Weigman and her squad are building towards the European Championships next summer
Credit: Action Images via Reuters
Life as England head coach has started serenely for Sarina Wiegman: Three games, three wins and 22 goals scored without conceding, giving the Lionesses their best winning streak since the 2019 World Cup.
However, such trouble-free results were expected against three opponents with an average world ranking of 100, and should come as little surprise given that England have not lost a World Cup or European Championship qualifier since 2002.
The kind fixture list means the Dutch coach’s honeymoon period is likely to last for a few more months at least, until February’s mini-tournament when the Lionesses face world-class sides including Germany and Spain, to aid their preparations for next summer’s home Euros. Until that test, it is difficult to judge how much the team have improved.
Nonetheless, what have we learnt about the type of England team we will see under the 51-year-old’s leadership, from the early evidence?
What’s working well
Most noticeably, England are moving the ball a lot quicker, and appear to be recovering it much faster when they lose possession, albeit with the caveat of having facing predominantly part-time opposition so far.
Overloading in wide areas and finding space has been central to the Lionesses’ ability to create chances almost at will, alongside their high-tempo and relentless intensity with and without the ball; They have averaged 39 efforts at goal per game so far, more than one shot every two-and-a-half minutes.
The pace of the wide players, particularly Lauren Hemp and Nikita Parris, is being utilised well, along with overlapping runs from full-backs Demi Stokes and Rachel Daly, who has been in superb form, and goals have been coming from all angles, with eight different scorers in Wiegman’s reign so far.
Daly's pace in wide areas gives England an extra attacking dimension
Squad unity remains strong, and there’s a relaxed happiness around the camp that perhaps wasn’t there to the same extent under interim head coach Hege Riise earlier this year, when competition for places in the 18-team squad for Great Britain’s Olympics campaign was intense and anxiety around selection for that small group was strong.
Wiegman has quickly won over the players, who are heavily praising her in private even when there are no recording devices around.
And in turn the former Holland manager — who won the 2017 Euros in her home country and reached 2019’s World Cup final — seems satisfied with the way the squad are taking to her “philosophy”.
After Saturday’s 4-0 win over Northern Ireland, she explained: “The way we want to exploit the space, how we want to play, we did very well. We were tight most of the time. I’m very happy with the energy of the players and the intentions, in transition, we had pressure on the ball right away and won it back very quickly.”
What’s not yet been tested
We are yet to see Wiegman’s England’s defence come under any notable pressure. In fact, they’ve scarcely been attacked.
So far the Lionesses are yet to concede a single corner during their World Cup qualifying campaign, such has been their dominance of the ball, so we have not had a chance to thoroughly assess their organisation at set pieces.
Defending those aerial deliveries had been a key weakness of England’s in recent years, and proved to be Great Britain’s downfall at this summer’s Olympics in their quarter-final loss to Australia, so it is an area in which Wiegman’s team must improve if they are going to get over the line and win their first major trophy.
Between them, North Macedonia, Luxembourg and Northern Ireland have managed a total of just one shot on target against Mary Earps, who has started all three of the games under Wiegman, so the Manchester United goalkeeper hasn’t had much to do.
Earps makes a save….in training. She has barely had to move in the three most recent games
Credit: Lynne Cameron
That solitary goal bound strike came from an ambitious 35-yard effort from North Macedonia’s Gentijana Rochi in the second minute of Wiegman’s first game, so it’s been nearly 270 minutes of football since a Lionesses goalkeeper had to make a save.
That’s unlikely to change much in Tuesday’s away qualifier against Latvia, but may well do so when Euro 2017 semi-finalists Austria visit the Stadium of Light in November.
What about formations?
Wiegman’s team began Saturday’s game in a 4-1-4-1 formation, but by the end of the match they were essentially playing with only two defenders.
Captain Leah Williamson started the match as a deep-lying midfielder in front of the back four, and the half-time change to a more attacking 3-2-4-1 – when Keira Walsh came on and began spreading passes around for fun – was key to opening up the well-organised Northern Ireland backline.
But England won’t be able to play with five attack-orientated players when they come up against title challengers like Spain and Germany. For those games, a 4-3-3 looks likely, with two wide forwards either side of a central number nine.
A key decision then will be whether to play with one defensive midfielder or two, and the option of perhaps deploying both Walsh and Williamson together in front of the back four sounds like something the Lionesses may consider against the tougher opponents.
Wiegman: we want goals
Intense competition for places up front
Arguably the best news for Wiegman is that she has a tremendous amount of options in attacking areas, with some of the best forwards in the Women’s Super League on the bench on Saturday.
Beth Mead and Beth England’s contributions after coming on at Wembley will raise everybody’s standards, as the battle for places up front intensifies with Ellen White, Fran Kirby, Ella Toone, Hemp, Parris, Daly, Mead, England and Georgia Stanway among the many options.
Young stars Alessia Russo and Ebony Salmon are also pushing for chances. But scoring goals hasn’t been the Lionesses’ problem.
On Tuesday they are likely to keep a fourth straight clean sheet for only the second time since 2016, and extending a run of solid defending through to next summer’s major tournament will be the key to success.