In masterminding the barnstorming 8-0 victory over Norway that sealed a quarter-final spot, the England boss has shown there is value in testing combinations and then sticking to her guns, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.Embed from Getty Images
England’s 8-0 win over Norway last night has a good case for being the most spectacular result in European Championship history. The biggest margin of victory for any team, men or women, in the competition, against a side who many had picked out as being a tough early test for England. In the end, you wonder if England might have at least liked to have a couple of opportunities to defend against the trio of Ada Hegerberg, Guro Reiten, and Caroline Graham Hansen, but none came.
In matches like these, it can be hard to figure out where to apportion praise and where to look for blame. Certainly, Norway’s defensive structure had been pointed out to be sub-optimal ahead of the fixture, with the out-of-position players at the back seeming ripe for the kind of disintegration that took place on Monday night. The half-hearted in-game attempts to change the match’s trajectory from Norway manager Martin Sjogren also did little to resolve the situation.Embed from Getty Images
But take nothing away from England. The sheer volume of chances they created – Opta recorded a non-penalty xG of 6.11 – were testament to a team who knew exactly how to make Norway squirm. The ability of England to take advantage of Norway in this way was symptomatic of two developments under Sarina Wiegman: the commitment to her team and a demand for continuous betterment.
Wiegman’s decision to name the same starting XI for this match as her line-up against Austria came as a slight surprise. There had been suggestions that Alessia Russo might be called in to displace Ellen White, whilst Demi Stokes might have seemed like a more natural defensive left-back to support against Norway’s attacking talents – although admittedly with Graham Hansen playing as a No10 for Norway, there was less concern about that right-hand flank.
Instead Wiegman persisted with the players she had used against Austria, and they rewarded her with a much better performance. Even the subs almost entirely matched the opener, with the England manager resisting the urge to perhaps give minutes to the fringe members of her squad given how comfortable her team was. It was clear that Wiegman had a plan, and she was going to stick to it.Embed from Getty Images
That plan has been slowly developed throughout the 10 months since she joined the England set-up. At times, it did not feel obvious how the pieces fit together or what the final decision might become; but now it seems clear. There were trials for Ella Toone and Georgia Stanway at 10, but Fran Kirby won out. Leah Williamson was used multiple times in midfield but in the end, the choice was to put her alongside Millie Bright at centre-back. There has been little room for sentiment – Alex Greenwood and Stokes being two players unfortunate to miss out – but the attitude has been clear: the group always comes ahead of the individuals.
The second element of this performance feeling like a logical conclusion of what we have seen from England under Wiegman was the sheer rapidity of how they exploited Norway’s weaknesses. There have been giggles after 10-0 victories in World Cup Qualifying where Wiegman has hummed, hawed, and suggested her team should have played better, but this is the situation they were building for.
The writing was even on the wall in the 5-1 warm-up win over the Netherlands. It felt easy to brush aside the significance of that win with the excuses that the holders had barely begun their Euros preparation and that they had actually troubled England in the first half. But in light of last night’s win over Norway, that drive to pick a team’s lock and then attack so relentlessly that they have conceded multiple times before they have even had a chance to realise what is going on, felt familiar.
The win will understandably have been an unreal confidence boost for England who probably looked on rather longingly at Germany and France’s performances in the opening round of fixtures. Now the statement win of the group stages belongs to them, and it is hard to see how anyone else can top it. The match against Northern Ireland becomes pressure free and they can turn their attention to the quarter- final. They will be back at the Amex in Brighton for that one – it could become the Lionesses’ favourite ground.
You can follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph