Manchester City superstar Izzy Christiansen has had a busy but frustrating year. Coming into the season off the back of a real breakthrough year with her club, Christiansen had also made a permanent break into the England set up under Mark Sampson before an injury ruled her out of the opening months of the season.
Christiansen returned to the scene of her injury last week, coming on as a substitute for her first FA Women’s Super League appearance of the season, but it’s a credit to her talent and determination that Sampson has immediately recalled her into the England squad for the double-header against Serbia.
Whilst there’s been a distinct lack of on-pitch action so far in 2016 for the 24-year-old, off it she’s picked up the PFA Player of the Year award and is now back ready and fighting fit in order to help her country pick up six points and hopefully create more chances than the side managed in the last home game against Belgium.
“I’m feeling good, it’s great to be back among the group and back at St. George’s Park and I’m really looking forward to the two games we’ve got ahead of ourselves this week,” said the attacking midfielder.
England face Serbia twice in a matter of four days, firstly at home in Wycombe on Saturday evening before travelling to Eastern Europe for the second match on Tuesday. Whilst Serbia have only conceded two goals, they’ve also lacked fire power, but Christiansen is adamant that England are only thinking about themselves for the time being.
“The plans to look at the opposition will be later on this week [speaking on Tuesday], we’ve been very much focusing on ourselves since we joined up on Sunday. We’ve got a couple of really good pitch sessions under our belts already and the squad is looking good, sharp and fresh. I’m confident we’ll go home and away against Serbia and get the wins we need.”
And whilst two games against the same opposition in quick succession is an unusual situation during qualifying, Christiansen isn’t letting it distract her and her teammates from the job in hand.
“Our preparation remains focused on what England do,” she says.
“We just prepare for the games as well and as professionally as we can and with the tools we have available in the squad, we’re very confident we can provide two good performances and two big wins.”
It’s a testament to the growing list of options available to Sampson that Christiansen returning alongside Jodie Taylor and Jade Moore, plus the additions of uncapped attackers Rachel Daly and Nikita Parris, means big names have to drop out.
Katie Chapman has missed out on a spot in midfield whilst Eniola Aluko and Toni Duggan have also been left out of the squad to face Serbia in order for the new faces to come in and prove themselves. Whilst competition for places will leave some players disappointed at missing out, Christiansen sees the growing list of options as a positive for the squad.
“It’s only a good thing for us as a team,” she says.
“We’ve got players with frightening pace, we’ve got players that can create, we’ve got players that can make things happen. It’s a great tool for us that we’ve got so many different players that will suit different international games should we get to the Euro’s, which we will.
“It’s the environment we’ve created here with England. We’ve got a huge group to choose from and it’s a hugely talented group of players that are competing for spots. You’ve just got to make sure that you step up into that environment – you work as hard as possible to do the badge proud.”
Whilst the goals currently eluding the England side can’t be pinpointed on Christiansen given her recent hiatus from the squad, an extra creative player of her ability should be a real boost for Sampson and the double-header will give the manager every chance to ease the attacking midfielder back into the team should he choose to do so.
But with fans wanting to see a more clinical England side, Christiansen admits the “intention first and foremost is to win.”
She goes on to say: “Whether it’s 1-0, 4-0 or 10-0 it doesn’t matter as long as we can pick up the three points. Obviously fans and people outside this environment like to see us score more goals and we like scoring goals ourselves, it gives confidence to individuals but at the end of the day, as long as England are winning games, we’re happy.”
After missing out on a spot and a bronze medal at the 2015 Women’s World Cup 12 months ago, Christiansen worked hard back at Manchester City’s Central Football Academy to make sure she was fit and ready to improve as a player in the second half of last season.
The rewards for her efforts have been shown in the amount of squads she’s been chosen for and she’s confident she can go to the European Championship next summer with her team mates.
“I’m very confident,” she admits.
“Obviously, every day you have to work harder and harder and work towards what you want to achieve and my ambition is very much to play well with my club week in, week out and be able to go to the Euro’s next year with England.
“But the ambition is to go there and win, not compete but to win.”