Esme Morgan column: England’s counter attack ability will be key against Spain

Georgia Stanway could be crucial for England on the counter attack against Spain
Georgia Stanway could be crucial for England on the counter attack against Spain / Harriet Lander/GettyImages

I’ve been really impressed with England at the Euros. The first match against Austria wasn’t always the most enjoyable watch because the enormity of the occasion made it a nervy affair, but getting the win was such a weight off the team’s shoulders and you could see how much confidence and freedom they were able to play with against Norway. Everyone looked like they were playing five-aside in the playground with their mates, just having so much fun.

I was in Brighton for the Norway game and I just got goosebumps. I was sat with all the players’ friends and family, and as each goal went in everyone had the same reaction: jaw completely dropped, looking around at each other thinking: can someone please confirm this is actually happening? It was surreal.

England were impressive again against Northern Ireland, and I was so pleased for Alessia Russo coming on and playing the way she did. Those two goals epitomised the strengths that she has; she’s so good in the air, her movement’s brilliant, and then she has amazing technical quality… what a turn!

The main thing that struck me when I first trained with Alessia in the buildup to the Under 20 World Cup in 2018 was that I’d never seen anyone strike a ball so cleanly. When she hits it, the ball doesn’t stray from its path. It just arrows straight towards her target. 

I understood the calls for people to be rested ahead of the Northern Ireland match, but I think after a performance like the Norway game, you don’t want to disrupt the team’s momentum and rhythm.

Some players may have been disappointed not to start, but that’s the nature of tournament football. There’s a good chance players will have been briefed by Sarina Wiegman on their role ahead of the Euros - that’s been my experience at major youth tournaments. 

Prior to the Under 20s World Cup, Mo Marley rang around the squad and outlined her expectations for everyone. It was made abundantly clear to me that I was there as a squad player and I’d be called upon if there was an injury. I can’t tell you how many times I warmed up at that tournament when a defender went down and I thought: I’m going to get on! I never did play, but because I’d been warned that may be the case, I could accept it more easily.

Although it could be frustrating to not be playing, myself and the other substitutes had a discussion and came to the consensus that if we won the tournament, every single one of us would be a World Cup winner, not just the starting XI. Once we rationalised that, we were able to be the best substitutes possible and support those out on the pitch, knowing our role was equally important to the outcome. It’s so important for squad harmony that people understand and accept their roles.

Looking ahead to the quarter final against Spain, I’m really excited to watch the midfield battle unfold. I think Georgia Stanway could have a key role both defensively and on the transition for England. 

Georgia’s been brilliant this tournament. She’s formed a double pivot with Keira Walsh in front of the defence, and against Spain that’s going to be so important. Spain play with two high attacking midfielders and Georgia will probably be tasked with keeping one of them quiet - no easy feat when they’re among the most technically talented players in the world.

If anyone embodies the phrase ‘train as you play’, it’s Georgia. Georgia will crunch into people in training without any hesitation. She plays with complete determination to win every challenge, and she’s exactly the same in matches.

Georgia’s someone who will sprint and tackle until her very last breath, and that’s such an important attribute in a game where we might not have as much of the ball as we have previously in the tournament.

Going forward, Georgia’s really offered an outlet to England on the counter attack. She’s so direct when she’s driving with the ball, and that could be a huge asset in this game. Spain are quite expansive, so when they lose possession they’re very open and there’s so much space to exploit.

I’ve noticed the Spanish defenders seem to drop off and try to slow the opposition down and limit their space in behind, but it just means the ball carrier can keep going and going. That’s something Georgia really thrives at.

I can’t wait to watch some of Europe’s most talented players going toe to toe on Wednesday - hopefully it’s another surreal evening in Brighton!

I have a role as a patron for the Sheffield Children’s Hospital Charity and to raise money for them, I’m raffling Lauren Hemp’s Lionesses shirt and Kevin De Bruyne’s Manchester City shirt. All donations will go towards supporting the treatment of children and young people from across the UK with a range of complex issues impacting their mental health and emotional wellbeing. Follow the links below for the full details.