Here are six takeaways from England’s 1-0 win over the United States in Saturday’s SheBelieves Cup play.
Lucy Bronze is a better right-back than center back
This heading sounds negative, because Bronze is a solid defender in central positions as well. There are very few faults to her all-round game, but it’s at right back that she really excels. The Manchester City defender is an athlete as well as a smart defender. At right back you not only reap the benefits of her defensive qualities, but seeing her marauding up the right flank is a frightening prospect for any team, especially against a side still experimenting with its 3-5-2 formation, which is the case for the United States.
Bronze showed those qualities on Saturday, having an influence going forward and in standing up to the USA’s wide players – most notably entering into an entertaining contest with debutante Rose Lavelle (more on her further down).
It was also Bronze’s fierce strike off the crossbar that led to Ellen White scoring for the Lionesses, something we’ve seen previously, most notably against Norway at the 2015 World Cup when she scored from distance.
Bronze is developing into one of the best defenders in the world, and is arguably the best in the right-back position. To play her at center back is fine; you’ll get consistency and reliability alongside club mate Steph Houghton and one other, but what you lose is that threat going forward that is difficult to contain.
She knows the fullback position well – when to go and when to stay, and when to dive in and when to stand up. It’s her best position, so let’s see more of her there.
Rose Lavelle is good
For a 21-year-old making her debut, and out of position, you wouldn’t blame Rose Lavelle if she came across a bit overawed by her debut against England. But no, whether wide left or wide right, the Boston Breakers midfielder showed maturity beyond her years and was rightly named the U.S Player of the Match.
She showed good feet in wide areas and linked up well with the players in front of her. It wasn’t easy coming up against the excellent Lucy Bronze, but she did not look out of place and clearly has a bright future. The question that probably arises is with the opportunities being presented to even younger players, why has it taken so long for us to see Lavelle at senior level?
Regardless, the 21-year-old is sure to be one to watch in the NWSL this season with the Breakers and on this performance, will be a regular in Jill Ellis’ squads.
A back four is best for England
Towards the back end of last year and the start of this year, we saw England revert to a 3-5-2 formation, a switch from a back four that had been used for some time. The biggest challenge for Mark Sampson is that if he wants to persist with the 3-5-2, he needs to figure out how his players are going to master it, because none of the clubs his players represent play that formation. The England squad is made up of eight clubs – Man City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Birmingham, Notts County, Reading and Houston Dash – none of which traditionally play with a back three.
Therefore, this is a concept players, especially in defense and out wide, are going to have to get used to. They’re not playing that system week in week out for their clubs, so the only chance they have to learn the formation is on international duty. Is that relevant? I’m not a coach and this is purely an opinion piece, but I’d argue it’s not an easy transition.
We saw Saturday that England’s defenders – all of whom play for clubs that play a back four, deal well with the USA’s forward line and wide players. They knew their positions, knew their roles and kept a clean sheet against arguably the best attacking team in the world, on their home patch. The back four looks more settled.
Crystal Dunn is wasted at wing-back
When Crystal Dunn was drafted in 2014, she was seen more as a fullback who would support the forward play in possession of the ball, and play further back without it. But following her MVP season in 2015 that saw her top the scoring charts in the NWSL, her game has moved on to another level that sees her occupy a pivotal role further up the field, either as a center forward or wide of a front three or midfield four or five.
Dunn is one of the most direct players in the U.S team, along with Malory Pugh, and putting her as wing-back means she has more defensive responsibilities that someone like an Ali Krieger or Kelley O’Hara could look after. We saw this work well with the former in Washington.
Dunn played as a central striker in a game I saw her for Chelsea against FC Rosengard in pre-season, and she was a menace. She did everything but score, but was arguably Chelsea’s best player and was easily their biggest threat.
Give her that freedom to attack and run at defenders, and what you have is one of the most dangerous players in world football. Dunn running at pace with the ball is frightening, but when on the rare occasion a play doesn’t work, she needs the safety blanket of players behind her.
The FAWSL is working
Every player who took to the field for England Saturday night plays in the FAWSL (Houston’s Rachel Daly was an unused sub).
In years past we have seen England struggle against the stronger nations, but since the launch of the Women’s Super League, the Lionesses have been able to compete with the likes of the U.S, France and Germany, even if results haven’t quite gone their way at times (Wednesday’s defeat to France being a prime example).
Questions from some have been raised as to why some of the world’s best players are moving to play in England, and while it would be naive to assume financial rewards do not play a part, it’s now time to accept that England itself has some of the best players competing on the world stage.
I’ve already waxed lyrical about Lucy Bronze, but add the likes of captain Steph Houghton, Jordan Nobbs and Karen Carney into the mix – all of whom play in the WSL – and you’re presented with a very strong core of players who have developed and improved by playing at home.
There’s still room for improvement, of course there is. But it’s no coincidence that England now has the strongest pool of players available to pick from in its history. A number of factors contribute, such as the creation of the facilities at St George’s Park and the investment clubs are making into their women’s programs, but the league is in a good place, and the players within it are benefiting.
3-5-2 is still a work in progress
A big talking point over the last few months for the U.S, and one that will rumble on after the opening games of SheBelieves.
On this occasion we saw Becky Sauerbrunn joined by Julie Johnston and Ali Krieger, and again, we saw a back line that was caused some problems, but for large parts, coped okay with England’s forward line.
Johnston in particular was impressive with some last ditch challenges, but it could be said that she had to make those tackles because of original positioning. Regardless, this wasn’t a bad display by the U.S back line, and the scrutiny and attention should probably be focused on further up the field.
Lindsay Horan thrived in her position in the first half, but didn’t have the same impact in the second while Alex Morgan was starved of service, which made it difficult for her to influence the game, especially after a few weeks out with injury and illness.
Overall, this wasn’t a disaster and some of the reaction on social media to the defeat is way over the top. The U.S is building towards World Cup qualification next year, so expect more personnel changes, wobbles and defeats until then. But, be patient, this is very much a marathon, not a sprint.