Thanks to the recent professionalism of the league, Serie A Femminile is growing in stature. As a result, teams like AC Milan are starting to attract talented players from abroad. Two of those players are defender Aniek Nouwen and midfielder Nesrine Behlouli.
Recently, we sat down with Abdullah Abdullah to speak about the two players. Abdullah is an analyst, freelance tactics writer, and author. He has also done freelance work for clubs and written for sites such as The Equalizer and Analytics FC.
He also curates a bi-monthly tactical newsletter on Substack called Pressing Matters. He has also written three books on Olympique Lyon, Chelsea, and the Lionesses [England’s Women’s National Team] about their tactical evolution and journeys.
All of this makes him the ideal person to discuss these two players with. Here’s what he had to say about them, Milan’s growth, and the evolution of Serie A Femminile as a league…
You’ve written an article about Aniek Nouwen’s playing style and how she’ll contribute to Chelsea. Now that she’s on loan at Milan, how do you think she’ll contribute to the team and help shore up their defence?
“It’s interesting, I wrote the article when she first joined Chelsea and summarised her playing style as a cover defender with spatial awareness and good intelligence both in and out of possession. There was a naivety from her lack of experience but you could see there was pure, raw potential in Nouwen.
I think the last few months have been really good for Nouwen and though she hasn’t had an exceptional number of minutes, there’s been a huge improvement in playing and learning from Millie Bright, Magda Eriksson, Kadeisha Buchanan, and Maren Mjelde. It helps when Chelsea played 3-4-2-1 last season which gave her a chance to play in a back three.
I see her being a very comfortable, ball progressor and cover defender in the middle of a three and a good foil to a more aggressive defender in a back four. You can see that she’s already made an impact at Milan and got into the team of the week. This loan will be key to her development and will make her and Milan a lot more settled.”
You’ve also written about Olympique Lyon and one of their former youth players, Nesrine Behlouli, has joined Milan. Behlouli was reportedly courted by a few WSL sides before ultimately joining the Rossonere. Do you think other talented, youth players will see Italy and Serie A Femminile as attractive destinations to play in?
“I think Serie A Femminile is a growing league and one that goes underrated. There’s been a surge in quality in recent years starting with Juventus and most recently AS Roma in the UWCL. The Milan clubs are constantly playing out high-intensity games and the league this season is proving to be a closely competitive one between 2nd and 5th place.
More players will look to more Italian teams as competitive and want to develop themselves as they progress in their careers. Someone like Nesrine Behlouli wasn’t going to get enough game time to warrant the development she deserves so moving to Milan and blossoming is definitely the right call.”
What do you think of the growth of women’s football in Italy?
“Similar to the answer above. It’s a growing league where I feel the next set of top talent will come through. You already have Kosovare Asllani at Milan and [Vicky] Losada who’s moved to Roma, so big names are starting to pour through. There will be a few names from the league that I think will gain moves to top European clubs soon.”
Italy were one of the participants in the Arnold Clark Cup that took place last month. A few Milan players were selected for the squad (Laura Giuliani, Valentina Bergamaschi, Martina Piemonte, Angelica Soffia). What do you think the Azzurre’s performance against England, esp. since they are the current European Champions?
“The national team has several good players, and though they aren’t as well-rounded and polished as England, France, etc, there is a good base of players that can create a structure for the national team to thrive. Giuliani is a player that I think can become a very good player as can Piemonte. Once Italy settles on a solid spine then building the team around them becomes easier. They’ll learn a lot playing against these national teams and once the Italian players move abroad, the experience will benefit them greatly and translate to the national team.”
Authors note: The Arnold Clark Cup finished on February 22nd and Italy finished in third place.
Milan, unfortunately, missed out on Champions League qualification last season. Instead, AS Roma qualified in their place. The Giallorosse were recently drawn against FC Barcelona in the UWCL.
One of their most prominent players is former Milan stalwart, Valentina Giacinti. Do you think the Italian teams will gradually improve in the UWCL and mount an adequate challenge against the likes of the Catalan Champions?
“In the long term, I think so, if we are going at their current trajectory. It’s Roma this year and it was Juventus against Lyon last year so there are small baby steps in the right direction. Juve even got a result against Lyon! It will need more investment domestically and needing to attract better players to supplement its existing Italian base.
Both go hand in hand in improving the league, its attractiveness, and overall standard. Once there are 3-4 clubs that are competing at a high level with a sustainable and continuous conveyor belt of decently well-run clubs you can start seeing them compete against top European teams.”
Serie A Femminile has undergone major changes. In addition to becoming a professional league, the season will be divided into two parts, with the top-five teams playing for the Scudetto and a spot in the Champions League in a round-robin tournament.
The Rossonere have also qualified for the semifinal of the Coppa Italia. Do you think Milan might be able to turn it around during the second half of the season?
“I think it gives Milan an upper hand because they’ve been showing signs of a revival. They’ve won 4 and lost 1 of their last 5 games beating Juventus 2-1 in the process. Nouwen has been an excellent addition and I wouldn’t rule out further loans to Milan from Chelsea if this one ends up working out for them. Consistency in their play and having the big guns like Asllani firing [on all cylinders] can ensure they end up in the top five and possibly grab a UWCL place.”