Walsh peaked within the top 1% (in actuality the very top) of midfielders for passing accuracy (87.7%) last season in the WSL. Her respectable long passing range of 73.8% also featured in the top 6% of performers, allowing her to constantly create chances from deep as a quintessential ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’. But again, her weight of pass is particularly impressive, always finding her teammates with the exact right amount of pace and panache.
As we discussed in our analysis of quintessential ‘Deep-Lying Playmakers‘, Walsh may not accumulate a high number of assists (only 3 in the WSL in 2022). But she will almost always play a killer pass somewhere in the move, often even the pass that allows the assist to take form (such as the image above!).Embed from Getty Images
This even extends into the final third, where she will hold a central defensive position, and engage wherever she can to spread the ball wide. In congested areas she adamantly possesses the quality to thread the needle through the gaps, but may take the guaranteed route of switching play and allowing a cross to come in from a more advantageous angle. Here’s an example where she shapes up to play down the middle, and then smartly cuts to her right (away from the pressure), before switching play to Lucy Bronze down the right.
It takes a special player to always recognize how and when to play the correct pass at the correct moment, but Keira Walsh somehow always accomplishes the feat. This ranges from easy recycles of play, to the most difficult of forward passes.
DEFENSIVE AWARENESSEmbed from Getty Images
As any ‘number 6’ would be expected to do, Keira Walsh is often the first line of pressure after her team loses the ball. Similarly to her ability in possession, you will then see the central midfielder’s astute awareness of space and smart adjustments take center stage. Always on the side of the ball to help keep the game ticking, Walsh is often then perfectly positioned to come to the rescue in transition, where she can delay the attack or break up the play. Her successful pressure percentage peaked at 37.3% last season, with 11.1 recoveries per 90. She’s exceptional in positioning herself to recover loose balls, disguise that first touch, and then immediately play a forward pass against the opposition’s momentum.
This is one of the key reasons why she will always be deployed as a ‘number 6’ rather than an ‘8’ or ’10’, which would also allow for her creative passing to shine.
Her awareness extends beyond just her own positioning in midfield, to the adjustments she makes to accommodate others that find their way out of sight. If a centre-back steps up to challenge for the ball, Walsh will slot into the space vacated in behind, ensuring they always have an abundance of numbers in the box to defend any situation.
She’s excellent in positioning herself in exactly the right spot from crossing situations, often times placing herself at the top of the box, or at the near-post on set-piece deliveries. Even despite standing at only 5’7, Walsh excels in the air, winning over 57% of her aerial duels last season. This means that from any situation in any area of the pitch, the 25-year-old is prepared to put her best foot forward and contribute positively.
The mobility she exudes to get back in transition also manifests in the form of carefully tracking the opposition’s forwards, where she astutely screens and covers the space ahead of the opposition’s nearest striker. This is aided by the fact that both her club and country play within the realms of the same 4-1-4-1 defensive mid to low-block, allowing her to continuously fulfill the same responsibilities wherever she goes.
As the deepest member of the midfield always anchoring and hurrying play away from central channels, Walsh then allows greater license for the likes of Georgia Stanway and Caroline Weir to go on and express themselves in attack.
In all phases of the game, Walsh is clearly an impeccable performer, and one that always recognizes the exact pocket of space to envelop in order to make the difference.
COMMUNICATION & LEADERSHIPEmbed from Getty Images
Before closing out this analysis, we’d be remised not to mention Walsh’s exceptional communication and leadership in helping direct play both in and out of possession. From pointing out pockets to shouting at her teammates about where to cover space, Walsh is never afraid of being a vocal presence on the pitch – an integral component to the modern day footballer. Jorginho can often be seen doing this for Chelsea, roaming side to side not only to receive, but to direct the passing play of others, almost like a second manager on the field.
Her astute awareness of space again allows her to have the vision to see the best passing options for others, and allow them to make a next action with minimal thinking involved.
As the highest member of a diamond quartet, she’s often spending much of her time in build-up to progression phases with her back to goal, so her line of vision may be limited. But once more, it’s worth noting that the 25-year-old always ventures to position herself on the half-turn, where she’s more adequately able to assess forward options.
The same mindset will continue into defensive phases, where the City midfielder will endeavour to ensure her teammates know how and when to cover space. Here’s an example where both Greenwood and Walsh shout at Demi Stokes to cover the wide runner rather than Beth England, which Greenwood has covered.
Walsh needs to be careful not to focus too much attention on the responsibilities of others in these scenarios, and ensure she’s still able to track her own runners. But nevertheless, this level of communication demonstrates the fearless mindset that the England international deploys in all facets of the game, and how she’s not just an excellent footballer, but a leader in her own right too.
CONCLUSIONEmbed from Getty Images
Keira Walsh is a brilliant footballer. Her exploits at the Euros this summer have shown that to the world on the greatest stage, and now she should be set to lead Man City to another successful season in 2022-23. Sitting at the base of a talented midfield, Walsh has the spatial awareness to appropriately cover spaces both in and out of possession, and drive her team on as a ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’. She excels in not only receiving the ball with a bit of disguise and deception, but in playing beautiful forward passes, defending like her life depends on it, and leading her team through each and every match. Keira Walsh is one of the classiest footballers around, and it’s nice to finally see the world recognizing it.
So there it is! An analysis of Keira Walsh’s outstanding class at Manchester City and England. Be sure to check out more of our Player Analyses, and our in-depth coverage of the ‘Deep-Lying Playmaker’. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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