Manchester United have four representatives in the England squad for the Arnold Clark Cup, due to kick off on Thursday evening. For all four it is an important chance to stake their claim for a place in the final Lionesses squad at Euro 2022 in summer.
Goalkeeper Mary Earps was a regular in England squads before arriving at United in 2020, having made her name in the WSL at Bristol and Reading and going to the 2019 World Cup. After falling out of favour amid rising competition, she has returned to the fold in a big way this season.
Alessia Russo, too, had made her debut shortly before signing for United. She was fresh out of the U.S. college scene at the time (February 2020) but has deservedly forced her way back into the squad this season thanks to her outstanding performances at club level.
But Ella Toone and Katie Zelem, both of whom joined United as young girls at youth level before starting their professional careers elsewhere, have worked their way into the England setup solely because of their form in United colours.
All four players have been crucial to United’s WSL form this season, with improved results and performances over the winter giving the club a huge chance of qualifying for the Champions League for the first time and making up for last season’s late collapse.
Even though continued club form is obviously of huge importance in landing a place in the Euro 2022 squad, so too is proving to England boss Sarina Wiegman at the Arnold Clark Cup over the coming days that they are able to compete against some of the best national teams in the world.
Each of the three invited countries – Germany, Canada, Spain – are ranked in FIFA’s top 10 and it will be a different kind of test for a group of England players that have exclusively played against weak opposition in World Cup qualifiers so far this season.
Toone has been an early favourite of Wiegman’s but must now continue to prove herself against a much higher class of opposition than she has recently faced in an England shirt.
The 22-year-old has shown all season in the WSL – winning multiple player of the month awards so far – that she is one of the best domestically, with these games against the top ranked side in Europe, the Olympic champions and a team flush with Barcelona stars are her next tests. A squad place at Euro 2022 already looks likely, but a starting place is up for grabs if she does well here.
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For Russo, it is a similar story. England lack any other direct competition or back-up for established favourite Ellen White and the youngster has actually outperformed the veteran in the WSL this season – like Toone, Russo also has a player of the month award to her name.
A good showing from her in these Arnold Clark games will not only seal it for Wiegman that she deserves to go to Euro 2022, but force the question about just how much of a role she will get.
With Earps, the return from injury of former number one Ellie Roebuck threatens her starting place. But if the United stopper has banked enough credit with Wiegman over the last few months, more likely to have come from training sessions than in one-sided games where she has barely touched the ball, she may still have a chance to prove here that she deserves to keep the gloves longer.
When it comes to making the cut for Euro 2022, Zelem is the most vulnerable of the United quartet at the Arnold Clark Cup. She is the least established of the four at international level and the newest addition to the setup, having only made her debut in November.
What works in Zelem’s favour with an eye on Euro 2022, at least, is that England generally lack depth in central midfield. So, again, getting on the pitch this month will be vital in furthering her chances of staying in the squad for when the summer rolls around.
From Wiegman’s perspective, there will be an element of experimentation at the Arnold Clark Cup as she looks to test her players in different scenarios. That will be of benefit to the United quartet, and indeed to most in the squad, because it means there will be chances on offer.
“We have three games and we approach each one to win. But we want to see things and how our players relate to each other, so we want to try out some things too,” Wiegman said.
“It’s a combination of trying out things, developing our style of play, managing some loads and hopefully get all the things we want to see and practice in those games by the end of the tournament, so we know where we are and where we want to go to.”