For a manager who stuck rigidly to the same starting XI and roughly the same substitutes in every Euro 2022 game last year, it’s surprising there was quite so much interest in Sarina Wiegman’s squad selection for this summer’s World Cup. We know who is going to be on the pitch, and we know the backups probably won’t play a major role.
But there were big stories here involving big players. Steph Houghton, the former captain who failed to prove her fitness and form in time to make last summer’s squad, had hoped for a recall in the absence of her successor as captain Leah Williamson. It wasn’t to be, and her international career is surely over.
Beth Mead, the Euro 2022 top scorer, had also hoped to feature, having consistently claimed she’s ahead of schedule in her return from a cruciate ligament injury suffered in November. Clearly, the tournament has come a little too early.
But there is a recall for Bethany England, a non-playing member of the Euro 2022 squad. She was dropped earlier this season when seeing little action at Chelsea. But a January switch to Tottenham brought 12 goals in 12 Women’s Super League games. Katie Robinson, an energetic right-winger, is something of a wildcard having just finished her first full WSL season — she impressed in the 2-1 win over Italy in February. Katie Zelem returns to the squad in the engine room, where England are a little short of options, but there’s surprisingly no place for her Manchester United team-mate Maya Le Tissier.
Wiegman can change the squad in case of injuries before England’s first game, against Haiti on July 22, so there’s every chance that the three players on standby — goalkeeper Emily Ramsey, attacking midfielder Jess Park and centre-back Le Tissier — might find themselves involved.
Here are the 23 players included, and what they offer, as England aim to follow European Championship success on home soil with World Cup success down under…
Mary Earps (Manchester United), 27 years old, 33 caps
Initially favoured over other options because of her composure with the ball at her feet, Earps was named the best goalkeeper in the world at last year’s FIFA awards. The pass map below from Euro 2022 shows how she tends to play it short and simple.
She made an error for Brazil’s late equaliser in the Finalissima at Wembley in March, but then redeemed herself in the shootout — and that penalty-saving ability may prove crucial in the knockout stage this summer.
She was the only English player not to miss a single minute of action in this season’s WSL and no goalkeeper had more touches or attempted more passes than her in the division.
Ellie Roebuck (Manchester City), 23 years old, 11 caps
Great Britain’s No 1 at the Olympics two years ago, but England’s backup goalkeeper.
She didn’t cover herself in glory in the recent crucial 2-1 WSL loss to Manchester United, hesitating before diving into a challenge on Nikita Parris, bringing a red card.
Few countries, though, have a deputy of her quality.
Hannah Hampton (Aston Villa), 22 years old, 2 caps
Hampton has a fascinating backstory, both because she spent five years playing as a striker in Villarreal’s youth academy, and because she was forced to overcome a serious eye condition that affects depth perception, which required several operations.
She fell out of favour earlier this season amid personal issues, but Wiegman is presumably satisfied that’s behind her. As third-choice keeper, she’s the least likely player in this squad to get on the pitch.
Millie Bright (Chelsea), 29 years old, 66 caps
At World Cup 2019, Bright was a slightly cumbersome centre-back who very much played second fiddle to Magdalena Eriksson and Steph Houghton for club and country respectively.
But her development since has been remarkable, and she will captain England in the absence of Leah Williamson. A less vocal player, she will lead by example as a commanding aerial presence.
The graphic below underlines her aerial dominance in the Women’s Super League this season, and we can see from her ‘true’ tackle numbers that she is highly effective when she does engage with opponents. The true tackles metric combines successful tackles, fouls and challenges lost to give us a better indication of how active a player is in their efforts to win back the ball. The more true tackles, the more often they tend to ‘stick a foot in’ as the defending player.
Bright is also adept at playing diagonal balls out to the left flank, and an effective Plan B in attack, as proved useful in England’s comeback against Spain in the Euro 2022 quarter-final.
Lucy Bronze (Barcelona), 31 years old, 104 caps
The 2019 Ballon d’Or winner sometimes seemed constrained during last summer’s European Championship success — the touch map for which is below — but she’s performed well for England since, showing flashes of attacking brilliance and offering the ability to drift inside and make direct runs towards goal, as well as more traditional overlapping runs.
Bronze has fitted in well at Barcelona. With 104 caps, she is England’s most experienced player.
