The talents of Beth Mead are no secret. As a 20-year-old spearheading the Sunderland attack in the 2015 Women’s Super League season, Mead scored 12 goals in 18 games to earn the Golden Boot by a clear five goals. To be so prolific at such a young age was one thing; to be so in a team only just promoted to the women’s top flight was quite something else.
After one final season in her native northeast, Mead made the move to current club Arsenal in January 2017 – and in the six years since she has developed into one of the finest attacking players in the women’s game. She made her England debut in a World Cup qualifier against Wales in April 2018, and in the 2018/19 domestic season set a new record for assists as Joe Montemurro’s side claimed Arsenal’s sole WSL title in her time at the club.
Mead scored a further 11 goals as Arsenal trailed Chelsea by only one point in the 2021/22 WSL season, but it was in that summer’s UEFA Women’s Euro 2022 that she became a true global star. Her six goals and five assists in England’s run to the title under Sarina Wiegman won her the tournament Golden Boot, and it was no surprise when she was also named Player of the Tournament. In December 2022, Mead became the first female footballer to win the coveted BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. She has also featured in UEFA’s Recognise Game series, focusing on players who have starred in the Women’s Champions League.
Recognise Game is UEFA’s new UEFA Women's Champions League series, giving exclusive insights into the planning, skill and athleticism of the athletes on the pitch
Mead is a versatile forward who has experience of playing on both flanks and centrally. Her ability to create chances, penetrate opposing back lines and receive between the lines are her standout traits. Her timing to move inside from a wide starting position and occupy different spaces helps her create chances for her teammates, especially those running beyond.
She can both drift away from her marker or explode to run across the pitch and receive on the move. As a result, she is very difficult to consistently mark or track without defences sacrificing space elsewhere, which then gives teammates room to receive in potentially dangerous areas. She is most effective when attacking opposing back lines in central areas, either with a pass or a dribble. Her ability to slide passes into the spaces behind defensive lines is very impressive; she often releases the ball to match the speed and angle of her teammates’ runs to great effect (below).
As Mead has developed to play around opposing back lines more, her crossing can also create chances. She can spot attacking movements from her forward teammates, and then provide whipped deliveries around the closest opponent, or low driven efforts flashed across goal. Against a more set block, she also has the ability to disguise her crosses. Here, she will look to cut the ball back to deeper runners – usually central midfielders – or drive at her opponent and fake to cross before working a better position to release into the penalty area.
Mead is capable of a variety of finishes, which has helped her offer a consistent goal threat in recent seasons – it was no huge shock when she exploded with six goals in England’s successful run to the Euro 2022 title. As with her ability to receive between the lines, the timing of her movements across the pitch are also excellent prior to finishing on goal. Her runs across the penalty area allow her to attack the back post or finish from a central position (below), where she adds an extra body for deliveries from the opposite wing. Her movements can also take defenders away from central teammates trying to finish on goal.
Her ability to adjust inside the penalty area when shooting means she can score with both feet and adapt well to any ball delivered into her. She can beat the goalkeeper with both power and accuracy, from any distance or angle. She is also extremely alert and consistent during transitional moments, benefiting from aggressive pressing in the opposing half to create chances and score goals after high regains. Despite her aggression in the final third, Mead is a calm presence inside the penalty area. She can twist, turn and outthink her direct opponent before working a more effective attempt on goal.
Without the ball, the majority of Mead’s defending comes via aggressive pressing in the opposing half. She is extremely assertive when duelling for the ball, and always willing to jump at the opposing back line in an attempt to regain it. She can force opposing players both inside and outside (below), often cutting off key passing lanes as she approaches the ball. Her ability to get her body in between her opponent and the ball helps her team regain possession high, or at least limit the quality of the opposition’s build-up.
Despite her consistent aggression and ability to contribute to regains, she can sometimes struggle to decelerate, especially in counter-pressing moments – which can lead to giving away fouls and releasing pressure on the opposition. This is a small point, however; her overall defensive presence is a huge asset to any team she plays for.
Mead has spent a considerable amount of her career attacking from the right side, often moving inside towards the right inside channel. From this position, she has regularly demonstrated her ability to drift away from her full-back marker and receive between the lines. From here, she connects well with the central forward or left-sided winger – at Arsenal, usually Caitlin Foord. Mead can break the last line with her penetrative passing, or connect with central teammates to help progress forward. Whenever Arsenal’s single centre-forward in the 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 structure widens, Mead can also drive forward and create goalscoring chances for herself.
Before the long-term ACL injury that ended her season in November 2022, Mead would also connect with her overlapping full-back – either Noelle Maritz or Laura Wienroither – and help work crossing opportunities through her inside positioning (below). She also delivers her own crosses from this narrowed position, disguising her efforts across goal or creating cut-backs into runners from central midfield.
Whenever Arsenal have utilised a 4-4-2 formation, widening movements from both centre-forwards still give licence for Mead to work inside both with and without the ball. This provides her with two wider teammates to connect with, as Mead then becomes more of a central goal threat after wide-right combinations or switches across to the left – from which she can then attack subsequent crosses.
Mead has also operated on the Arsenal left, albeit less so in recent times. From this side, she tends to hold her width (below) for longer and make fewer runs inside the ball. Her movements inside tend to be through dribbles that start much closer to the touchline and see her moving diagonally inside on the ball. In Arsenal’s usual 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 shape, runs from central midfield will pause to allow Mead to drive inside and encourage overlaps around her – either from a midfielder or the left-back. From here, she can still connect with runners in behind or threaten the back line herself and shoot across goal.
From the left, Mead will still attack across goal during build-up from the far side, aiming to attack inside her full-back and work around the central forward. In the 4-4-2, the forwards will again widen, allowing Mead to move inside to attack crosses and cut-backs, but also drive inside with the ball. Supporting runs around her are then already ahead of the ball, while the central midfielders hold their position and extra support comes from an overlapping full-back.
Whichever side she operates from, Mead has developed into one of Arsenal and England’s key players. Both club and country will hope she returns from injury in the devastating form she displayed before it.
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Author: The Coaches' Voice