Rise of the new supersubs: how Wiegman has kickstarted England’s evolution ahead of World Cup 2023 with emergence of James and Salmon

The 21 year olds are following in the footsteps of Toone and Russo — who played vital roles coming off the bench during the Euros before earning starting spots — after inspiring the Lionesses to two more goals when they came on together in the 64th minute of last week’s 4-0 friendly win over Japan, writes Jessy Parker Humphreys.

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How do you improve upon a team that has already won a major trophy? Getting to the top of football is hard but staying there is even harder. As the men’s World Cup rolls around, you only have to look at the fact that the past four winners have all been knocked out at the group stages of the next tournament.

Obviously, the four-year gap between World Cups means that much can change for nations but it is still a warning for the England Women’s team as they prepare for the 2023 World Cup, which will be taking place twelve months after they won the Euros.

Manager Sarina Wiegman has experience when it comes to translating European success to World Cup success. It was arguably the Netherlands’ run to the World Cup final in 2019 that established her as an elite coach more than the 2017 Euros win. The 2017 win was tinged with the benefits of home support and a surprise factor whilst the World Cup showed that the Dutch performances had been no one-off.

Now with England preparing for their final match of 2022 against Norway, where a win would secure them an unbeaten calendar year, Wiegman is beginning to once again evolve her team ahead of a World Cup.

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The nature of Wiegman’s management style means that once she has settled on her side, there is little doubt over who will play. At Euro 2022, she started the same first XI in and brought on three identical substitutes for every game. The only absolutely necessary change Wiegman will have to make before the World Cup is replacing Ellen White as her starting striker, and that role will, barring injury, surely be filled by Alessia Russo.

The other question mark within the starting XI is potentially Fran Kirby. The fact that Kirby recovered from an illness that made her unavailable for Chelsea for five months in order to start all of the Euros games still feels miraculous in itself, but it is possible that it might have taken its toll with Kirby having already missed a number of games for Chelsea this season with illness once again. It seems reasonable to say that if there is one player who’s fitness England cannot bank on heading to the World Cup, it is Kirby’s.

Clearly, Wiegman views Kirby as her most talented number 10, otherwise it is highly doubtful she would have selected her and played her at the Euros, given how little club football she had played. Yet it will be interesting to see whether Ella Toone can push into that starting role with Kirby’s lack of availability and her existing club relationship with Russo.

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If Toone and Russo were both to be promoted into the starting XI come for the World Cup, there would be two ‘supersub’ spots available and watching England play against Japan, it seems like there are also two obvious candidates in Lauren James and Ebony Salmon.

Lauren James has been having a spectacular season for Chelsea but it is clear that Wiegman has rated her incredibly highly even outside of her performances in the league this season. James was called up to the England squad and appeared in the World Cup qualifying game against Austria even before the season had begun. She also started against the Czech Republic, adding to the sense that Wiegman is willing to confer a level of responsibility on James that she is normally more reticent to do with newer members of the England squad.

Ebony Salmon has had a more roundabout journey into the England squad, although she now looks to have thoroughly usurped Bethany England as a back up No.9. Salmon’s time in the USA has been anything other than straight forward. A bright start at Racing Louisville ended with her being frozen out of the team but a move to the Houston Dash has reignited her club, and England, career.

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Both Salmon and James came on after 64 minutes against Japan and helped inspire England to an extra two goals. They showcased their individual skills – James with her ball carrying ability, Salmon with her intelligence around the penalty area – whilst also slotting in with the existing team. It felt very reminiscent of a certain Toone and Russo during the Euros.

Wiegman has said there will be some rotation for the Norway match and perhaps James and Salmon might get the opportunity to start. It is clearly important for England to build up relationships between players outside of the obvious starting XI because they were already incredibly lucky to go through the Euros without any injuries to that first choice side. Against Japan four players were missing through illness or injury and England will need to be prepared for that eventuality.

But beyond all that it looks like Wiegman is just auditioning players for new roles within her system. After all, there is no need for revolution, just evolution.

Follow Jessy on Twitter @jessyjph

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