The Austrians are in decent form, but the home side’s threat in attack, strength off the bench, and dominant head-to-head record will see them cruise to victory, writes Ruby Malone.
England will be looking to kickstart Euro 2022 with a win over Austria in the opening game at Old Trafford tonight. The Lionesses haven’t made it to the final of a major tournament since 2009, but they have been tipped as one of this year’s favourites and hopes are high that they can lift the trophy on home turf.
The hosts are in great form and will be coming into the game full of confidence, having won all their pre-tournament friendlies, including a massive 5-1 win over 2017 Euros champions the Netherlands. They are also unbeaten under their new manager Sarina Wiegman, having won 12 and drawn two games since she took charge in September. The goal difference is even more impressive – they’ve scored an astonishing 84 goals and have only conceded three in that time.
Austria’s form may not be quite as spectacular, but it is positive; they won two of their three pre-tournament friendlies and finished as runners-up in their qualifying group. The only team they dropped points against were group winners France and they only conceded three goals in total, all of which came in one game against Les Bleues in November 2020.
The Austrian team also emerged as the dark horses back in 2017, reaching the semi-finals in their first major tournament. Steadfast throughout, they put up a good fight in a goalless draw against a strong Denmark side and only went out on penalties.
The Lionesses will remain undaunted by this, however, having beaten their opening game opponents in every head-to-head since 2010. The two sides are in the same World Cup Qualifying group, meaning they will already be familiar with one another’s tactics and style of play. They last met in a qualifying game last November, when legend Ellen White marked her 100th game with the winning goal in England’s 1-0 victory. As a result, Austria are coming into the game having conceded 14 and scored none in their last five games against the Lionesses.
With their strength in depth, dangerous attacking prowess, and an eager home crowd behind them, England are definite favourites to take the win. The only concern for Wiegman is that, despite their impressive goalscoring tally, her team can be slow to open the scoring: of the 12 goals England have scored across their warm-up games, only one has come before half-time. She’ll therefore be looking to her frontline for the creativity, energy, and pace needed to produce an early goal and get their tournament off to a roaring start.
Key battle: Beth Mead v the Austrian backlineEmbed from Getty Images
The Lionesses’ threat lies in their attacking line and Beth Mead is a key part of this, with the ability to create, assist, and score goals aplenty. But in her attempts to get the ball in the back of the net, she will be coming up against her ex-Arsenal team-mate and Austrian captain, Viktoria Schnaderbeck. The two played together for three seasons and despite the 31-year-old being sidelined with injuries for a lot of that time, she will know Mead’s movements and style of play well. Austria also have the inside track from Arsenal defender Laura Wienroither and their No.1 goalkeeper, Manuela Zinsberger. It works both ways though: Mead will be well prepared for this trio of familiar foes. She’ll know the weak spots and certainly won’t be looking to go easy on her fellow Gunners!
Ellen White was left out of the starting line-up for the last game against Switzerland, following her recovery from Covid. Manchester United’s Alessia Russo came in and made a great impression, but Wiegman will likely want to open the tournament with the Lionesses’ 2019 World Cup top scorer.
Captain Leah Williamson is one of the few definite starters for England and played the last game at centre-back – the position she plays for Arsenal week in, week out. However, she will likely start the opener in defensive midfield, as seems to be Wiegman’s preference. Lucy Bronze was left out of the win over Switzerland as a precaution but should be set to slot in at her usual right-back position.
Last five results (all competitions)
England: WWWWW Austria WWLWW
Head-to-head (last five games)
England wins: 5 Austria wins: 0 Draws: 0
27/11/2021: England 1 Austria 0 (2023 World Cup qualifiers)
8/11/2018: Austria 0 England 3 (friendly)
Although England’s frontline is key, the midfield will be this match’s game changer. Leah Williamson and Keira Walsh will come up against Bayern Munich’s Sarah Zadrazil, a seriously skilful player who has an impressive passing range. In addition, Austria’s ‘one to watch’ Barbara Dunst was the standout player for Eintracht Frankfurt last season and will be looking to make an impression on the big stage with her pace and technical skills. It will take Williamson and Walsh’s strong partnership to keep the two midfielders quiet and maintain control in the centre of the pitch.
Score prediction: England 4 Austria 0
Back in November, Austria showed they are a well-organised squad that can cause problems on the counter-attack, but the Lionesses largely dominated the game. England’s squad depth and individual talent will likely prove too much again for their opponents. They have an abundance of options so regardless of the starting line-up, there will always be stars on the bench raring to go. Austria may initially put up a solid resistance, but a sold-out home crowd in an illustrious stadium will only boost the Lionesses’ confidence and determination to start the tournament with a bang.
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