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Where did it all go wrong? (by Helen Hardy)

I genuinely couldn't believe a lot of the pre and post-match commentary around England's performance yesterday. For me, it was the first time in ages that I've understood (to some extent) what they're trying to achieve and I can't really understand the criticism.

Lianne Sanderson at half time (whilst still at 0-0) spoke about "getting rid" of the ball, not sitting so deep, not inviting pressure, but I think she'd missed the point. That's what they were aiming to do right? By inviting pressure they create pockets of space all over the pitch to drive into. For me what was missing was the pace of the short possession passing and the intelligence to find the best possible pass (rather than the easiest pass).

Alex Scott spoke at half time about the England team benefiting from being mid-season in Europe vs USA players who are still on an extended break. The USWNT got together for the Olympic qualifiers less than a month ago where they beat Canada in a final. England are mid-season, landing in Florida a couple of days ago, coming off the back of a Conti-cup final which saw a number of them come together in a feisty clash against one another less than a week ago. These players want to win the WSL and want to compete every week, and now they're temporarily best buddies who should be beating the best team in the world because.... they're mid season? I don't get it. If we refer back to Jurgen Klopp (who famously gave his "mid-season" lads a week off last month) it just seems nonsensical to me.

I was thinking a lot during pre-match about an interview I once watched with (I believe) Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard and Rio Ferdinand about their time at England camp. The players all respected one another but they feel like the men's England squad struggled to bond due to their premier league rivalries. Now think about the Lionesses squad right here right now. City, Chelsea and Arsenal are within 4 points of eachother and fighting for a title which means so much to each and every player. Don't get me wrong, this She Believes tournament is fantastic and a great opportunity to see the birth of superstars like Lauren Hemp, but I think it's really unfair to expect them to be at the top of their game with all of these constraints (let's not even mention time difference! I can barely keep my eyes open today due to watching the live fixture last night at 12am)

My analysis:

I think the idea was never to attack the opposition to get the ball back but instead to defend the space in the final third to avoid shots on target. Throughout the first half the players rarely made a tackle in the final third, instead they positioned themselves in the way of goal which makes it really difficult to get a clean shot on goal. The Lionesses would always attempt to stay goal side of the player with more than 1 player on the player with the ball.

Positive: This method conserves energy as you're more zonal rather than trying to get stuck in. It's supposed to avoid free kicks and set pieces.

Negatives: The ball annoyingly kept deflecting out of play for a corner

For example, see this image of a Rose Lavelle attempt:

In this passage of play Parris knows her responsibility (even as an attacker) is to place herself between goal and Lavelle. Williamson is responsible for the overlapping player. Jill Scott needs to get goal side of Horan. I'm not really sure if Steph & Millie know what their responsibility is. Ideally, Steph would take over the responsibility off Jill in this instance and look after Horan as she enters the box, leaving Jill to defend the space outside the area (just in case Lavelle cuts inside to have a shot on her right foot). Instead... communication issues lead to this:

Lavelle does cut inside onto her right foot. Jill is no longer defending the space on the edge of the area and has been dragged into the box with Horan. Both centre backs are suddenly backtracking to close down the space (look at Houghton's body position in this picture) and neither players are looking after the lethal Carli Lloyd who's completely unmarked with a dangerous Tobin Heath entering the frame to steal any spills from defenders/goalkeeper. In this instance Lavelle has a shot on target and Telford is forced to make a save.

These are the elements that are missing from Englands game. In these situations 80% of the time the lionesses are moving in sync: Nikita is sticking with Lavelle, Leah's taking on the overlap, Jill and Steph have communicated that Steph will take Horan, Millie is stood on Lloyd (or even better, playing her offside) and Jill and Keira are defending that space on the edge of the area. But a single mistake against The USA and you're buggered.

The first goal (and the killer blow) came from Steph Houghton deciding to pressure USA by running into midfield. That's absolutely fine (and can often lead to a counter attack move). In that moment when a centre back decides to push into midfield the wingbacks need to be alert to the formation change and shift across to make a temporary back three. Williamson should be moving over to cover the crucial central role:

Instead.... she's not even in the frame. With that one tiny mistake and not moving to sit behind Press, Leah allows Press to turn on the ball in the most dangerous area of the pitch and get a shot on goal. Granted, she scores an absolute worldie but every single USA player is capable of that sort of goal if they have a clear view of goal and every minute at this level of football is make or break.

I genuinely don't feel as depressed as I thought I would following yesterdays game and think the despair is a bit exaggerated. There were some wonderful moments where we dragged The USA players toward the touchline by inviting pressure which left players like Keira Walsh wide open. If Keira has time and space she will cause problems (see her wonderful cross into Nikita in the first half which was NOT offside).

Onward and upward.

by Helen Hardy

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