England Women

Sarina Wiegman's willingness to tinker brings out the best in Keira Walsh

Ali Rampling
Walsh impressed for England against Canada
Walsh impressed for England against Canada / Stu Forster/GettyImages
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"We have so much information," Sarina Wiegman summarised at full-time in England's draw with Canada on Thursday night. "This was a game we wanted."

England's first real test of their new manager's tenure saw the Lionesses held 1-1 by the Olympic champions in the Arnold Clark Cup.

The fixture epitomised the 'game of two halves' cliché, with England slick on the ball, aggressive in the press and rapid on the counter attack in the opening 45, before Jessie Fleming took the second period by the scruff of the neck and Canada were much the better side.

Despite the contrasting two periods of football, the performance of Keira Walsh was consistently excellent throughout, with the Manchester City midfielder thriving thanks to Wiegman's decision to play two holding midfielders.

Leah Williamson sat alongside Walsh for the opening hour. It is a position the Arsenal defender has frequently occupied under Wiegman, despite playing her club football at centre-back.

The Canada clash was the first time that England had opted to play a midfield three with two players at the base of the triangle. Even under predecessor Phil Neville, it was often just Jade Moore or Walsh sitting on their own, with the former adding more defensive bite, and the latter providing greater ball playing ability.

The combination of Walsh and Williamson provided defensive stability while also allowing Walsh's sublime vision and passing range to shine.

"Our team has played lots with one pivot and I also want to see how we play with two pivots," Wiegman explained. "Under this high pressure sometimes it worked really good, sometimes we were just finding our way a little bit. I think this is something that should be researched a little more."

Although now a centre-half by trade, Williamson spent much of her youth career in a sitting midfield role - often competing with Walsh for the position in England's junior sides - and her eye for a pass, football brain and ability to carry the ball means she slots into the middle perfectly. Her defensive qualities also help to bring out the best in Walsh.

The City midfielder produced arguably the pass of the game in the early stages of the second half, with a perfectly measured, bending through ball to send Lauren Hemp scampering through on goal to draw a smart save from Kailen Sheridan.

Williamson and Walsh grew up playing together, and their understanding was instantly evident, linking up well on a number of occasions to break the lines of the Canadian midfield. Out of possession, they shielded the back four effectively, and England looked a more robust defensive outfit as a result.

"We want teams to find it hard to play through us and for it to be a tough game and not give cheap goals away," said Mille Bright. "Dependent on the opponent I think we felt that's what we needed tonight. I think Leah and Keira worked brilliantly as a pair both on and off the ball and it gives us a different dimension in our playing style."

With two more games to experiment further, Wiegman's England team is beginning to take shape nicely.

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