This time last year, Sarina Wiegman’s plans were in place ahead of the Euros. The Lionesses manager had settled upon a core of players during her first season in charge and her squad announcement for the tournament featured few surprises. Once the Euros began, Wiegman was able to name the same starting line-up for all six matches, as England won their first major international tournament in 56 years at Wembley.
How the Lionesses could do with the same stability ahead of the World Cup. A year later, Wiegman will take England into a second major international tournament as one of the favourites, but with injuries and fitness concerns disrupting their preparations and forcing a rethink in some key areas of the team.
Now the domestic club season is over, Wiegman will name her 23-player squad for the World Cup today, with England’s opening game of the tournament against Haiti in Brisbane less than eight weeks away.
Here are some of the biggest questions Wiegman has to answer as the England manager names her squad for Australia and New Zealand.
Injuries, injuries, injuries. England’s build-up to the World Cup has been dominated by one topic. Leah Williamson and Fran Kirby are out, that’s for sure, but there is less certainty elsewhere. It looks like the World Cup will be too soon for Beth Mead, the winner of the Golden Boot at last summer’s Euros. The Arsenal forward suffered an ACL injury in November and although Mead says her recovery is “ahead of schedule”, there are no guarantees that she will be ready for England’s opening game against Haiti on July 22.
The date of England’s squad announcement is early, which has given players like Mead less time to recover and Wiegman less time to assess her options. There is a chance that Wiegman takes a risk and selects Mead hoping she is available for the knock-out stages in August, but it would be a big ask for the 28-year-old to return at that stage of the tournament after such a long time out.
Wiegman faces further questions over the fitness of Millie Bright and Lucy Bronze, two of her most experienced and trusted players. Bright has been out since March due to a knee injury while Bronze underwent keyhole surgery on her knee in late April. Both are expected to be fit, however.
It’s not just Williamson and Kirby who England will miss at the World Cup. Injuries to the pair have highlighted the collective loss of experience in the squad from the Euros, with Ellen White and Jill Scott having retired following England’s victory that summer. Add in Williamson, Kirby and Mead, and that’s a total of 431 international caps that have been lost in 12 months – as well as four starters from England’s Euros-winning side.
How Wiegman replaces that experience will be crucial to England’s chances in Australia. The 71-cap Jordan Nobbs has made a return to the international fold after her decision to join Aston Villa in January, but her lack of game time in recent England matches raises questions over whether Wiegman is truly convinced. There has even been talk of former England captain Steph Houghton making a return. The centre-back returned from injury to feature for Manchester City over the final weeks of the season and has not given up hope of a call-up.
Have in-form England done enough?
Rachel Daly was England’s left-back as they won the Euros but is now leading the race to be their starting No 9 for the World Cup. Daly won both the WSL player of the year and Golden Boot awards after hitting a stunning 22 goals for Aston Villa this season. She faces a battle with Alessia Russo, who has been Wiegman’s first choice since the Euros, to be England’s starting striker, but there are others who are pushing for the place as well.
Among them, Bethany England could not have done more to get a World Cup place after scoring 12 goals in 12 games for Tottenham since leaving Chelsea in January. England was in the Euros squad but did not play a minute in the tournament and the striker has missed out on the last two England squads, with Brighton’s Katie Robinson instead receiving a call-up.
England’s strongest position is in the wide attacking areas, with Lauren James, Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly competing for two spots in the starting line-up, so whoever is included will be expected to challenge Daly and Russo. Nikita Parris found form over the final few weeks of the season while Ebony Salmon made the first three squads post-Euros.
Who starts instead of Williamson?
The England captain’s injury means Wiegman will need to decide upon a new centre-back pair for the World Cup. Millie Bright and Alex Greenwood appear to be Wiegman’s first choice, but that requires moving Greenwood from left back and relies upon Bright’s fitness, so there could be a few places up for grabs.
For a 23-player squad, Wiegman is likely to select eight defenders. The Dutch coach tends to favour defenders who are capable of playing multiple positions, with Chelsea’s Jess Carter, Manchester United’s Maya Le Tissier and Manchester City’s Esme Morgan adept in both centre-back and full-back areas.
Arsenal’s Lotte Wubben-Moy, who was initially left out of April’s squad before replacing the injured Bright, is less versatile, but impressed for the Gunners over the final weeks of the season when Williamson was sidelined. Wubben-Moy was a key member of the Euros squad and was the driving force behind England’s legacy pledge, but her place in the World Cup group looks unclear. Much could depend on Bright’s fitness.
Finding the balance and depth in midfield
Keira Walsh is the cornerstone of England’s team but Wiegman is still searching for an ideal balance around her in midfield. Georgia Stanway and Ella Toone have been used as twin-eights but Australia found success when beating the Lionesses in April when they shut Walsh down, with England missing the creativity of a player like Fran Kirby to unlock the door.
There may be matches in Australia when Wiegman may favour another midfielder to sit alongside Walsh – with one of Stanway or Toone asked to push forward into the No 10 areas that Kirby so often thrives in. Manchester United captain Katie Zelem and Manchester City’s Laura Coombs are contenders alongside Jordan Nobbs for the position, while Jess Park is seen as a wildcard option having made the last two squads. The 21-year-old is another fitness doubt, however, after she was ruled out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury.