Defence, laughter and record in sight: key England Women talking points

Centre-back shuffle
The defensive stalwart Steph Houghton is still out and her stand-in Leah Williamson, who staked a claim for an extended place in the XI in the Manchester City player’s absence, has a hamstring injury. Millie Bright has the captain’s armband for Saturday’s World Cup qualifier against Austria and Tuesday’s against Latvia, but who will partner the Chelsea player in the middle of the defence as the team get ready for their toughest qualifying test is the big question. Alex Greenwood, traditionally a left-back, has been filling in in the middle for City, whose injury crisis has forced the manager, Gareth Taylor, to get creative. But the obvious choice is Williamson’s Arsenal teammate Lotte Wubben-Moy, who has been thrust into the thick of things since returning to England in 2020 after three years at the University of North Carolina. Wubben-Moy is relatively new to the Lionesses’ senior setup but she could lay the groundwork for a long-term England run with Williamson if she has good performances alongside Bright.

The wonder of Wiegman
Sarina Wiegman has an impressive CV, having won a home Euros with the Netherlands and taken them to a World Cup final. Importantly, though, she has lightened the mood. “You can see the confidence of people in training, you can see that people are enjoying training,” Fran Kirby said this week. “It was funny – when she came in she was like: ‘You know you can enjoy training? Have a laugh.’ But I think because we went through a period with so much uncertainty, where performances weren’t the best and results weren’t the best, people were starting to get a bit tense, but now everyone’s just let loose and enjoying it again.” Wiegman oozes confidence without arrogance and her keenness to open up all training sessions bar the one directly before a game to media and fans speaks to that. For now, the players are hanging on her every word, eager to impress the woman who has been to the place they want to get to.

White’s goal target
All eyes will be on Ellen White against Austria and Latvia, with the forward two goals away from matching the England goalscoring record held by Kelly Smith. Bright and Wiegman gave short shrift to any question that the gameplan would be to get the ball to White with that in mind though. “We just have to score goals as a team,” Wiegman said. “Of course we will all be very happy when Ellen gets that record but the main point of the game is not to get Ellen goals.”

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Can England get the best from Kirby and Nobbs?
The England journeys of Kirby and Jordan Nobbs have not been straightforward, blighted by serious injuries and illness. Yet even when they have been fit and thriving domestically the national team have struggled to extract their best form consistently. Wiegman is extremely fortunate to have both creative players in a good place physically but finding a formation that suits them is not easy. That Kirby said this week she is expected “to be more in the midfield area, rather than being higher up the pitch” is something to keep an eye on. Kirby has been in formidable form when played further forward as part of a front three for Chelsea and dropping her deeper implies Wiegman will be shifting Nobbs from her attacking midfield berth or considering not playing the pair together.

Home time
The Lionesses’ tour of the country in recent years has been great at promoting the team and women’s football in many regions that will host games during next summer’s Euros. However, perhaps it will be time after Saturday’s game in Sunderland (where the Euros will not be held) and Tuesday’s in Doncaster to consider whether the team should have a permanent home after that tournament. A regular base would make arranging travel and accommodation far easier and could do as much to grow the fanbase as touring does. The other UK nations have taken this route, with Wales adopting Newport as their home, Northern Ireland primarily playing home games at Seaview and Scotland increasingly using Hampden. It doesn’t have to be Wembley, but perhaps it is time for England to settle down.