VfL Wolfsburg, 2015–
When Ewa Pajor signed for Wolfsburg as an 18-year-old in the summer of 2015, she did so as a multiple league champion with Medyk Konin in her native Poland. Her prowess as a goalscorer had been well established across three seasons in which she had averaged more than a goal a game, but in the years since moving to the Frauen-Bundesliga she has shown how prolific she can be at the highest level.
Top scorer with 24 goals in the 2018/19 domestic season, she is a five-time league winner and three-time Champions League runner-up with one of the powerhouses of women’s football. She is also the only female footballer in Polish history to score more than 50 goals for the national team, reaching the record mark six months before her 26th birthday.
“I rarely see a player who gives as much as Ewa in every single training session,” said Wolfsburg head coach Tommy Stroot in February 2023. “The bar is already high for us, so for anyone to exceed that is unbelievable.”
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
Pajor is a right footed centre-forward with a keen eye for goal. Her best attributes are inevitably focused in the final third – and even more so inside the penalty area, where she displays great ability to adjust her body. Her quick reactions and adaptability enable her to work attempts on goal through single or double movements – where she prefers a first movement towards the ball, and then a second away (below). She can quickly spin her hips to create better contact with the ball when shooting, but also manipulate her marker’s positioning as teammates build the attack.
Attacking mostly from her right side, Pajor has demonstrated a wide variety of goalscoring finishes, utilising all parts of her foot. She has also scored a number of headed goals, despite her relative lack of height against bigger central defenders – here, she uses the timing of her runs to get into the most dangerous space available.
Pajor often operates on the last shoulder on the opposing back line, from where she can accelerate powerfully to chase balls in behind (below). Although not the fastest player in the Wolfsburg team, her timing to work on to forward passes from onside positions enables her to receive on the move while facing the opposition goal – a key trait for any forward. She is comfortable receiving both vertical passes that split the back line, and balls across goal after an initial pass wide.
Pajor’s impressive goalscoring return also stems from her determination to access central positions as the ball enters the penalty area. Even when involved in deeper or wide build-up, she always looks to return to a high, central position, ideally placed between opposing centre-backs and, again, on the final shoulder. Because she often delays these runs slightly, Pajor can be very difficult to track. She is an expert at ghosting into dangerous positions in front of goal.
Pajor is also good at placing her body in between the ball and her centre-back marker in the final third, especially when moving in behind or adjusting for first-time attempts in the box. She has great ability to get across or around her direct marker at crosses, or with balls played across the final third.
During build-up, or when involved in combinations away from the penalty area, Pajor helps connect between the lines. She can also drop slightly deeper, rotating with the most advanced central midfielder (above). From here, she looks to work the ball into the teammate providing the most width in the attack, again demonstrating her ability to work her body in between the defender and the ball to secure play, work it away from pressure and then connect into runners.
In the 2018/19 season, Pajor scored 24 league goals in 19 appearances to top the Frauen-Bundesliga scoring charts. She followed that up with 16 in 17 the season after, before injuries disrupted the following two campaigns. She returned with a bang in 2022/23, scoring nine in her first 10 league appearances and seven in the Champions League group stages.
The front line in Wolfsburg’s usual 4-2-3-1 formation (below) looks to use maximum width when attacking, to stretch opposing back lines as much as possible. When faced with tight marking, they are particularly effective at breaking the last line through penetrative passing and explosive forward runs. Here, Pajor is a constant goal threat in central areas, where she looks to latch on to through balls from midfield, most notably from Jill Roord or Alexandra Popp.
If a direct pass into Pajor isn’t available – either because of a central screen or opposing centre-backs covering her runs – then the team looks to slide play into the wingers. They can then deliver low crosses or cut-backs for Pajor to attack first time.
Opposite movements with the number 10, mostly Roord, have also helped free Pajor to connect with a wide teammate, or receive between the lines to then drive forward. This rotation also helps Pajor isolate one of the opposing centre-backs; after releasing the ball, she can dominate her direct opponent through her intelligent double movements and desire to get into the penalty area. Dropping movements from whoever plays as the number 10 can free Pajor of some connecting responsibilities, allowing her to spend more time in and around the penalty area.
Whenever Wolfsburg face a lower block or deepening back line, their wide players will attack inside more frequently. The full-backs then provide the width, and are available for Pajor to connect into when she drops deeper. Here, she will also usually have two more teammates in the pockets of space between the lines to connect with, usually filling both inside channels. This has worked to create more central attacks for Pajor to work from, as she is now able to connect with and receive shorter passes around opposing centre-backs.
Along with the number 10, Pajor can again isolate individual defenders and dominate them through her movement and explosiveness. In this adapted attacking shape, most crosses are then provided by the advancing full-backs (above), with additional teammates in central spaces allowing Pajor to lose her marker and take up goalscoring positions – exactly where both Wolfsburg and Poland want her.
To learn more about football tactics and gain insights from coaches at the top of the game, visit CV Academy
Author: The Coaches' Voice