England currently sit in third place in the FIFA rankings and are one of the favourites to win the tournament alongside the USA, Germany and France, but is this squad good enough to win the tournament?
First, it has to be said that the best 23 players, in my opinion, have not been selected. But this is the normal process for a tournament.
The aim is to select players who can live together for a month. You have to to take those who will not create tension and problems, especially those who won’t play much or not at all. History is full of multi-talented squads of players who did not go along and ended up self-destructing.
I think Phil Neville took the safe/tried and trusted option regarding certain players and has not brought enough variety in player’s style.
For example, creativity is in the hands (or feet) of Fran Kirby as a starter then Karen Carney and Georgia Stanway as substitutes who can come to make a difference.
That’s it, there is no one else who is creative that can make the difference. There are many excellent finishers up front, but what will they do if the ball does not come to them? They are not Lionel Messi!
I was surprised that a third centre forward, like Lauren Hemp who would have been a breath of fresh air, was not selected as Ellen White and Jodie Taylor are a very similar type of number 9.
Maybe Rachel Daly and her versatility will be used in her club position as a striker, who knows? Beth England had a fantastic club season and, on form, could have deserved a place ahead of one of the two strikers selected.
At centre-back, three of the back-ups would have been a better option than Abbie McManus: Aoife Mannion, Grace Fisk and Gemma Bonner. Obviously, Phil Neville sees things in training, in games, and in the squad life that justifies her selection.
In midfield, Izzy Christiansen lost her place through injury and Fara Williams was not called up. Phil Neville went for Jade Moore and Lucy Staniforth. We know that he plans to use Lucy Bronze in there as he has not found another way to replace the injured Jordan Nobbs. So what does it means for the two players selected and those who missed out? A lack of confidence in their ability?
We know that the right balance has not been found in midfield as part of his preferred 4-3-3 system. The main options are playing with two number 6 and a 10, playing with a 6 and two number 8 or playing with a 6-8-10 as it was with Walsh, Nobbs and Kirby before. Kirby’s up and down club form also adds up complexity to the mix, because she is nearly undroppable as the sole creative player in the starting 11.
I believe a like-for-like replacement of Jordan Nobbs in Jill Scott is the most logical choice and you get the 6-8-10 combination that make sense in a midfield three. Suggestions of a 4-2-3-1 with two number sixes make it a very rigid and predictable system. To counter it, all you need to do is block the main passing sources of Walsh and Kirby to stop the attacks.
On the defensive side, the two full-backs are very attacking orientated and the two centre-backs are powerful, if a bit slow. They also are not the best at passing the ball and tend to go long at times, even if not under pressure.
The fact that the best back four is yet to be found is another problem that will be solved during the tournament. At the end of the day, the team that starts a tourney is rarely the same one that finishes it due to loss of form, injuries, and suspension.
I think the biggest problem for that England team is Neville has decided to depart from the defensive style instilled by Mark Sampson. It brought consecutive semi-finals in international tournaments, but it also showed its limitations at the highest level.
It takes a lot of time to make a team evolve and change its centre of gravity. It’s like installing new software on your computer. So there have been some hiccups as players sometimes default to the old playing style instead of playing the new one.
Overall, there is no doubt that England can win the World Cup. There have enough quality players, especially in attack, as there are many attacking options available within the tactical frame if some players don’t perform.
It is now just a question of gelling together, getting that bit of luck needed at times and players performing on the day.
And if all the stars align like in ’66 (with the help of a generous assistant referee), England might come home with the trophy.