The dust has settled, a week has passed, now Kathryn Batte takes a look at what the She Believe’s Cup victory means for the Lionesses and Phil Neville this summer…
Unless you’re an avid follower of women’s football, you probably hadn’t heard of the She Believe’s Cup until England’s 3-0 victory over Japan last week gave Phil Neville his first piece of silverware as the Lionesses’ manager.
The invitational tournament, founded in 2016, takes place in the United States every year and is contested by four teams. The first three competitions involved the U.S, England, France and Germany with the latter two being replaced by Brazil and Japan for this year.
Despite being viewed primarily as a warm-up for this summer’s World Cup, the stakes were high for the players involved. At the beginning of the tournament Neville claimed that all 23 places in his World Cup squad were up for grabs, meaning this was a great opportunity for any player to all but book a seat on the plane.
The Lionesses’ boss made clear his intention to rotate his starting XI and formation for each game but he was mistaken if he thought his squad would make his future selection decisions easy. Across the three games there were a total of six different scorers and those who didn’t find the net were often providers – Fran Kirby’s exquisite pass for Nikita Parris’ goal is a fine example.
It’s in the attacking positions where Neville is blessed with an array of talent at his disposal. Ellen White, Beth Mead, Jodie Taylor, Kirby and Parris all tend to play through the middle for their club teams but Mead, Parris and White can also operate on the wing if required. However, Toni Duggan and Karen Carney are perhaps more natural wingers while Lucy Staniforth can also play a more advanced attacking role. Youngsters Georgia Stanway and Chioma Ubogagu also featured off the bench and both may feel they have a chance at staking a claim for a squad place. It’s likely Neville could only start a maximum of five out of those ten in the opening game against Scotland with the rest vying for a understudy role.
The decision of who will be the Number 1 goalkeeper is another decision likely to cause the Lionesses’ boss a headache. Karen Bardsley has a wealth of experience at international level and was a regular under both previous managers Mark Sampson and Hope Powell. However, she does allow errors to creep into her game at times and has not consistently been the first choice for Manchester City this season, interchanging with fellow England player Ellie Roebuck. Chelsea’s Carly Telford started two of the three games in the tournament, the opening game against Brazil and the final tie against Japan, and many believe she could get the nod for the No.1 shirt in the summer.
It is perhaps the central midfield roles where England may lack as much choice. Jill Scott was absent from this tournament as she recovers from a minor injury but was a regular in Neville’s team during qualification and her experience in major international competitions means she is likely to be a prominent figure come June. With Jordan Nobbs ruled out of the tournament through injury, and Izzy Christiansen having surgery on her ankle following an injury sustained in the Japan game, the other central midfield shirt is definitely up for grabs. Keira Walsh started every game during the She Believe’s Cup and seems to have won Neville’s admiration. However, usual right-back Lucy Bronze was also trialled in the central role which would give Rachel Daly the opportunity to come into the defence.
Manchester United captain Alex Greenwood seems to have cemented the left-back position and the only other uncertainty is who partners Steph Houghton in the centre of defence. Both Abbie McManus and Leah Williamson were given opportunities during the competition but both are likely to be deputies for regular Millie Bright who missed the tournament as she recovers from injury.
Neville may have claimed there were 23 places still available in his World Cup squad but the likelihood is he probably has a fair idea of who he will take to France. While further injuries may throw potential spanners in the works, those who played the majority of games during the qualifying stages are all likely to have a seat on the plane. Neville’s dilemma will be the newer faces of Ubogagu and Stanway and whether they are worth a punt. Chelsea’s Bethany England may also still have an outside chance despite not making the She Believe’s squad. Realistically, the attacking midfielder/ forward will have to maintain, if not better, her current good run of form in the domestic league.
They saying having too much talent is a good headache for a manager to have, however, I don’t envy the responsibility on Phil Neville’s shoulders heading into this summer’s World Cup. If they weren’t already, the Lionesses are certainly now one of the favourites to triumph in France. Neville must manage the expectation levels of what is arguably a golden generation, while ensuring the players he picks can rise to the occasion.