The WSL continues this weekend after a brief stoppage for international fixtures. England Women had an imperfect break, leaving plenty to think about for Phil Neville ahead of the World Cup next summer. Here are the five things we learned from the win against Austria and 2-0 loss to Sweden.
1. Without Fran Kirby and Ellen White the Lionesses lack fire power
Chelsea superstar Kirby scored her 12th England goal against Australia in the last round of international friendlies, but the 25 year old was forced to pull out of the squad this time around. Her absence was obvious in Sunday’s game when England failed to put away several decent chances in their 2-0 loss to Sweden. The home side had 14 shots on goal, but just five of them were on target.
England’s lack of bite up front is reinforced by the injury of Birmingham’s White, who has been out since September. If the Lionesses want to go far in next summer’s tournament they had better hope these women are fit and ready.
2. England’s domestic echo chamber is dangerous
England’s set piece woes continued on the weekend when they again conceded from a corner.
Last month, the Lionesses were undone by Clare Polkinghorne’s late header against Australia at Craven Cottage, but this time it was Anna Anvegard who capitalised after England failed to clear the ball.
During the commentary, the BBC’s Robyn Cowen remarked that “England had not looked particularly convincing” when defending Sweden’s set pieces. That was putting it kindly. The Swedes had seven corners during the match, with one attempt hitting the woodwork and the rest causing chaos in England’s defence.
If England give away dead ball opportunities then they need to learn how to defend them.
4. The future is bright
Thursday’s 3-0 victory over Austria did provide a positive talking point as Neville put out a much changed team that included a lot of fresh faces. Chioma Ubogagu and Georgia Stanway both scored on the debuts while Rachel Daly flicked home a third.
In his short tenure, Neville has already shown that he iswilling to experiment by giving chances to uncapped players.
5. Steph Houghton has more great years ahead of her
On Sunday, England captain Houghton was awarded her 100th cap in an emotional ceremony before the game. She became the 11th player to reach the milestone for the Lionesses.
The century is even more significant for Houghton as she has had a tough time off the pitch – in September, it was revealed that her husband Stephen Darby was retiring from playing as he has motor neuron disease.
Her strength and leadership is key to this England side and the stability she brings is unquestionable.
After the game, Neville was confident that Houghton would be winning plenty more caps, telling reporters: “Steph’s going to play on for another 50, 60, 70 caps. You always want to celebrate something as special as this with a victory, but it doesn’t take anything away from Steph’s achievement at all and the type of person she is. It means that she’s more worried about how the team are and how we can react to this.”
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