Alex Greenwood (Manchester City), 29 years old, 74 caps
The most unfortunate player to miss out on England’s starting XI last year, after Wiegman’s late decision to field Williamson as a central defender rather than a central midfielder. Then Rachel Daly’s move up front meant Greenwood seemed set to play left-back but now, in Williamson’s absence, she will be needed in the heart of England’s defence, forming a good left-right partnership with Bright.
Comfortable playing long passes — as can be seen below with her pass map for Manchester City this season — Greenwood is also a fine deliver of set pieces.
Jess Carter (Chelsea), 25 years old, 17 caps
An old-school full-back who is most notable for her excellent defensive skills, particularly in one-v-one situations.
Carter was a backup last summer but is in serious contention to start at this tournament. She has been used by Wiegman as both a left-back and a centre-back, and can play anywhere along the backline.
She lacks the attacking threat of other full-backs but is the definition of ‘solid’.
Esme Morgan (Manchester City), 22 years old, four caps
One of many versatile backup defenders at Wiegman’s disposal. She played centre-back in the 2-0 defeat at Brentford in April, although for Manchester City this season has become more accustomed to being fielded at left-back or right-back, offering good quality on the ball with reliable, understated defending.
Niamh Charles (Chelsea), 23 years old, six caps
A full-back capable of playing on either flank, she spent much of the first half of the season on the right and much of the second on the left. She’s also adept at playing wide in midfield, albeit as a defensive-minded option usually tasked with shutting the game down.
Wiegman has been a little sceptical about Charles, missing out on last summer’s Euro 2022 selection, but she is a reliable squad player.
Lotte Wubben-Moy (Arsenal), 24 years old, 10 caps
Didn’t get on the pitch at Euro 2022, and found herself out of the squad at one stage afterwards.
One of the most articulate and charismatic players in the squad, Wiegman clearly considers her a ‘good traveller’. On the pitch, Wubben-Moy is sometimes expansive in possession, although did make a fateful error in the Champions League semi-final defeat to Wolfsburg, and at times is bypassed a little too easily.
Keira Walsh (Barcelona), 26 years old, 58 caps
The most expensive female footballer in the world, Walsh was England’s player of the match in last year’s final — and is probably the player they can least cope without, as no one else can match her in the deep-lying playmaker role.
Walsh’s influence on England’s possession play is enormous, to the extent that opponents often mark her to limit her contributions. Capable of receiving the ball in tight spaces, Walsh is happy spreading the play patiently or hitting more ambitious balls into attack. She is more like a continental defensive midfielder than a traditional English one.
Georgia Stanway (Bayern Munich), 24 years old, 49 caps
As the final player to confirm her place in last year’s starting XI, it’s now difficult to imagine an England side without Stanway.
Her box-to-box energy, shuttling from a position alongside Walsh to sit alongside England’s attacking midfielder, is vital in enabling England to play a 4-2-3-1 without possession but more of a 4-3-3 with the ball.
Stanway has a powerful long-range shot, is England’s designated penalty taker, and has become more disciplined without the ball, having previously been regarded as a rash tackler. She won the Bundesliga in her first season at Bayern Munich.
Ella Toone (Manchester United), 23 years old, 31 caps
Toone was a super sub last summer, regularly replacing Fran Kirby in the No 10 role. She provided two of the biggest moments of Euro 2022, scoring a crucial equaliser against Spain, and then the brilliant dinked opener in the final. Kirby’s absence through injury now means Toone seems an automatic starter.
The most attacking midfield role in Wiegman’s England side is interesting, as England often appear 4-3-3 with the ball, and 4-2-3-1 without possession. Toone can play that role well, particularly in the attacking phase: she’s netted 16 goals in 31 caps so far.
There’s room for improvement in terms of receiving the ball in tight spaces and helping to create, but Toone’s numbers were encouraging in the Women’s Super League this season.
Jordan Nobbs (Aston Villa), 30 years old, 71 caps
Having missed out on three major tournaments through injury, it seemed like Nobbs’ international career was behind her. But a mid-season switch from Arsenal to upwardly mobile Aston Villa has reinvigorated her career, and the injury absence of her long-time team-mate Williamson, who has often stepped forward into midfield, means England need extra options in the centre.
Renowned for her drive and energy, Nobbs’ quality in possession has often been overlooked. She has an eye for goal, too, particularly from long range, and hit a hat-trick in Villa’s 6-2 win over Brighton this season.
Laura Coombs (Manchester City), 32 years old, four caps
Having not played for England in over seven years — and becoming accustomed to a backup role at club level — Coombs probably didn’t expect an international recall. But Manchester City’s first-choice midfield trio all leaving last summer opened the door. Coombs, who offers good all-round qualities, mixing energy and reliability in possession, is the oldest member of the squad and yet has only four caps, which slightly underlines England’s lack of options coming through.
