SheBelieves Cup: What is England's best starting XI?

It’s almost time for the annual SheBelieves Cup, created by the USA, to take place. 

The U.S. will be joined on home soil by England, Japan, and Spain for the 2020 edition of the tournament. 

Neville’s Lionesses squad boasts a youthful squad including nine players under the age of 23, but the question remains how much of an opportunity they will get across the three games in total. 

The squad see limited changes as Neville attempts to identify the best of the bunch to take to the Olympics in the summer – but here’s a look at what I think England’s best line-up is given the squad selection. 

In a 4-3-3 formation…

Goalkeeper: Ellie Roebuck

This is a genuine no-brainer, that’s if the injury sustained in City’s previous league game against Chelsea isn’t too serious. There’s no word on it yet, but if Roebuck is available for the SBC then she has to start. 

The 20-year-old has been in blinding form for City this season, stepping up in the absence of Karen Bardsley. City has conceded the least number of goals in the league so far this season – 3 – and that is largely due to the form of Roebuck. 

Right-back: Rachel Daly 

I’m half-tempted to put Georgia Stanway in this position given that we’ve seen her occupy this role for City on occasions this season – but that’s not the kind of energy I’m willing to speak into existence. Since Lucy Bronze has withdrawn from the squad with an injury, the logical replacement since no replacement was called up would be to play Daly in that role. 

The Houston Dash forward has been applauded for her versatility by Neville which has resulted in her playing at right-back many times before, despite playing as a forward for her club. Although there is, to an extent, lack of experience in this role, Daly still occupies it well – particularly when going forward and linking up with wingers. 

Centre-back: Leah Williamson

Leah Williamson is the best English centre-back in the Super League, which should make this an easy option. But she was also that during the World Cup where she played about 13 minutes. It’s very much a will-she-won’t-she situation when it comes to Williamson starting, even though she’d be the first name on the teamsheet for most. 

The 22-year-old possess great maturity in her role and has often been hailed the future captain of England – a statement almost impossible to argue against. Calm and composed with and without the ball, Williamson has the potential to steady what is usually a frantic English defence on the best of days. This season she has also shown her ability to bring the ball out from defence and pick out pin-point passes that have resulted in goals for Arsenal. It is no longer a matter of who she could be partnered with given the chance, but rather who, given the chance, should be partnered with her. 

Centre-back: Millie Bright

Houghton is the captain and is unlikely to be dropped from the starting XI anytime soon, but I’d have to argue that Millie Bright would make the better defensive partner for Williamson, especially given her tremendous form this season. 

Bright is having one of her best seasons to date for Chelsea alongside Magdalena Eriksson. She’s contributed to the defence which has conceded the second least number of goals – 11 – so far this season. As well as being a rock at the back, she’s also found herself getting forward on many occasions ending up on the scoresheet. She’s also displayed excellent passing range from defence to attack to assist teammates in scoring. My only concern would be Bright’s discipline in high-pressure situations, looking back on when she saw red in the World Cup semi-final. 

Left-back: Demi Stokes 

England isn’t exactly spoilt for choice when it comes to full-back players in the squad, but between Stokes and Alex Greenwood at left-back, I’d be inclined to opt for Stokes as my first choice to accompany the back-line. 

While Greenwood is arguably the better left-back when it comes to attacking (see: three league assists for Lyon), Stokes is undoubtedly the better defensive player which is more suited to an England side who often falter when it comes to defending. The City left-back oozes composure and is level-headed in any situation, often coming out on top when going up against wingers. 

Centre-defensive Midfielder: Keira Walsh 

Walsh is one of the best English midfielders on her day, though we barely saw glimpses of that at the World Cup. Since coming back from France and overcoming transfer rumours, Walsh has had a solid season so far and is the heart of everything City do. 

As shown for City and on occasion for England, Walsh can pick out the unthinkable when it comes to passes. Looking back at her performances from the 2019 SheBelieves Cup and the assists she executed were top drawer. I don’t think she works as well in a more advanced role such as centre-midfield, so I would operate her just in front of the defence where she can pick up balls and spray them across the pitch to open up a game with a single pass.

Centre-midfield: Jordan Nobbs 

Coming back from an ACL injury is no easy task for any player, but since coming back at the start of the league campaign, Nobbs has gone from strength to strength and would be a no-brainer in making the England squad.

Nobbs is an exceptional midfielder and Neville sometimes loses her qualities when he plays her in an advance role such as attacking midfielder. By operating in the middle of the park Nobbs can best utilise her ability to read the game, find pockets of space and pick out passes others would generally miss. She’s a tenacious midfielder who is gradually getting back to her best – I would go as far as saying she is the most complete midfielder England has. 

Centre-midfield: Jill Scott 

At 33-years-old, Jill Scott is showing no signs of slowing down and on the back of a tremendous World Cup campaign, she’s continued such form into the league with City making her the ideal midfield partner for Nobbs. 

Scott is a relentless midfielder who works tirelessly from the first minute of the game until her last. While she’s key for possession turnovers in the middle of the park, she’s also evidenced her attacking ability going forward for both club and country – she’s registered three assists in the league for City this season. She can open up defences when she’s on the attack and could be the key to unlocking backlines during the tournament for England. 

Right-wing: Chloe Kelly

I know, I know. This is a real wild card given that the squad includes the likes of Nikita Parris and Toni Duggan – but Chloe Kelly has better stats than both Parris and Duggan. Of course, statistics don’t mean everything, but Kelly is still performing exceptionally well and just because it’s for mid-table Everton and not French or Spanish giants Lyon or Atleti, doesn’t devalue those performances. 

Under the guidance of manager Willie Kirk, the 22-year-old has burst onto the scene this season scoring an impressive nine goals and recording one assist in 12 games for Everton. She’s a dynamic forward who dribbles by players with ease. With great spacial awareness, she can easily open herself up to receiving the ball or unleashing shots from range as she’s demonstrated for Everton already. 

Striker: Bethany England

I can already hear people shaming me for not putting Ellen White here and I hear you, but I won’t change my mind. Both strikers are having stand-out seasons for their respective clubs, but Beth England has just taken it to a new level. 

While White possesses great movement and instinctive goal-scoring ability, I would have to argue that England is the more completely forward and that is why she would narrowly make my starting XI over any other English striker. With 14 goals and four assists for Chelsea in the league alone, England continues to go from strength to strength even with the signing of Sam Kerr. Close range, long-range, heading – she can score from any one of these. But perhaps importantly, England can turn into a creator as well as a goal scorer which sets her apart among others in the squad. 

Left-wing: Lauren Hemp

Even if Beth Mead hadn’t of been injured, Lauren Hemp would still be a no-brainer for left-wing based on this season. However, the injury does provide a huge opportunity for Hemp to excel in this role and make it her own – as she has done for City in the league. 

Hemp has already surpassed last year’s league games for City this year, featuring in 14 games so far. The 19-year-old has tallied five goals and five assists for club, proving to be a difference-maker on more than one occasion. Hemp is at her best when she’s running at players, weaving in and out of defenders to create chances for teammates. She’s also a natural finisher who will cause problems for any defence. 

I can’t imagine Neville straying too far from his usual line-up that we’ve become accustomed to, but the exciting news for England fans is that with nine players 23 and under mixed in with the senior squad, there’s sure to be some new faces introduced across the three games. 

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