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Sarina Wiegman’s first two games in charge of the Lionesses and what we learnt!

Hege Riise took over from Phil Neville as the Lionesses manager on an interim basis, with a fellow Dutchwoman taking over from her. Sarina Wiegman is the coach in the spotlight now and on a results front, her first two games in charge were an overwhelming success. Given the stature of North Macedonia and Luxembourg though, with all due respect, this international break is more about what we learnt regarding the Lionesses.

Click here for a breakdown of the Lionesses squad prior to the games being played.

Firstly, there were questions over whether Man City’s Steph Houghton would retain the captaincy and whilst she was set to, an injury through a spanner in the works. Houghton’s last-minute absence saw one of the younger Lionesses in Leah Williamson take on the armband, an honour bestowed upon her occasionally for Arsenal too. Williamson has often spoken of her love for Arsenal and not only has she grown up to play for the club she loves, Leah is now a fully-fledged member of this English side going forward too. It remains to be seen if this means Williamson will be a vice-captain or something to that affect, going forward alongside Houghton, but regardless, her place in the squad is rock-solid.

The reason Williamson’s place in the squad is rock-solid as opposed to her place in the XI is her positional diversity. Her known position is centre-back but Houghton and Chelsea’s Millie Bright have formed a partnership over the years which seems pretty impenetrable. The Arsenal star is too good a player to leave her on the bench though and luckily for her and the Lionesses, she can comfortably operate as a defensive midfielder. Houghton’s absence could have seen Williamson drop back into the heart of defence but she remained in midfield, Alex Greenwood of Man City deputising. Greenwood is another versatile player who has played at either left-back or left centre-back in the past couple of seasons for club and country.

There was a clear lack of rotation going into the second game, against Luxembourg. The Lionesses beat North Macedonia 8-0 and Sarina Wiegman decided to stick with the majority of those players into the Luxembourg clash. Beth Mead (Arsenal) and Georgia Stanway (Man City) gave way for Nikita Parris (Arsenal) and Fran Kirby (Chelsea), seeing some certain players not really get a chance is somewhat disappointing though in truth. In particular Katie Zelem (Man United), Ebony Salmon (Racing Louisville) and Sandy MacIver (Everton). The latter two are very young and new on the scene but their respective form warranted some minutes in my eyes. Although when it comes to MacIver, Mary Earps has herself struggled to get on the pitch for the Lionesses so to see the Manchester United goalkeeper start both games was good.

In terms of takeaways for the players that did get on the field and I don’t think there is anything particularly new. Instead, already known information has been further reinforced! Lauren Hemp of Man City continues to be one of the hottest prospect in world football. Her speed and dribbling from the left-hand side causes opposition defenders a headache enough, then you have to consider her crossing ability too. Rachel Daly, one of the few Lionesses that play their football outside of the WSL, is again-and-again showing that she is adept in a number of positions, a common theme throughout the squad. The Houston Dash star began both games as a right-back but can play on either side of defence as well as on either wing which is very handy indeed. The final formality is that Ellen White will always score goals, no matter who the opponent is. She netted her 40th and 41st goals for the Lionesses against North Macedonia before adding another two to her tally last time out. 43 goals has her in third for her country, the legends that are Kerry Davis (44) and Kelly Smith (46) being the only two above her.

Amidst all the issues for Manchester United, stemming from Casey Stoney’s departure, they still had decent representation in the squad. As previously mentioned, Earps started both games in goal whilst Zelem was unable to get on the field. Ella Toone is the current star though and her form was certainly rewarded by Sarina Wiegman in these past seven days or so. The game against North Macedonia was her first Lionesses start and she was in the XI again for the trip to Luxembourg. From Toone to Beth Mead, Hemp to Georgia Stanway, there are a plethora of attacking options who can operate out wide, the competition for places is seemingly as fierce as ever.

In conclusion then, eighteen goals were scored, none were conceded and some lessons were learnt. This experience playing together, whether it be in World Cup qualifiers or friendlies, is invaluable. Particularly when you consider the recent turnover of manager and therefore, tactical outlay. Tougher tests are on the horizon but Sarina Wiegman seems to have the Lionesses going in the right direction at the moment!

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