Day 13: She's James, she scored, she conquered
England burst into life as the US limp through
China 1 - England 6
Sometimes in life if things aren’t working out quite like you planned you just have to rip it up and start again. That’s what Sarina Wiegman did in England’s final group stage match, abandoning the 4-2-3-1 she has used throughout her tenure as manager in favour of a 3-5-2.
The change might have been inspired by Keira Walsh’s injury but it offered solutions to far more problems than just the absence of their most creative player. In one fell swoop, Wiegman seemed to have solved: England’s problems in transition (by having Jess Carter cover for Lucy Bronze), being able to get Rachel Daly into attacking positions (by using her at wing back), and Alessia Russo’s struggles to get into the game (by giving her the freedom to drift out wide). By half-time, they were 3-0 up and it should have been 4.
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Whilst the formation shift was clearly a big confidence boost for England, they were helped out by a virtuosic performance from Lauren James. She ended the match with five goal contributions - 2 goals and 3 assists - to cap off a spectacular performance that ended any doubts that she could perform on the biggest stage. Her finishing was exquisite, a right footed shot from the edge of the area and a left footed volley, as well as the left footed disallowed goal. Her passes to send through all three of Alessia Russo, Lauren Hemp and Chloe Kelly on goal were perfectly weighted.
But what was potentially most telling was the way James was used in build-up. With Walsh unavailable, England chose to bypass their midfield a lot but Wiegman also normally relies on her fullbacks, who were now playing higher up the pitch as wingbacks. It was James who dropped into the left back position in order to pick the ball up as the game went on, vacating space for Hemp or Russo to drop, and being able to support England’s ball progression. Add on a number of tackles at the edge of England’s penalty area and all in all, It was a complete performance from the 21 year old. There aren’t many players who can say they have had a better World Cup than James.
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