Possessing similar traits to current star Ellen White, Khadija Shaw looks set to become a WSL top-scorer. As Jessy Parker Humphreys writes though, this all depends on how Gareth Taylor can incorporate the forward into his current plans.
Ahead of the 2019 Women’s World Cup, one player in particular captured the global imagination. The 22 year old Khadija ‘Bunny’ Shaw helped Jamaica’s ‘Reggae Girlz’ become the first Caribbean nation ever to qualify for the World Cup. Despite having been unranked by FIFA just two years prior – due to not playing – a third place finish at the CONCACAF Championships saw them heading to France. Shaw had scored the opener in the third-place play-off against Panama which they won on penalties.
At the time, Shaw was a bit of an enigma. Clearly exceptionally talented, she had eschewed the NWSL draft – despite attending the University of Tennessee – and signed for Bordeaux the day before the World Cup began. It did not take Shaw long to make an impact in France, scoring twice on her debut in the Division 1 Féminine. In total, she managed ten goals before COVID-19 curtailed the league. This season she picked up where she left off, scoring 22 goals to win the Golden Boot and helping Bordeaux secure Champions League football by finishing third.
Shaw dominated the French league this year. She scored more goals, created higher expected goals, and took more shots than anyone else in the league. The fact that she was not playing for either of France’s dominant teams in Paris St-Germain or Lyon only further underscores her ability. She was also one of only three players to feature in the top ten for assisting as well as scoring. Her decision to take the next step by joining Manchester City is a logical move for a player who has an eye for goal.
Manchester City have not had a consistent goal scorer ever since Nikita Parris joined Lyon at the start of the 2019/20 season. Ellen White was brought in to replace her output, although not to replace her stylistically, but White’s first season with the club was marred by injury. She managed a lot more minutes this season but recorded her lowest goals per 90 since 2017 (0.59). This was matched by a similar decline in her xG per 90 which fell from an average of 0.64 over the past two seasons to 0.59.
On the face of it, Manchester City have not had a problem with scoring. Their 2.95 goals per game average this season was the highest it had been in the WSL. Yet this average hides the matches where Manchester City really struggled. A 0-0 draw with Brighton and a 1-1 draw with Reading at the start of the season, where they underperformed their xG in both games, saw them already left with a points deficit that proved insurmountable in the league. An injury to Chloe Kelly and the departure of Sam Mewis has also seen them lose what amounted to 17 goals last season. It is clear that goal scoring is an area Manchester City needed to strengthen.
There are a lot of similarities between Shaw’s style of play and Ellen White’s. Both like to play on the shoulder of the last defender and are exceptional at poaching balls in the penalty area. Khadija Shaw’s xG per shot last season was 0.22, very similar to Sam Kerr’s 0.21 per shot. This shows that Shaw likes taking high value shots where she is more likely to score. By comparison, White’s was 0.15 which still put her in the top 20 in the WSL last season.
Given their similarities stylistically, it might seem like Shaw has been brought in to replace White. At 32, it is certainly wise for Manchester City to plan for life after her, but her performances in Tokyo for Team GB showed that she is still more than capable of dominating games and scoring. However, Shaw showed at Bordeaux that she is capable of playing in a two. She often chooses to drift right and run in from there, either to shoot or cross.
Here Shaw has moved out to the right-hand side allowing her to run in behind when the ball is played over the top.
Using her speed to get beyond the Paris FC defenders allows her to reach the area and pick out Katja Snoejis who scores.
She is also good at being aware of who might be in a better position than her.
In this example, Shaw has the opportunity to shoot with her weaker left foot, and many strikers would be selfish in this situation. Instead, Shaw passes the ball across the six-yard box to give her team mate a tap-in.
The fear of Shaw can also open up space for other players to make runs as can be seen here. As Shaw receives the ball, four opposition players close in around her, freeing up the space for a teammate to make a clear run through on goal. Shaw is then able to play her in to score.
These elements of Shaw’s game could be used by Gareth Taylor to allow her to play with White. Chloe Kelly’s injury means there is a free starting position on the right hand side, but when Shaw has played with other strikers it has tended to be in a 4-4-2 or 4-2-3-1 with the second striker as a number 10. Bordeaux did try her in the right-hand side of a 4-3-3 against Lyon towards the end of last season but she struggled to make an impact from there. Meanwhile, Manchester City have also been linked to Hayley Raso who would be a much more natural fit for that right-hand side space.
Gareth Taylor has not always looked entirely comfortable integrating players into his Manchester City set up, as Rose Lavelle’s limited performances showed last season. But he will have to find a way of incorporating Shaw, either by altering his preferred 4-3-3 or switching her with White. Both options will bring their own hurdles but, if Taylor can make it work, Manchester City might finally have a WSL top scorer on their hands.
Follow Jessy on Twitter at @jessyjph