Day 18: True History of the Chloe Kelly Gang
England leave it late whilst Australia barely break a sweat
England 0 (4) - Nigeria 0 (2)
When Lauren James stamped down on Michelle Alozie’s back, it felt like England were going to be going the way of many of the other favourites at the competition: unceremoniously dumped out before the tournament had really got going. Instead it actually seemed to give them the impetus to focus, stay tight, and effectively play for penalties which despite Georgia Stanway missing their first one, they dispatched with aplomb.
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Disaster averted then from an English perspective, who remain significant supercomputer favourites at this point.
But this was another game whereby England felt like they were playing catch up against a team who had a better plan than them. Sarina Wiegman stuck with the 3-5-2 she had used against China to such great effect but Nigeria used a player-marking system with a high press that reduced the space England were able to find between the lines.
At points when England did find gaps, particularly through the returning Keira Walsh’s switches of play, you could see what they were trying to do in attack, but they were too often imprecise on the ball. Nigeria meanwhile were able to gang up on the wingbacks, all too often leaving Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly scrambling and requiring protection from Jess Carter and Alex Greenwood. Ultimately though for all of Nigeria’s threat they struggled to create their own clear cut chances and by the time Lauren James was sent off, England looked like they backed themselves to wait for penalties and win from there.
For England moving forward, they must now once again look at the system and why it did not work here. There will be no James for at least the quarter-final, possibly for longer, which could see the return of Ella Toone centrally. Walsh’s habit of dropping back also increased the gap between defence and attack in this system, which could mean we see a return to a back four. But at the same time the back three has given England more defensive solidity, even if they occasionally wobbled against Nigeria. Wiegman has five days now to rethink a team she has been forced to constantly rethink since winning the Euros.
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