Defensive mainstay Steph Houghton is still out and his replacement Leah Williamson, who has claimed 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 qualifiers against Austria and Tuesday against Latvia, but who will partner the Chelsea player in the middle of the defense as the team prepare for their most difficult qualifying test is the big question. Traditionally left-back Alex Greenwood replaces City, whose injury crisis has forced manager Gareth Taylor to get creative. But the obvious choice is Williamson’s Arsenal teammate Lotte Wubben-Moy, who has been in the thick of it since returning to England in 2020 after three years at the University of North Carolina. Wubben-Moy is relatively new to the senior Lionesses setup, but could lay the groundwork for a long-term England run with Williamson if she performs well alongside Bright.
Sarina Wiegman has an impressive CV, having won a Euro at home with the Netherlands and taking them to the World Cup final. But above all, it lightened the mood. “You can see the confidence people have in training, you can see people love to train,” Fran Kirby said this week. “It was funny – when she arrived she said, ‘You know you can like working out? To laugh.’ But I think because we went through a time with so much uncertainty, where the performance weren’t the best and the results weren’t the best, people were starting to get a little tense, but now everyone let go and take advantage again. Wiegman exudes confidence without arrogance and his eagerness to open up all training sessions except the one right before a game the media and fans are talking about. For now, players are hanging on to his every word, eager to impress the woman who has been to where they want to be.
All eyes will be on Ellen White against Austria and Latvia, with the forward being two goals away from matching the England scoring record held by Kelly Smith. Bright and Wiegman ignored any question that the game plan would be to give the Whites the ball with that in mind. “We just have to score goals as a team,” said Wiegman. “Of course we’ll all be very happy when Ellen gets this record, but the main point of the game isn’t getting goals from Ellen.”
Can England get the best of Kirby and Nobbs?
Kirby and Jordan Nobbs’ trips to England have not been straightforward, marred by serious injuries and illnesses. Yet even when they have been fit and prosperous at the national level, the national team have struggled to consistently extract their best form. Wiegman is extremely lucky to have the two creative players in a good physical position, but finding a formation to suit them is not easy. Whether Kirby said this week that she should “be more in the midfield area, rather than being higher up the pitch” is something to watch out for. Kirby has been in formidable form when he played more forward as part of one of the top three for Chelsea and dropping her deeper implies that Wiegman will either move Nobbs out of his attacking midfielder bunk or consider not play the pair together.
Time at home
The Lionesses’ tour of the country in recent years has been excellent in promoting the team and women’s football in many areas that will host matches during next summer’s Euro. However, it may be time after Saturday’s game in Sunderland (where Euros won’t take place) and Tuesday in Doncaster to determine whether the team should have a permanent home after this tournament. A regular basis would make organizing travel and accommodation much easier and could do as much to develop the fan base as touring. Other British nations have taken this route, with Wales adopting Newport as their home, Northern Ireland playing mostly home matches at Seaview and Scotland increasingly using Hampden. It doesn’t have to be Wembley, but it might be time for England to settle down.