Under Neville, playing the 30-year-old at full-back felt like being about shoehorning someone into the team. With the current manager, it feels like she is picking the best player for the position, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.
Back in April last year, Rachel Daly was playing for the Houston Dash in a match against Kansas City. With the Dash 1-0 down after 60 minutes, a long ball was floated into the box which she leaped to reach and headed into the back of the net. In scoring, Daly became the Houston Dash’s all-time record scorer with 29 goals. She has been their central striker since signing straight out of college in 2016.
So it has become something of a running joke that Daly seems to never get a look in for the position for England. Not because she does not get a look in for England — although that has been the case for parts of her career — but that she never plays up front. Whether it is because the backroom staff cannot face dealing with the ungodly hours and glitchy Twitch streams that come with watching the NWSL (after all, who could blame them?), it seems like no one in the England camp has got the memo.
As a nation, England are not short of central strikers. Ellen White is currently the undisputed starter, with Beth England never quite finding the right form to challenge her, despite having outscored her in three of the last five seasons in the WSL. When you are the Lionesses’ all-time leading goalscorer, you are deservedly relied upon.
Alessia Russo has become the third striker in this current England squad but Mead was also originally a striker. She won the WSL Golden Boot in 2014/15 when she was at Sunderland but by the time she moved to Arsenal, there was the small matter of Vivianne Miedema playing up front. So it is entirely possible that Daly is simply seen as the fifth best striker in the Lionesses squad. She could potentially be the sixth best if you factor into account the many more minutes Millie Bright has been handed.
To play in two different positions is hardly an unusual thing. England are currently facing this specific conundrum in relation to Leah Williamson, and whether she should play in midfield or defence. But it is hard to think of a player who plays two totally different positions for their club and their nation.
Generally, both Sarina Wiegman and Daly have stayed pretty tight-lipped about the situation with the latter rolling out the usual platitudes about playing wherever her country needs her, and the manager just indicating that of course she knows the 30-year-old is a striker at club level. Yet, while under Phil Neville, playing Daly at full-back felt like a win-win situation of giving a talented player minutes and filling in a positional hole. She was used as an understudy to Lucy Bronze at right-back, but no such thing is going on here.
Daly started at left-back against Austria in the opening game of the Euros. The writing seemed to have been on the wall for a while with Wiegman using her increasingly over the past couple of months. This is no case of filling in or providing back-up. Daly beat out Alex Greenwood and Demi Stokes to make the inaugural starting XI. Both names would likely have been on a predicted England teamsheet a month ago.
It is clear to see why Daly appeals to Wiegman in the role. She is more dynamic going forward than Stokes who only averaged 21.5 touches in the final third for Manchester City in the WSL this season. Hannah Blundell was the only top four full-back with fewer. In games against more reserved opposition, it makes sense to want to use an attacking player who can help create overloads out wide. Traditionally, Greenwood would have been that option, but it was clear against Switzerland that her move to centre-back at City had left her now ill at ease with the demands of playing full-back.Embed from Getty Images
The one question mark for Daly would have been around her defensive attributes, but she showed against Austria that she was, at the bare minimum, competent. No player won more tackles than Daly whilst her three interceptions were second only to rival Verena Hanshaw.
Interestingly, Daly did not do much to get forward, leaving Fran Kirby to team up with Hemp or Mead instead. However, her success at full-back feels like it demonstrates what Wiegman has brought to lots of players in this team: clearly defined roles and instructions which talented players are capable of fulfilling. Perhaps in the past, England required players who were very familiar with the positions they were in to make the team work.
And presumably, it doesn’t hurt that Daly can still score a goal like the one she did against Belgium.
You can follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph