England Women will be looking to add the World Cup to last summer’s Euro success when the tournament kicks off later this month.
The Lionesses quest starts against Haiti in Brisbane on July 22nd before they face Denmark (July 28th) and China (August 1st) in their other Group D games.
As the competition draws closer, manager Sarina Wiegman is faced with selection dilemmas across her starting XI with the final pre-tournament friendly against Portugal raising more questions than answers.
Here, Adriana Wehrens takes a closer look at the Lionesses’ unresolved issues and what they need to do to stand a chance of lifting the trophy on August 20th.
Retirements and injuries leaves gaps to fill
The Lionesses have been through some major changes since last summer’s triumph with stalwarts Jill Scott and Ellen White retiring and major injuries to the likes of Leah Williamson (ACL), Beth Mead (ACL) and Fran Kirby (knee) further hampering squad selection.
It means the side head to Australia with question marks around their captaincy, centre-back pairing and Number 10 position.
On the surface it appears as if the skipper position has been resolved with the announcement Millie Bright will lead the side in the absence of Williamson.
However, the Chelsea defender has not played since March due to injury and, despite taking part in England’s first training session Down Under, doubts remain over her fitness heading into the first group match.
Who starts alongside the 29-year-old at the heart of the defence is another dilemma with Jess Carter the most likely candidate although Esme Morgan, Lotte Wubben-Moy and Maya Le Tissier are other options.
Fran Kirby’s creativity will be sorely missed in the centre of the pitch with the game against Portugal underlining her importance as even though the Lionesses dominated, they struggled to find the right solution in the final third to create serious goal-scoring opportunities.
The onus will therefore fall on Georgia Stanway and Keira Walsh alongside Ella Toone in the more advanced role of the three to provide the necessary spark.
If Toone fails to deliver, Wiegman could turn to Chelsea’s Lauren James who has continually impressed when called upon and can be utilised either through the middle or as a right winger.
On the wing, she has serious competition from Chloe Kelly who scored the decisive goal in the Euro final against Germany while on the left-hand side Lauren Hemp is likely to be the undisputed choice.
Alessia Russo or Rachel Daly?
White’s retirement has opened the door for Euros super-sub Alessia Russo to take centre stage but she faces serious competition from Rachel Daly.
The latter started every game last summer as England’s first-choice left-back but has proven herself as an effective striker for Aston Villa this season following the move from Houston Dash, going on to become the WSL’s top scorer.
Each player was given 45 minutes to impress against Portugal and the game showed the strengths of both without either of them finding the back of the net.
In the first-half, Daly mainly waited for long passes from central midfield or the wingers and occupied the role of a more traditional striker while Russo took a more vertical approach in the second period, running the lines and having a closer connection to midfield, involved in the build-up play at the earliest opportunity.
The differences between the pair could potentially lead to heavier rotation compared to last year’s tournament where Wiegman did not deviate from her starting XI at all with much likely to depend on the opposition in question as well as performances in Australia.
Second successive trophy difficult but not impossible
As reigning European champions, England will be amongst the World Cup favourites alongside the likes of the USA, Brazil and hosts Australia.
Considering the quality of opposition they face as well as the internal issues that still remain, lifting a second success trophy on August 20th would be an even bigger achievement than last summer – particularly without the backing of a partisan home crowd.
Nevertheless, Wiegman’s side have a track record of finding different ways to win with an exceptional amount of strength in depth and versatility to combat any absences and obstacles that may stand in their way.
Haiti, Denmark and China should pose few issues and from then on, the knock-out stages will provide plenty of opportunity to once again prove the doubters wrong and triumph over adversity.