The opening game of the Euro’s is fast approaching in which the Lionesses will kick the tournament off against Austria at Old Trafford.
Sarina Wiegman’s side have enjoyed a fruitful run in the lead up to the competition, remaining unbeaten since the former Netherlands midfielder and national coach took the helm last September.
In their three warm up games that took place in June, England beat Belgium, Switzerland and defending European Champions the Netherlands by a minimum of a three-goal margin. This is indicative not only of England’s evident shift in mentality, but of their fluidity on the pitch.
The Lionesses boast an impressive strength in depth, and even more so, a strength in versatility. It was solidified during these matches that several players within the squad are able to slot into various positions, allowing England the luxury of formation changes to suit the characteristics of their opponent.
The midfield and defensive line are where we have seen the biggest rotations. To give some idea of the extent of this, across the three mentioned friendlies, Alex Greenwood started as both a left-back and a centre-back, Georgia Stanway played as a sole and paired attacking midfielder, Keira Walsh anchored the midfield in a single and a double pivot, and Leah Williamson played as a variant of a number six and as a centre-back.
In fact, in each of these games Wiegman has opted for a different midfield trio and a different back four, with only defensive midfielder Walsh and centre-back Millie Bright retaining their positions.
For the most part, Wiegman has nailed these tactical nuances, however signs of weakness have peaked through. In their game against the Netherlands, England went 1-0 down in the 22nd minute, the first time they have trailed in the Wiegman era.
The goal came from a cheaply gifted corner and as Walsh failed to keep hold of her marker, Dutch midfielder Lieke Martens managed to send a bullet header past Mary Earps. England have long been lapse in defending set pieces and although this looks to have improved, there is quite clearly still work to be done.
Not only was the defending of corners shaky, so too was the cohesion of the back four. The Netherlands were able to consistently find gaps around Bright and Greenwood at the central base of the defence.
Arguably, in this instance, things did appear to sharpen up when Greenwood came off and Williamson stepped back to pair up with Bright. However, the amount of vacant space left between defenders will be something England have to be wary of when facing high pressing teams.
The use of substitutes has been one of England’s key strengths. The changes Wiegman made proved to be hugely impactful over the course of their warm up games, with England finishing these matches in better form than they began.
The introduction of players with as much dynamism as Bethany England, Beth Mead, Ella Toone and Alessia Russo means that England’s intensity grows throughout, with them becoming particularly effective in attack in the second half. Each of England’s goals, minus Lucy Bronze’s (accidental) belter against the Netherlands, was scored after the half time whistle.
England have a plethora of positives to take forward, but also a few fragilities to address. For now, they must use their good stead and put their best foot forward. Dress rehearsals are over, it’s crunch time.