Katie Zelem (Manchester United), 27 years old, seven caps
A curious case. Zelem is captain of Manchester United, who finished second in the WSL, and plays in a position where England are understaffed. She should be a shoo-in, although Zelem has been in and out of the squad during Wiegman’s reign. She missed the cut for Euro 2022, then returned and briefly wore the captain’s armband in the Arnold Clark Cup win over Italy, but then was omitted for the Finalissima squad.
Presumably a backup, but she is still a composed, unfussy midfielder who spreads play well and also offers set-piece quality. Zelem received seven WSL yellow cards this season — the joint-most in the league alongside Arsenal’s Katie McCabe.
Chloe Kelly (Manchester City), 25 years old, 25 caps
Last summer’s match-winner in the final didn’t actually start a single game after missing much of the previous year through injury. But Kelly is probably the most complete of England’s wide players, capable of dribbling at speed or running in behind the opposition into goalscoring positions.
She can play on either flank, although she loves playing on the right and heading for the byline. She sent in 235 crosses in this season’s WSL — incredibly, that’s more than 100 more than anyone else. She scores goals, is a hard worker without possession and, being inextricably linked with last summer’s success means, will always bring an air of positivity.
Lauren Hemp (Manchester City), 22 years old, 37 caps
At her best, Hemp’s dribbling is unbelievably effective; she’s a straightforward runner who seems to charge through opponents rather than weave around them.
At times over the last year, she’s looked a little fatigued, and can sometimes run down blind alleys. But she remains likely to start on the left wing — and it’s worth remembering that, while Hemp has now played six full seasons in the WSL, she only turns 23 midway through this World Cup.
Lauren James (Chelsea), 21 years old, 10 caps
It’s crazy to think that James wasn’t even in the squad last summer, having endured a frustrating first campaign at Chelsea when she didn’t start a single league game. But she’s coming off the back of an excellent second season that started particularly well; she was the most prolific dribbler in the WSL by a distance.
James still needs to improve in terms of defensive discipline and end product — two assists isn’t a particularly impressive return from her WSL campaign — and Emma Hayes omitted her for both legs of Chelsea’s Champions League semi-final against Barcelona.
Wiegman might prefer Hemp and Kelly but, on her day, James is unplayable.
Katie Robinson (Brighton), 20 years old, four caps
A rare Cornwall-born England international, Robinson enjoyed a very encouraging first full WSL campaign with Brighton and was rewarded for her good form with four England caps.
The most notable of these was a start in the 2-1 victory over Italy, when she assisted the opener for Rachel Daly with a typically fine cross from the right flank.
Alessia Russo (Manchester United), 24 years old, 21 caps
Yet another player who was a reliable substitute last year, but after the retirement of Ellen White, Russo will now hope to lead the line.
A good all-round No 9, capable of running in behind the opposition or coming short to link play, Russo uses her body excellently to hold off defenders and is also an aerial threat.
Even in the disappointing 2-0 friendly defeat to Australia in April, when England struggled to create clear chances, Russo still offered a goal threat.
Rachel Daly (Aston Villa), 31 years old, 68 caps
Last summer’s starting left-back is now a striker.
It was always somewhat curious that Daly was excelling up front in the NAWSL while continuing to play as a full-back for the Lionesses, and after an outstanding season for Aston Villa, winning the WSL Golden Boot with 22 goals in 22 games, Daly has proved too good an option up front for Wiegman to ignore.
Her performance against Italy in the 2-1 Arnold Clark Cup win in February, when she headed both goals, underlined what a dangerous penalty box striker she is. Despite this, with other options up front and injuries at the back, it’s still not inconceivable that she ends up spending some time playing elsewhere.
Bethany England (Tottenham), 28 years old, 21 caps
In light of her very rarely starting up front for Chelsea, England was consistently omitted from England squads earlier this season. But, like Nobbs, a mid-season switch has paid off and earned a recall after 12 goals in 12 games for a Tottenham side that was previously struggling for goals.
England arguably lacks Daly’s aerial power or Russo’s ability to receive the ball with her back to goal, but she remains superb at sprinting into the channels and is a ruthless finisher.
She didn’t play a minute at Euro 2022 but is clearly an excellent understudy.
(Photos: Getty Images/Design: Sam Richardson)