SheBelieves Cup 2020: England vs USA
6th March 2020
Having not played a match since before the turn of the year, the return of the national side has been long awaited for Lionesses fans.
For a first match after their winter hiatus, facing the USWNT had its pros and cons. This was certainly not going to be a match to ease Phil Neville’s new look squad into international duty. But it served as a prime opportunity for the Lionesses to bring their A game, to rid themselves of their World Cup hangover, and to show the world champions what they are made of.
Would the Lionesses approach this match with the intent to seek revenge for that notorious semi-final? Perhaps not. But would this match provide them an opportunity to right some wrongs after a somewhat lacklustre post World Cup performance? Most definitely.
Starting elevens in and Neville’s line-up was perhaps not what many were expecting. Tried and trusted Carly Telford between the posts behind an unusual, yet strong back four. No starts for Jordan Nobbs or Rachel Daly, who was perhaps the expected right back in the absence of Lucy Bronze. Up front, the experience of Ellen White and Nikita Parris chosen over the current form of Beth England, arguably the Lionesses most dangerous striker of late. But a call up to the the starting line-up for Lauren Hemp, a nuisance of a winger for any defence, even that of the world number one.
The USWNT, as expected, presented a side that meant business. World Cup standout Rose Lavelle alongside the distinguished Julie Ertz in the middle, behind a mighty attack of Tobin Heath, Carli Lloyd and Christen Press.
A late kick off for England supporters, an urging for a solid start to the tournament was sensed. With Neville’s controversial selection lining up against the world’s best, it would certainly be interesting to see how this would pan out.
The first half started with the USA pushing relentlessly hard for the first twenty minutes, worryingly finding space unmarked in the box, and consistently applying pressure to the English back four. Yet a number of big saves from Telford, and some robust blocks from Houghton and Bright kept the ball from finding the back of the net.
With the USA’s constant threat, the Lionesses needed to slow the pace and regain some composure. At twenty minutes, a significant moment of possession for Keira Walsh, in which she spotted the run of Parris and sent a pinpoint pass her way. Parris’ head on to goal unfortunately ruled offside. The first real chance for the Lionesses.
The rest of the half saw another couple of chances for England, yet no real threat from any finishing balls. But continuous heat from the USA saw looming threats build from nowhere, the Americans clearly hungry for their opening goal. Yet to the Lionesses testament, the score remained nil-nil as the half time whistle blew.
The second half began a little more calmly, with the Lionesses the first to threaten the opposing goal. But responding the only way they know how; the USA began to press high up the field; every Lioness now positioned within their own half for much of the remainder of the game. Yet even with eleven players seemingly taking a defensive role, Press managed to find space between the full backs and curled a stunning shot past Telford. One nil at 54 minutes.
To really assert their dominance, it was not long before the USA sunk another. A dink over the top of Houghton and Bright saw, a possibly offside, Lloyd hit the back of the net. Two nil in two minutes. With the formation of the Lionesses now hanging in the balance, a change could not come soon enough. Fresh legs were much needed to keep up with the unremitting pace of the Americans.
Just after the hour mark, we began to see changes made for both sides. Notably Rapinoe replacing Press for the USA, and Nobbs and England replacing Scott and White for England. For the USA, their changes possibly just made as a seemingly entertaining rotation to enjoy the fun they were having toying with the Lionesses. But pleasingly for England, their substitutes did make a noticeable impact, with their best chance of the game coming from England’s touch in the box that was fed in from Nobbs’ cross. However, the damage was already done, and the Lionesses could not claw their way back from such defeat. As the final whistle blew disappointingly the score remained, USWNT - 2, England – 0.
A disheartening start to the Lionesses campaign. Many areas in which improvements need to be made with the USA seemingly pulling the strings for the most part, yet a lot for the players to take away and learn from. Identifying the negatives in this instance is absolutely vital in working on minimising them going into the next two games, yet it is important to also pick out the positives.
Hemp did not make Kelley O’Hara’s life easy on the wing and stood her ground with the physicality and confidence demonstrated by the opposition. Nobbs’ influence was plain to see, with communication between the players seeming to tighten up when she was on the field. In goal, Telford did everything she was supposed to do and more, a disappointing score line for her with the performance she gave.
Moving forward, it is possibly time to rethink the game plan. Playing out from the back is perhaps not always the best option, especially when playing an opposition that push so far upfield. Younger legs in the starting line up could also prove effective. This could mean a quicker and more aggressive start, setting the Lionesses off on the front foot, rather than having to play catch up.
Yet, it is easy to speculate after the event. If we cannot beat the world’s best, then we must learn from them. The Lionesses will reflect on this defeat, and will use it to develop their game. But for now, with their next game just days away, they must reset themselves and continue with business as usual. On to the next.