With three of the WSL’s star defenders at her disposal and goalscorer Bright looking undroppable, Wiegman’s spoiled for choice — now she just needs to decide if captain Williamson’s best utilised in midfield, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.Embed from Getty Images
The last time England played Canada in spring 2021, the writing was on the wall for the summer to come. Two huge defensive errors gave Canada a 2-0 win against a very flat England. It was no surprise that defensive slackness was what caused Team GB to exit the Olympics to Australia at the quarter-final stage. Canada, meanwhile, went on to win the gold medal.
Consequently, one of the biggest challenges Sarina Wiegman has faced coming into the job as England manager has been to bring the team more defensive security whilst also letting them off the leash in an attacking sense. The 1-1 draw with Canada at the Riverside stadium suggested things are going in the right direction.
It has helped Wiegman’s job that three of the top standout players in the WSL this season have all been English defenders. Millie Bright has stepped up a level as she has captained Chelsea with Magda Eriksson out injured, helping them keep clean sheets against Manchester City and Arsenal. Alex Greenwood has often been the only point of calm in a Manchester City side that has been defensively flustered. Leah Williamson’s importance to Arsenal was only underlined by the collapse in their form when she picked up an injury in November.
The decision to select Williamson as captain made it apparent that Wiegman would start her. But the question was whether she could also make sure that Bright and Greenwood had a place in this England side.Embed from Getty Images
The obvious answer was to play Williamson in midfield, and to select Bright and Greenwood as centre-backs. On the face of it, the Gunners star has all of the attributes required to play in that position, and initially played there before she was moved back to defence.
Partnering Keira Walsh in a double-pivot against Canada, it was easy to see why Wiegman had considered her suitable in the role. Not only was Williamson able to pick up the ball and drive forward, she was also prepared to support the press higher up the pitch, with England gaining a lot of joy from high turnovers in the first half. Despite the central area of the pitch being quite congested, the 24-year-old was still able at points to find space.
“That was one of the things we wanted to try,” explained Wiegman after the match. “This team has played lots, before I came, with one pivot, and I wanted to see how it plays with two pivots.”
In the second half, Williamson’s impact became a lot more limited. “We had a hard time answering the changes Canada made,” explained Wiegman. “It was really hard to keep control of the game.” Janine Beckie’s spectacular strike had enabled Canada to equalise even before Quinn came on, but their introduction to the midfield gave Canada much more control. Williamson was brought off six minutes later.Embed from Getty Images
The inclusion of Williamson in midfield, though, had an indirectly positive effect elsewhere. Bright was named ‘Player of the Match’, handily picked by her club manager Emma Hayes, but well deserved for her superb volley which opened the scoring for England. She also made a number of essential blocks and headers, carrying the certainty with which she has defended for Chelsea recently into an England shirt. Based on this game, it will surely be a tough choice for Wiegman to drop Bright at the very least. Steph Houghton also seems very far out of the England starting picture.
Despite the draw, and the intensity of the first half fading away, there were still plenty of positives for England to take from this game. After the match, Canada coach Bev Priestman said England were “definitely more ready [for the Euros] than the last two times” the countries had played each other. Beckie concurred, saying she “experienced a more together team than I have in the past.”
And as to whether we will see Williamson and Walsh together again? “I think it is something we should research a little more,” concluded Wiegman with a smile.
Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph