As the English Women’s National Team enters the 2019 Women’s World Cup, there has been much hype about manager Phil Neville’s shift in the style of the team, transitioning the women from a team that would sit back and counterattack to a possession-heavy team with a flowing passing style, as reported by The Guardian. While the past plodding style may not have won over the neutrals, England will likely have to depend on their ability to balance the beautiful and the utilitarian if they are to live up to their sky-high expectations.
The diversity in styles served England well in the 2015 World Cup, where they secured the bronze medal under manager Mark Sampson while playing a nearly completely different team, style, and formation in every match. Part of the reason for Sampson’s reactionary style was the lack of talent in comparison to the current English team that won the 2019 SheBelieves Cup, but recent defeats to Sweden and Canada on home soil have proven that it would be foolish for Neville to abandon England’s pragmatism.
In an effort to pull off this strategy, England will have to utilize their depth of diversely skilled players that are the envy of their rivals. So far Neville’s tactics have primarily featured the skills of Chelsea No. 10 Fran Kirby, serving as the talisman of the team while backed in midfield by Jade Moore and Jill Scott. The absence of the injured Jordan Nobbs will be a major hurdle in terms of depth and the creativity she brings to the squad.
The English team may have the strongest defense of any team in the tournament, anchored by Steph Houghton and Millie Bright in the middle along with one of the best right backs in the world in Lucy Bronze. Bronze has been a soccer prodigy from a young age, playing with boys teams until she was banned at 12 by the English Football Association. She has gone on to play for teams such as the University of North Carolina, Sunderland, and Manchester City before lifting the Champion’s League title with Lyon this year.
As for attack, Kirby, Nikita Parris, Toni Duggan, Beth Mead, Ellen White, and Jodie Taylor are all capable of grabbing a goal when called upon, providing Neville with the difficult task of determining the best combination of attacking creativity and defensive skill up front, particularly with the absence of Nobbs and her ability to drop back into midfield if needed.
England will be looking to lift their first Women’s World Cup title in France, with anything less then a semifinal appearance considered a disappointment for the team. While they have been blessed with a relatively easy group, the world powers they are likely to face in the earlier knockout rounds will ensure that if they do achieve their goal it will be well earned.