The Lionesses have new-found control under manager Wiegman but her strikers need more confidence in front of goal, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.Embed from Getty Images
When the Arnold Clark Cup fixtures were announced, the idea that England would be playing Spain seemed risky. Sure, it’s important to come up against quality opposition in the lead up to a home Euros. But facing the team that have gone from hipster’s choice to bookie’s choice for Euros glory seemed like it could do more harm than good.
That concern was only heightened when Sarina Wiegman’s team was named. Widely seen as a B team, there was a fear from both pundits and punters that England were passing up the opportunity to lay down a marker. This reaction seemed strange given that the players who came into the team had an average of 59 caps, even if you included Hannah Hampton making her debut. Instead, it seemed more of a chance for England’s old guard to let Wiegman see whether they could impress her against strong opposition.
As it was, it worked out almost perfectly for the manager. Her “second string” kept an unusually disjointed Spain at arm’s length for a 0-0 draw which demonstrated how much more organised this England side are under her. “What I liked most today is that we had a plan about how we wanted to play against Spain, because Spain has a different style than what Canada had,” explained Wiegman after the game. “I think how we did that as a team, because we substituted a lot and had other players on the pitch than we had on Thursday, that’s what makes me the most happy about this. We really stuck to the plan.”
The concern though will be goals. There was something strangely poetic about watching two sides, both captained by their ageing talismanic strikers, struggle to put the game to bed. Spain’s inability to convert chances has long been earmarked as a reason why they have not yet lived up to the expectations of being Barcelona in a red shirt. For England, it feels like Wiegman still hasn’t quite figured out how she wants the pieces to fit together.
Key to England’s ability to stay on top for large periods of the match against Spain was their high turnovers. The front four of Beth Mead, Ellen White, Nikita Parris, and Jordan Nobbs harried Spain, closing down their passing lanes and making it easier for Jill Scott and Georgia Stanway to cut off supply to Patri Guijarro (who had pulled the strings sublimely against Germany) and Alexia Putellas (Ballon d’Or winner, enough said). Nobbs, in particular, had an energy which she hasn’t consistently shown of late, either for Arsenal or England, and looked by far the most impressive of any of the players Wiegman has tried out in the number 10 role.Embed from Getty Images
Yet despite the successful pressure on Spain’s defence, England were unable to use any of their turnovers to mount an effective attack. While it is not always easy to turn a loose ball or 50:50 challenge into an effort on goal, sometimes it felt like the players were not sure what was supposed to happen next.
Some of that changed when Lauren Hemp entered the field at half-time. Hemp’s first action within 45 seconds of the second half beginning was to turnover the ball, run at Spain’s defence, and shoot on goal, hitting the post with goalkeeper Misa Rodriguez beaten. It was the kind of drive that England had been crying out for and it felt like it sparked the rest of the team into life. Lucy Bronze found herself more involved in the game, playing Nobbs through – though she chose to take the ball wide and ended up shooting from a much trickier angle.
That shot from Nobbs summed up England’s main problem going forward. No one seems very confident. Nobbs had wasted a great chance in the first half where she found herself in acres of space at the top of the box but rushed the opportunity. White kept running offside, a series of decisions that made more sense when Mapi Leon easily caught up with her when she was actually played through. Hemp still sent her one-on-one later in the game but White fluffed her lines.Embed from Getty Images
Fran Kirby is the highest-scoring English player in the WSL this season (joint on six goals with Natasha Dowie who has not played for her country since 2014), but even she has looked pretty shot shy recently, as was clear when she teed up Ella Toone rather than going for goal herself at the end of the game.
After the match Wiegman picked out England’s lack of goals as one of the lowlights of the game. “I hope we are going to reward ourselves with goals,” she said. “We created chances and it would be nice if we could score them too.”
On the face of it, England’s squad seems stuffed full of attacking players but there is currently no reliable goalscorer in this team, and England are not yet creating the kind of opportunities that anyone can put away. The fact that a Millie Bright volley is all that Wiegman’s team have to show from 180 minutes of football is less than reassuring. The manager has demonstrated that she can make this team hungry, organised, and efficient. Can she add that attacking cherry on top?
Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph