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Scouting by the numbers – Five WSL youngsters set for a bright 2021/22 season

In recent seasons we’ve seen a number of young players make a name for themselves in the FA Women’s Super League.

Lauren Hemp, Ellie Roebuck and Ella Toone have all gone from teenage sensations to fully-fledged superstars by the age of 20.

Last season saw Ebony Salmon shine in a struggling Bristol City side earning her a move to NWSL expansion side Racing Louisville.

This season will be no different as a new crop of young talent looking to follow in the footsteps of the players before them.

FTF takes a look at five players they expect to shine during the 2021/22 campaign.

Maya Le Tissier

Position: Full-back / Centre-back

Born: 18th April 2002

Nationality: English

Club: Brighton and Hove Albion

To regular viewers of the WSL Maya Le Tissier’s talents aren’t unknown. The Guernsey-born defender established herself as a key member of Brighton’s backline last season.

But this season could see Le Tissier take her game to the next level, and earn a move to one of football’s top sides.

Under the former Lionesses boss Hope Powell she played all 22 of the Seagull’s league matches last season, playing the sixth highest minutes in the league (2,134 minutes).

Le Tissier spent the majority of those minutes playing as a right-back, occasionally slotting in at centre-half when needed.

Maya Le Tissier heat map for Brighton during 2020/21 WSL season

Brighton tend to spend the majority of the game without the ball. They averaged just 42% possession last season, the fourth lowest in the league.

Instead, they often look to catch their opponents on the break.

Le Tissier’s ability to progress the ball quickly is key to this. Her 250 progressive passes were seventh highest in 2020/21, and significantly higher than any of her Brighton teammates.

The 19-year-old is also ranked in the top five for players under 25 for passes into the final third (162) and long passes (188). This is another indication of her importance in getting the Seagull’s out of their own half.

Despite not recording an assist during the last campaign her 1.5 expected assists were the second-highest in the Brighton squad.

Whilst she doesn’t engage in too many defensive duals with just 5.44 per 90 when she does she often comes out on top.

She makes the most of her size too. Despite being just 5ft 7, she boasts an aerial win rate of 63.5%.

Brighton were one of the form teams towards the tail end of last season. They won six of their last 10 WSL fixtures, handing Chelsea their only league defeat of the season.

If they can continue that form into 2021/22 a Champions League side will surely look to secure the signature of Maya Le Tissier.

Paige Bailey-Gayle

Position: Right-winger

Born: 12 November 2001

Nationality: English

Club: Leicester City

Following her departure from Arsenal aged 17, Paige Bailey-Gayle joined Leicester in the summer of 2019.

The winger quickly became a regular for the Championship side under Jonathan Morgan, making 29 appearances across two seasons.

She scored five goals and got two assists from 15 appearances for the Foxes last season as they gained promotion to the WSL for the first time before an injury prematurely ended her season in March.

Now having returned to fitness, Bailey-Gayle will be hoping to recapture the form that made her one of the Championship’s most dangerous attackers.

When in full-flow, the England youth international is a tough player to stop. She excels in one on one situations. Last season she recorded 111 1vs1’s (5th highest in the league) with the best success rate in the league at 72.07%.

Paige Bailey-Gayle dribble map in Charlton Athletic 0:2 Leicester City via WyScout

Bailey-Gayle is an exciting player to watch. Whenever she has the ball she looks to take on her opponents and advance play. Her 4.84 progressive runs per 90 were the highest in the Championship in 2020/21.

She can move the ball well to with a progressive pass accuracy of 84.72%, once again the highest in the league, from 5.45 per 90.

Chance creation is another major attribute of Bailey-Gayle’s game. The 19-year old recorded the most key passes in the Championship last season with 16 from just 15 appearances meaning an average of 1.21 per 90.

As a winger you’d expect good crossing numbers. She averaged the most crosses per 90 with 4.67 but the London-native will need to improve her successes rate of 22.22% when making the step up to the WSL.

Leicester have already shown promise that they can hang in the premier division. They knocked Manchester United out of the FA Cup last season.

With the step up in the opposition quality every-week, Bailey-Gayle will be a key member of the Foxes this side as they look to make a stamp in the WSL.

Ruby Mace

Position: Centre-back / Midfielder

Born: 5th September 2003

Nationality: English

Club: Manchester City

Having come through Arsenal’s academy as a youngster Ruby Mace opted to sign her first professional contract with rivals Manchester City this summer.

The move came as a show to many Gunner’s fans and to the delight of the City faithful.

Whilst on loan at Birmingham City last season, Mace e gained valuable first team experience and proved that she is ready for senior football.

After joining in February, she started 11 consecutive games under Carla Ward, as Birmingham braved relegation to the Championship.

The England youth international spent the majority of her time with the Blues playing in the centre of defence, venturing into the midfield on occasion.

With goals crucial in the Blue’s relegation battle Mace twice got on the scoresheet, including a late equaliser against fellow strugglers West Ham.

A move to Manchester means that Mace will now be sitting under the leaving tree of the vastly experienced Steph Houghton and Abby Dahlkemper.

Last season the 17-year-old averaged 6.5 defensive duals per 90 with a great success rate of 73.61 % (8th highest in the league).

On the ball, Birmingham were the least progressive team in the league last season. They made just 1,207 progressive passes. That style of play is reflected in Mace’s numbers with just 3.88 per 90.

In comparison, Manchester City made the second most progressive passes. (1,967). When given an opportunity in Gareth Taylor’s side, Mace’s number are likely to skyrocket.

20-year-old Esme Morgan averaged 14.68 progressive passes per 90 for City last season as she played across the backline for the league runners up.

Whilst Mace isn’t likely to play a major role for Manchester City this season, she will certainly play her part. Still yet to turn 18, Ruby Mace has the world in front of her.

Esther Morgan

Position: Right-back

Born: 28th August 2002

Nationality: Welsh

Club: Tottenham Hotspur

Esther Morgan enjoyed a breakout period towards the end of the 2020/21 season. After making her Tottenham debut on 28th February Morgan featured in Tottenham’s next seven league games.

The 18-year-old was rewarded for her quick adaption to the senior game by signing her first professional contract with Spurs in May.

The taste of regular first-team action will leave the Welsh defender wanting more going into her first full season.

In just a small size sample she has already shown what Morgan is capable of.

From what we have seen Morgan is an old school full-back. Whilst her attacking numbers don’t catch the eye, her defensive actions are quite the opposite.

When compared to other full-backs in the league the Welsh defender is ranked in the 96th percentile for tackles per 90 with 4.88 per FbRef.

She isn’t phased in one on one situations which is vital for a full-back. Her dribbler tackle rate of 62.5% ranked her in the top five for all players in the WSL last season.

Morgan is a player that engages in a lot of defensive duels each game. Her 10.94 defensive duels per 90 was the fifth highest in the WSL last in 2020/21.

Esther Morgan defensive dual map Tottenham Hotspur 1:1 Bristol City via WyScout

With a solid success rate of 65.06%, Morgan has shown her willingness to get stuck in defensively despite her young age.

An area of her game which is may need improvement is interceptions. Her 5.93 interceptions per 90 are substantially lower than her Spurs teammate Neville’s 9.71.

As the former Chelsea youth player gets more match experience under her belt her reading of the game is sure to improve also.

Morgan showed further promise on the international stage as she made her senior Wales debut in April 2021, coming on as a second half substitute in a friendly against Canada.

Despite playing against a side who went on to win Olympic gold a month later, Morgan held her own in her first taste of international football.

With the arrival of Asmita Ale at Tottenham following her shock departure from Aston Villa, Morgan may see game time limited at right-back this season. Instead she may see more game time left-back, or even as a centre-back, where she can excel defensively.

Olivia McLoughlin

Position: Midfielder

Born: 15th October 2004

Nationality: English

Club: Aston Villa

Aston Villa have plenty of youngsters who made their mark last season. Jodie Hutton, Freya Gregory and Olivia McLoughlin all enjoyed game time in Villa’s first season in the WSL.

But it’s 16-year-old McLoughlin that makes our list.

With only 608 minutes of action under her belt, much like Esther Morgan, we have only seen a limited amount of what she is capable of.

Promoted to the first team earlier this year under interim manager Marcus Bignot, McLoughlin became a regular feature towards the end of the season.

She has shown her versatility, playing in virtually all positions on the field. The 16-year-old made her debut at right-back before going on to play on both wings and in the centre of midfield.

Thanks to her great reading of the game it’s in the middle of the park where McLoughlin has shone the most.

When compared with other midfielders in the WSL she’s ranked in the 99th percentile for interceptions with 3.55 per 90.

Her numbers in games where she played centrally are even more impressive.

Data from Statsbomb via FBRef
Olivia McLoughlin interception map Aston Villa 2:2 Bristol City via WyScout

McLoughlin is also ranked in the 97th percentile for blocks per 90 with 2.96. This not only show’s the youngster’s bravery but further demonstrates her understanding of the game.

Aston Villa played a high press game last season. McLoughlin fits that style making 26.95 pressure’s per 90 (95th percentile) with a solid success rate of 26.5%

The young Lioness is strong on the ball too. Her 1.78 dribbles per 90 are good for a midfielder but will need to be improved when playing out-wide.

It’s possible that McLoughlin may have her minutes managed by Carla Ward this season in order to protect her and ensure she enjoys a long career.

But in Olivia McLoughlin, Aston Villa fans have a player they can get excited about this season.

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