England will kick-off their SheBelieves title defence this evening (alternatively, early hours of tomorrow morning) when they face World Cup champions USA.
With both sides considering the other as close rivals, there’s unlikely to be any love lost when they walk onto the pitch in Orlando tonight.
But, for the sake of this article, let’s pretend the tea-sipping World Cup semi-final didn’t happen and delve into a combined starting XI made up of 11 players from either SheBelieves squad.
In a 4-3-3 formation…
Goalkeeper: Ellie Roebuck
After suffering an injury in the game against Chelsea before flying out for this tournament, it looked hit-and-miss as to whether or not Roebuck would make it. Thankfully (for England) she did and with all due respect, this is a no brainer.
Right-back: Kelley O’Hara
The absence of Lucy Bronze in the England squad due to injury means this spot is wide open. Or at least it would be had Neville called up a like-for-like replacement; the closest they’ve got to a right-back is a club forward turned international defender Rachel Daly. Nobody mention [redacted] [redacted] who has been playing there for City in the WSL, we can’t be manifesting that. With all of that said, Kelley O’Hara is the best option to fill this role, given that she’s consistently occupied the right-back position to the highest level throughout her career.
Centre-back: Leah Williamson
Clownery can be defined as consistently putting Leah Williamson as your preferred English centre-back, ignoring the 13 minutes she played at the World Cup. But that won’t stop me, because, between the English and the Americans, Williamson on and off the ball both as a player and a leader is arguably the best on display.
Centre-back: Abby Dahlkemper
I don’t think anyone could have anticipated the unbelievable World Cup performance Abby Dahlkemper was about to drop, coming in ahead of teammate Becky Sauerbrunn who has also consistently performed to the highest level. A tough decision between the two but ultimately Dahlkemper wins because, of late, she’s been the best performing U.S. centre-back.
Left-back: Crystal Dunn
You rarely find a player who can occupy one position at the highest level on a consistent basis – but Crystal Dunn does that with two. A goalscoring forward for her club, but a resilient left-back for country. She’s quick, she’s strong and you’re probably not getting past her on your best day.
Centre-defensive midfielder: Julie Ertz
Julie Ertz is second only to Amandine Henry when it comes to being the best no.6 in the world. While she doesn’t always get the plaudits she deserves, she’s the heart of the U.S. team and everything clicks when it comes to and from her in the middle of the park. Unless you’re France and Lyon, you won’t find a better player to occupy the no.6 role.
Centre-midfield: Lindsey Horan
Oh boy. It’s a good job this is a mere figment of my imagination because after those events transpired following the World Cup semi-final, this would prove an interesting choice. But, having said that, Horan’s gradual rise has seen her flourish for both club and country, becoming a reliable goal-scoring midfielder who commands the middle of the park better than most. Easy choice.
Centre-midfield: Jordan Nobbs
Jordan Nobbs would be an asset to any team. Now gradually moving back into groove following that injury, she’s finding form for club and will look to transition that into country. Her tenacious attitude in the middle of the park allows her to turn defence into attack while operating pockets of space that give her room to pick out passes and help her side advance up the pitch.
Right-wing: Christen Press
It feels absurd that Christen Press still finds herself on the bench sometimes when, in the absence of Alex Morgan, she’s arguably the best U.S. option going forward. Operating anywhere along the front three, she’s got one hell of a strike on and is going to be England’s biggest threat to contend with in America’s attack.
Striker: Bethany England
Bethany England is quite literally in the form of her life at the minute. Having come off the back of a Continental Cup final where she bagged two goals – one a last-minute winner – to help Chelsea lift the trophy, it seems silly not to have her leading the line. Whether it’s in or out the area, she’s a threat to goal and I would argue that none of the America keepers would be able to keep her at bay for long.
Left-wing: Lauren Hemp
19-year-old has proved on more than one occasion that, for England, she can be a difference-maker off the bench. But she’s proved for City she can do it from the off. Five goals and five assists for City so far in the league, and with the absence of Mead as well as a slim selection of U.S. wingers, Hemp is an easy first choice.
As fun as it would be to watch this team, you can watch them for their respective countries at midnight on BBC Two where England will look to avenge their World Cup heartbreak.