The Lionesses have enjoyed the perfect build-up to the Euros, but the manager still has some tough calls to make, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.
England finished their final preparations for Euro 2022 with a 4-0 win over Switzerland, ensuring that Sarina Wiegman enters the tournament having not lost a single game as England manager. Ahead of the match, the boss said she had almost selected her first starting XI for the Lionesses’ opener against Austria.
It certainly seems like a number of players are nailed down. Mary Earps has played all three of these warm-up games and Wiegman has publicly said that she is her England number one. Equally, Millie Bright is certain to start at centre-back, Keira Walsh will be in midfield – regardless of who she is paired with – and Lauren Hemp will start on the left wing.
Yet Wiegman still has a couple of headaches in her squad selection. Who is still left to be sorted out? And what final decisions should Wiegman make?
Leah Williamson, but where?
There is no doubt that Leah Williamson will start somewhere on the pitch at the Euros. Wiegman’s faith in the Arsenal ace has been unwavering ever since she first selected her as an interim captain back in September. Yet the manager still seems no clearer as to where exactly Williamson should actually play.
England are blessed with a huge amount of depth at centre-back, particularly with Alex Greenwood now excelling as a left-sided centre-back for Manchester City. It makes sense then to push Williamson forward into midfield, where England are a lot more lacking.
However, it has been clear in these warm-up games that Williamson is not a natural midfielder. She has started alongside Walsh four times under Wiegman, but still does not look particularly settled, struggling to combine the defensive requirements with the creative opportunities she has higher up the pitch.
It was notable when she was returned to the defence against Switzerland just how much more comfortable she looked. With less pressure on her when she was on the ball, Williamson was able to take her time to pick her passes, starting the possession which led to England’s opener.
The problem Wiegman faces is: if Williamson is not used in midfield, who is? Georgia Stanway’s tendency to give away cheap free-kicks in dangerous areas puts a portion of risk around starting her as an No.8, and Jill Scott simply does not have enough minutes in her legs to be relied on. It is worth the boss persevering with the skipper in midfield for now, in the hope that it clicks.
Can Fran Kirby start as the number 10?
When Fran Kirby is on top form, there is no doubt that she is one of the best players in the world. But it is fair to say England have never really seen much of that, with her career littered with injuries and illness. She is a player that requires delicate management, both off the pitch and tactically.
Key to Kirby’s success at Chelsea has been working with a very dynamic striker in Sam Kerr. To get the best out of the 29-year-old in an England shirt, she really needs to play with Alessia Russo. Early on against Switzerland, it was clear how much freedom Kirby was able to find as a result of the Manchester United forward’s movement. Russo’s tendency to drift deep or wide opened up pockets of space for Kirby to run into and she should have scored early in the game. But with a more static number nine like Ellen White, her assets are not accentuated. If White is going to start, Ella Toone may be the better option at number 10.
Does Rachel Daly get a starting full-back spot?
It is fairly clear that Wiegman sees Lucy Bronze as her starting right-back; and that might have been even more obvious if the Barcelona right-back had not missed out on playing against Switzerland due to illness. But Rachel Daly is obviously someone who has impressed Wiegman – even if that is at full-back rather than in her favoured number 9 position.Embed from Getty Images
If Daly were to start, it would presumably be ahead of Demi Stokes at left-back. The Houston Dash star would definitely add more of an attacking impetus than Stokes, who can be quite reserved. Daly’s recovery run and tackle on Lineth Beerensteyn against the Netherlands showed she definitely has the defensive chops to take on the role. When England are facing low-blocks against Austria and Northern Ireland, Wiegman should plump for her whilst selecting Stokes for the tougher attacking challenges of Norway.
Beth Mead or Chloe Kelly?
Chloe Kelly has raced back to full fitness since the ACL injury which saw her absent for almost the entirety of the club season. But she has not looked like she’s missed a second of pitch time in her performances; she is now in direct competition with Beth Mead who has just finished the season of her life. Yet the Arsenal forward seems to relish any moment of adversity she faces, as she showed in the Netherlands game when she came on for Kelly and immediately lit up the England performance. Whichever way round Wiegman uses them, they are both going to cause teams extreme problems, particularly whoever comes on as defences are tiring. Here it does not feel like it matters who starts – England should just count themselves lucky to have two such dynamic players to rely on.
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