Five key England issues for Wiegman before hosts kick off Euro 2022
1) Is the captain droppable?
Arsenal’s centre-back Leah Williamson is arguably one of England’s best players but finding the position that gets the best out of Wiegman’s captain while keeping the team balanced is not easy. Against Belgium Williamson was deployed in midfield, as has been the case with increasing frequency under Wiegman. Against the Netherlands she began in the middle but dropped into the backline in the second half and against Switzerland she operated from the back. Wiegman has made the most of this trio of preparation games to try to find the fit for her captain. Williamson was handed the armband after performing well in defence early in Wiegman’s tenure and impressing the manager more generally.
However, a spell out injured allowed a strong partnership between Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood to develop. With that pairing flourishing, Williamson has been deployed in a double pivot alongside Keira Walsh, as well as in the No 8 role. Both have worked, but they have not looked entirely natural, with the 25-year-old having not played consistently in midfield for a number of years. The double pivot has proved effective when England have played top-ranked opposition, but do they need two natural holding players against weaker teams? Where, then, does Williamson fit in and should Wiegman consider dropping her when England need a more attacking midfield or shift the settled Greenwood wide or out?
2) The No 10 conundrum
Wiegman has said she knows most of her lineup to face Austria at Old Trafford on Wednesday. One likely spot up for grabs is at No 10. With Fran Kirby having missed the end of Chelsea’s season there is a question mark over the influential player’s readiness for 90 minutes and back-to-back games. It is likely that Wiegman will flit between Kirby, Bayern Munich’s Georgia Stanway and Manchester United’s Ella Toone. Stanway is perhaps the most versatile of the three. She has been used by Wiegman as a holding midfielder and at No 10, combining well with her former City teammate Walsh when needed and with the front three when playing further forward.
3) The not-so-secret weapon
It is no accident that 11 of England’s 12 goals in their three pre-tournament friendlies came in the second half. There is a need to be more clinical in the opening 45 minutes but the impact of Wiegman’s substitutions has been huge. The depth in England’s squad is arguably unrivalled at this Euros. When the Lionesses have struggled to make the breakthrough, substitutes have provided energy and freshness that have hit tiring opponents hard. Not only has that benefited the attack, it has also lifted the pressure on the backline.
4) Good vibes only
It is hard to imagine how England are keeping the pressure off. With expectations rising with each minute that edges us closer to kick-off, the team unbeaten under Wiegman and sold-out home crowds ready to welcome them, it is easy to think tensions and nerves would be running high. Instead, the atmosphere around the squad is hugely relaxed and everyone seems to be having fun. That is balanced by an intensity and competitiveness on the pitch. Players who are relaxed and enjoying themselves are more likely to play their best football. It will be a real challenge for Wiegman and her backroom team to keep the squad cushioned in their depressurised bubble as the tournament begins.
5) White needs back-up
The absence of Ellen White for two of the three warmup games, after England’s record goalscorer tested positive for Covid, was a real opportunity for the other centre-forwards to cement themselves as her deputy or even secure the starting spot ahead of the Manchester City player. Beth England and Alessia Russo scored against Switzerland, but the Chelsea forward struggled to have an impact when she started against the Netherlands and although Russo caused problems when she started in Zurich, she failed to find the net in the first half. Of England’s goals in the three friendlies, only one was scored in the first half: Lucy Bronze’s strike against the Netherlands to cancel out Lieke Martens’ header.
England and Russo have had an impact off the bench during this camp but neither has done enough to start at Old Trafford. One option Wiegman is yet to explore is shifting the potent Beth Mead more centrally, but she said it was something she and the coaching staff had in the backs of their minds.