England’s quarter-final win highlighted the growing understanding of the Lionesses’ substitutes and their role under head coach Sarina Wiegman, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.
On 64 minutes, Sarina Wiegman replaced Fran Kirby in her front line. It was England’s third substitution of the game and a familiar one, as Ella Toone slotted into the attack. It was the fourth game in a row that Toone had come on as a substitute, completing a trio of quadruple substitutions with Alessia Russo and Chloe Kelly who were introduced earlier in the game. Now all four of England’s attacking line were under 25 years old, playing in their first international tournament for England, and tasked with rescuing a spot in the semi-final for their country.
The substitutes were obviously not solely responsible for England turning around a 1-0 deficit to beat Spain 2-1 and ensuring their Euros journey did not end on the same pitch they had thrashed Norway 8-0 on only nine days earlier. Millie Bright and Lucy Bronze both used every last drop of their experience to help England get through – not least when Bright was briefly deployed up front in homage to her Arnold Clark Cup heroics. But it was striking how easily Wiegman turned away from the tournament’s top goal scorer Beth Mead and England’s record goal scorer Ellen White.
|63: Toone for Kirby||57: Russo for White||46: Russo for White||58: Kelly for Mead|
|63: Kelly for Mead||57: Greenwood for Daly||46: Greenwood for Bright||58: Russo for White|
|63: Russo for White||57: Toone for Kirby||46: Toone for Stanwa||64: Toone for Kirby|
|70: Kelly for Hemp||60: Kelly for Hemp||82: Greenwood for Daly|
|80: Scott for Stanway||74: Carter for Bronze||116: Scott for Walsh Parris for Hemp|
Narratives around football matches can turn on tiny moments, and if England had ended up losing, it would be easy to point to those substitutions and say it was rash of Wiegman to eschew her experienced attackers so early in the match. Whilst there have been individual highlights from all three of Wiegman’s super subs, as a front four with Lauren Hemp, they have also looked naïve at times. The same front four finished the match against Austria and got in each other’s way in an effort to force England’s second goal.
However, they have clicked more and more with every passing game, a result of the rhythm that has come from being used in the same way each time. It meant that when they were brought on against Spain, it was not as England’s last chance saloon. It was definitely a roll of the dice, but it’s one that England have rolled every game. There was no sense that by bringing these players on Wiegman was panicking.
Of course, there would be panic to come. The move to go to a back three and push Millie Bright up front is as funny as it is desperate. But somehow, it always works. Bright was not directly involved in the goal but she was an extra body for Ona Batlle to mark, dragging her further away when she desperately tried to fling herself at Ella Toone as she volleyed in the equaliser.
Moving forward the question will be: should you start the super subs? Wiegman is very loyal to her starting XI and with good reason. You cannot maintain that nonchalance around who comes on and when, if you are shuffling the pack before the match has even begun. That alerts your players that not everything is working out. But at the same time, you can hardly afford to waste time if you believe your starting XI is consistently not working.
Ultimately, the Spain game alone is not proof of that. The one piece which might be wobbling is Rachel Daly. She was run ragged by Athenea del Castillo, and potential semi-final opponent Kosovare Asllani will have been licking her lips with glee. The balance of the team having confidence in certainty, and confidence in the team on the pitch is a fine one, and Daly might have tipped the scales a bit too far in this quarter-final.
Toone, Kelly and Russo are the future of this England team, and they will start for many tournaments to come. But for now, they are well suited to joining from the bench. It is not possible to neatly map performances from the second hour of the match onto the first The opportunity to impact the game when they are needed is one with a different type of pressure to leading the team from the very start. With England two games away from a first ever international tournament victory, it is best not to upset the rhythm.
You can follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph