From July 6th to 31st, as Sarina Wiegman’s Lionesses kick off their Euro 2022 campaign, every English football fan will hope again. Hope that it will come home.
Wiegman’s arrival has been a breath of fresh air for the Lionesses, who are considered favourites to win the tournament. Their record under her is spotless so far, with 12 wins and two draws in the first 14 games.
Wiegman has made some striking changes – installing Arsenal’s Leah Williamson as her captain for starters. On the field, she has opted for a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation, trying various combinations in the middle of the park based on her needs.
Her tactical approach is flexible but revolves around trying to control possession. England have the tools for it, while also being capable of quick transitions with the wingers they have in their ranks.
Wiegman has options to tweak and adapt according to opposition. She can opt for Georgia Stanway to bring the steel in the middle of the park, or choose between Manchester United’s Ella Toone or Chelsea’s Fran Kirby to allow for fluidity in the front four. She can opt for various wing combinations to allow for classic wide wingers or narrow inside forwards with Kelly, Mead and Hemp.
Goalkeeper and left-back are two areas that seem to be up for grabs. Ellie Roebuck and Hannah Hampton both offer improvement in different areas when challenging Earps for the number one spot, while Rachel Daly and Demi Stokes battle it out for left-back spot.
Daly proved to be an able deputy at left-back despite being right footed in the recent friendly against the Netherlands. She showed defensive acumen while being great on the ball, offering attacking impetus from the fullback position.
Leah Williamson in midfield
Leah Williamson’s growing importance for the England senior side is one of the biggest changes Wiegman has overseen. The two best mates off the field, Kiera Walsh and Williamson, now steer the midfield for Lionesses on the pitch.
Williamson’s ball playing qualities are no secret – the range and accuracy on her passes has made her a viable option to start attacks for Arsenal under Jonas Eidevall. She is the first player to bring the ball out of defence with her carries.
In the Women’s Super League, only Greenwood has recorded more progressive carries (131) than Williamson (125) among centre-backs. She moves the ball forwards consistently – 68 percent of her total carries distance is towards the opponent’s goal.
Deployed as a part of the double pivot alongside Walsh or as a right sided midfielder, Williamson has managed to translate some of her strengths into the role from coverage she provides defensively.
The new role has also come with some challenges for the Arsenal centre-half, however. She is at times seen opting for a riskier pass when a safer one would have retained possession, and a couple of wrinkles in her positioning and body orientation when receiving in midfield often surface as well.
Beth Mead and Lauren Hemp on the wings
This song will probably engulf stadiums when Lionesses play. Arsenal’s Beth Mead has been a force to reckon with ever since her exclusion from Hege Riise’s Olympic squad. With 11 non-penalty goals and eight assists in 22 appearances in the league, leading the assist charts, Mead was one of the best players in the WSL. She assisted three more goals in the Champions League for Arsenal.
Given the freedom to operate from inside zones allowed Mead to be at her threatening best. She could take on players to create space for her crosses. No player recorded more shot-creating actions from a dribble than Mead (15) and she is far ahead of the pack in terms of shot creating actions as well (123), 33 more than the next best (Lauren Hemp). She regularly threatened the box with her passing, posting a league high of 56 passes into the penalty box.
If teams manage to keep Mead relatively quiet on one flank, there is another Lioness waiting to rip through their defensive lines in Lauren Hemp. Age belies Hemp’s abilities. The 21 year-old, now a four-time PFA Young Player of the Year, is already among the most differential players around.
The Manchester City winger is a menace to deal with. She has the pace to beat anyone and is skilled in 1v1 situations. A ball carrying phenomenon, Hemp loves to attack the box with the ball at her feet.
No player has carried the ball more times into the penalty box than the Norfolk born winger (58), and she also leads the charts for the most progressive carries in the league with 193. She had 30 (20 goals, 10 assists) direct goal contributions in 36 games for City this season, shouldering the attack for large parts.
Both the wingers are equally capable of scoring and creating chances. We got to see a glimpse of the damage the duo can cause in their recent friendly against the Netherlands, when Hemp’s cross was met in the centre by an on-rushing Mead to give England the lead. Something suggests that won’t be the last time we see the two combining.
Kelly’s return has also been a major boost for the Lionesses, with the City winger already used to playing in tandem with Hemp. Her pace can wreak havoc against tired legs as the game wears on, should Wiegman want to change her line-up. Kelly can stretch the field laterally and attack the byline on a consistent basis. Her quick change of pace and direction comes in very handy in 1v1 situations.
Alessia Russo as a trump card
Ellen White is England’s top goalscorer and is most likely to start at the tip of their attack. There is another player in their ranks who can bring a different dimension and fluidity to their attack, and can prove to be the trump card in the tournament.
Manchester United’s Alessia Russo had a brilliant domestic campaign for the Red Devils last season, finishing as her team’s top scorer with nine goals. The dynamic forward has excellent shooting technique, and is capable of striking the ball with venom. Her link-up play in the final third is great, as she can be seen drifting wide to offer support. She attacks the ball well in the air as well.
England have the tools, they have the fans behind them, and the omens are good going into the tournament. Their recent performances at major tournaments and against big opposition incite confidence. So the question remains: Is it coming home this summer?