England's Leftback Puzzle: Could Hannah Blundell Have Been the Missing Piece?
We look at three leftback options that could have been on Sarina Wiegman's radar, including Manchester United's Hannah Blundell
With the squad named for the Australia and New Zealand Women’s World Cup, fever ahead of the tournament is starting to grip England which starts on July 20th 2023.
On Wednesday (31st May 2023), Lionesses boss Sarina Wiegman named her squad with notable inclusions such as Bethany England and Millie Bright, albeit the latter was a ‘shoe in’ if she recovered from injury in time, which she has.
One area that left a bit to be desired was the full back area, specifically left back. The only recognised 'trade' full back in the squad, is Barcelona’s Lucy Bronze. It can be argued that Alex Greenwood is a left back for England, but she has been deployed as a left centre half in the majority of her 21 WSL appearances this season.
There is also the elephant in the room for Rachel Daly, who played every single European Championship game at left back, but with 22 goals for Aston Villa this season, well… you can work out where she’ll be playing for yourself!
Here at On Her Side, we’ve run the rule over three of the full backs that could’ve made the Lionesses World Cup Squad.
One player on the list to have felt hard done by to not have a call up, former Chelsea and current Manchester United left back, Hannah Blundell.
The four time WSL winner appeared in all of United’s 22 league matches this term along with 21 in her first season in Manchester showing remarkable levels of consistency since her move North in 2021/2022 with a total of 3,610 minutes played across the last two campaigns.
The modern full back needs to be as effective going forward as they do sitting back and defending nowadays, and the Eastbourne born defender really has taken her forward play into another gear this term. Not only has she contributed to a goal and two assists in her games this season, she has actually accumulated 1.2xG (expected goals) from her 11 shots this season, with five of them hitting the target.
Of course, along with popping up in the right place at the right time, passing is an increasingly important element, not just in the game in general, but in Wiegman’s system. Blundell’s passing range is something that she has really worked on, completing 87.3% of her 1,475 attempted passes this season with the aforementioned pass completion rate in 22/23 higher than in any of her other six WSL seasons. There is one slight issue with the passing that she has completed, that only 120 of them have been forward, ‘progressive’ passes.
The Red Devils player has also been capped for England at senior level, albeit only three times and none since 2018. There is something else that Blundell has in her armoury, the knowhow to win. Despite all coming from her eight year, 161 appearance spell in West London with Chelsea, the full back won four Women’s Super League titles, two Women’s FA Cups, two League Cups and a Community Shield. Her performances at United this season also saw her pick up the Players Player of the Year for the 2022/2023 season.
Speaking on her omission, Host of Devils United YouTube Channel and Podcast, Maisie said,
“As a Lionesses ,as well as a Manchester United fan, I do believe that Hannah Blundell is missing from the team. Hannah Blundell has been fantastic this season, probably the most improved player at United this season for her defending and attacking abilities as a full back.
"Right now the Lionesses team is very limited in that role. If [Jess] Carter was to pick an injury up, I feel it can disadvantage the team which could result in [Rachel] Daly moving to that role. Blundell would have offered the attacking and defence threat whilst playing in her natural role. She has played the most minutes there in all of the other left backs in the WSL so I believe it was an unfair decision to leave her out.”
Founder of On Her Side, Charlotte Stacey added, “You look at Manchester United in the league this season, you look at where they are, how well they’ve played and realise that Blundell has played almost every match for them and she’s never really put a foot wrong. She’s got those attributes that you need to get forward and overload to support the wingers.
"You’re looking at one of the better performing English fullbacks in the league, so she perhaps should’ve had a call up, or at least time with the national team this season.”
Alongside the United fullback, two other options include Mayumi (Maz) Pacheco from Aston Villa and Everton’s Gabby George, granted the latter is currently ruled out through injury, but is thought to have been the ‘one' that Wiegman potentially wants for the left back position.
Villa’s Pacheco has enjoyed a brilliant campaign for Carla Ward’s team, appearing in all 22 matches and clocking up over 1,959 minutes in 2022/2023. As touched on earlier surrounding Blundell, Pacheco has grabbed herself four assists this term and completed 78.2% of her1,236 attempted passes this term. The former Liverpool full back is also incredibly well disciplined, only picking up two yellow cards this season, a trait which is always seen as key in defenders in International camps.
OHS founder Stacey also weighed in on Pacheco adding,
"Maz Pacheco has been brilliant for Villa, she’s played every game this season. She’s forged a really good relationship with her left winger, with her defensive actions such as blocking and interceptions notable also. She’s certainly an option to be looked at in the future.”
Last on this list but by no means lest, is Everton’s Gabby George. She’s made 91 appearances in five years on Merseyside. Granted, this term was cut short by a hamstring injury she obtained at the end of April bit she has still clocked up 1,322 minutes this campaign.
George can also mark two goals and two assists to her name this campaign also, including a stunner in Everton’s 3-2 victory over relegated Reading back in January, the same month she picked up the WSL Player of the Month Award. Along with George’s eye for goal, she is very much a forward thinker down the Everton left, completing 45 progressive passes and 31 progressive carries from left back this season.
Football Journalism Student at University of Derby and Everton fan, Chloe Reynolds added on George,
“Gabby George had an incredible season, it’s like she’s a totally new player, she’s rapid on the wing and always well positioned defensively, you could easily tell that since her injury, Everton were not the same side”.
For the latter two on this list, Pacheco and George, they have chances to go to future tournaments for England, whereas as Blundell may only have a smaller international window. All in all though, for all Sarina Weigman has done right for England, it does feel that not taking a 'trade' left back to the World Cup, could come back to bite the Lionesses, especially if there is an injury to Jess Carter, Alex Greenwood or Niamh Charles.