England earn comfortable win in Arnold Clark Cup opener
A cruising 4-0 victory over Korea England sees England thrill at Stadium MK
It was a welcome homecoming in Milton Keynes for Leah Williamson as the Lionesses comfortably beat Korea Republic in their first match of the Arnold Clark Cup.
Tributes were paid before kick-off with England donning black armbands in ongoing support of the aftermath of the earthquake suffered in Syria and Turkish, and in memory of the late June Mead who sadly passed away last month. Lucy Bronze was also honoured as England’s latest centurion with a commemorative shirt and flowers handed over by manager Sarina Wiegman.
Wiegman opted for her preferred 4-3-3 with Millie Bright and Jess Carter pairing in central defence. These were flanked by Lucy Bronze on the right and Alex Greenwood who spent the evening revisiting her leftback roots. Captain Leah Williamson was stationed at the base of the midfield for the first half, in a single pivot, in the absence of Keira Walsh. Ella Toone and Georgia Stanway started as England’s two attacking midfielders with Stanway dropping slightly further back, loosely occupying more of an no.8 role when needed. Alessia Russo lead the line as the central striker with Chloe Kelly and Lauren James in support along the wings, Lauren Hemp started this one on the bench.
The first half was largely in England’s hands. They did pretty much everything for the first forty minutes, (including hitting the post) apart from score. Stanway did eventually find the back of the net after James was tussled down in the box and earned the home side a penalty.
The trouble in breaking through was less to do with England’s movement or shape, and more to do with the low block and compact structure of Korea Republic. The visitors maintained organisation in the first half and largely played the defensive game, typically leaving lone striker Son Hwayeon further upfied to hit transitions.
England’s best option to create space was to thread balls through Toone and Stanway and then feed out to the wings. Here, Kelly and James, supported by Bronze and Greenwood, did well to overlap - but with a slack aggression in the first half. Where Korea Republic played with five at the back, these tight areas quickly became flooded with bodies and England’s attacks in these instances were flushed out.
Throughout the first forty-five minutes it became clear that the ball needed to be moved across the pitch and with quicker succession. Korea Republic were concentrated in creating heavy traffic in front of the ball (on the wing in play and in central areas), meaning they left a lot of space on the opposite side. Releasing the ball and switching play ‘cross-field’ a little faster would have stretched the Korean side out. England also needed to hit the ground running with this space and progress with a heightened intent.
Wiegman did note this in her post-match press conference and raised her concern that the quality of the pitch may have interfered with the speed in which England were able to play the ball.
Becoming more aggressive in the wider areas is exactly how the Lionesses began the second half. They increased pressure by challenging more assertively using speed and physicality on the wings, and carried the ball with more urgency. This change of pace did the trick and Kelly scored within 30 seconds of the game being restarted from the left-hand side.
Russo netted the next one five minutes later with principal ball again coming from the left wing. Greenwood whipped a cross through close to goalkeeper and Russo finished it off by flicking it in behind.
Korea Republic noticeably began to tire at around 70 minutes and, despite substitutions, an increasing number of gaps began to open up. This allowed the Lionesses to then become more direct and siphon their pressure more centrally. This then opened up more options for England who were now able to create numerical advantages, through sheer pace, out wide and in the middle.
It was James who scored England’s fourth and final goal of the evening after linking up with right-sided compatriot Bronze. The duo, in-sync with their signature moves, combined well to cut in and drive through the middle and player of the match James sank Bronze’s assist past the keeper.
All in all, it was another good day for Wiegman’s side, who remain unbeaten since her appointment almost 18 months ago.
The England manager praised her team’s togetherness and their desire to win games. Wiegman also suggested she was pleased to be able to “try a few different things”, alluding to Williamson’s switch in position from midfield to central defence at half time, Katie Zelem’s run as a solo defensive midfielder, and Rachel Daly’s time to come on and play as a no.9 whilst Greenwood earned minutes as a left-sided fullback.
Plenty of substitutions were made throughout the match with Niamh Charles and Katie Robinson also getting a run out. Wiegman indicated that substantial rotation is planned and there will be changes to come over the course of the Arnold Clark Cup as it is “good preparation for the World Cup.”
The Lionesses will face Italy on Sunday 19th February at 3:15pm (GMT) in Coventry. The match will be shown live on ITV1 with coverage beginning at 2:25pm.
England (4-3-3): Earps (GK), Bronze, Greenwood (63’), Bright, Williamson (c), Kelly (63’), Stanway (67’), Russo (63’), Toone, Carter (45’), James (80’)
Substitutes: MacIver, (GK), Roebuck (GK), Ramsey (GK), Hemp (63’), Daly (63’), Park, Salmon, Zelem (45’), Charles (63’), Robinson (80’), Wubben-Moy, Le Tissier, Nobbs, Coombs (67’)
Goals: Stanway 40’, Kelly 46’, Russo 50’, James (78’)
Korea Republic (5-4-1): Kim Jungmi (GK), Hong Hyeji, Lim Seonjoo, Kim Hyeri, Jang Selgi (86’), Choo Hyojoo, Choe Yuri, Lee Geuminn, Kim Yunji (56’), Kang Chaerim (56’), Son Hwayeon (86’)
Substitutes: Y G Yoon, J S Ryu, S Y Shim (56’), H Y Kim, C Jang, G R Chun (86’), E Y lee, E S Park, Y B Jang (86’), S Y Ji, K H Kim, M J Ko, J M Lee, Y B Bae, Y E Park (56’)
Booked: Son Hwayeon, S G Gang, Y G Yoon
Attendance – 21, 013