England Playing The Long Game As Wiegman Makes The Most Of Her Bench

It feels as though Sarina Wiegman has made the most of her squad by not really making the most of her squad at all
10:05, 26 Jul 2022

So far at Euro 2022 it feels as though England boss Sarina Wiegman has made the most of her squad by not really making the most of her squad at all. She has named a grand total of 11 players in her starting lineups so far, and with Tuesday’s semi-final against Sweden beckoning there is every chance she will name the same XI once more for the clash at Bramall Lane.

While there have been intense calls throughout the country for Alessia Russo to get the nod ahead of Ellen White in the centre-forward position on Tuesday following her impact coming off the bench in the four games to this point, the Manchester United striker might have to wait a little longer for her chance as Wiegman continues to show faith in her first-choice lineup.

But that’s not to say she hasn’t given the rest a crack, with Russo’s involvement in some key moments so far being proof of what the Dutch coach has been able to achieve with the entire squad. There might not have been starting places handed out willy-nilly – even when England faced Northern Ireland in Group A having already qualified – but Wiegman has been quick to identify those who have something to offer beyond the first XI.

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The quarter-final win over Spain was the latest example of the head coach going with the tried and tested but quickly making changes to affect the flow of the game. As soon as Esther Gonzalez had given the Spaniards the lead, on came Russo and Chloe Kelly for White and top-scorer Beth Mead. Mead’s withdrawal in particular was a show of strength from Wiegman. Scored five in four games at the Euros? So what, we need to make these changes.

Later, Ella Toone replaced Fran Kirby and Alex Greenwood was brought on for Rachel Daly to offer a different shape to the attack, with Millie Bright thrown up front. The plan worked, with Bright offering a second target presence in the box and Russo meeting a right-wing cross with a perfect knock-down for Toone to slot home the equaliser.

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With five substitutions now the standard, the identity of the starting XI has never been so inconsequential as it is now, and Wiegman ought not to be judged so much on who she rolls out there from the start at Bramall Lane. Rather, she will need to be every bit as tactically nimble within the 90 or 120 minutes as she was last Wednesday in Brighton.

No senior men’s or women’s World Cup has been won by a team selecting an unchanged starting XI throughout, and the same goes for European Championship tournaments for either gender since the competition grew beyond its initial four-team format. But the Lionesses could easily become the first team ever to buck that trend, and it would say every bit as much about the strength of the bench as it would about the chosen ones who have started all their games.

Now, more than ever, football is a squad game, and Sarina Wiegman knows that as well as anyone. It might feel like she has given short shrift to half of her 23-strong group but in actual fact the England coach is showing she has a greater grasp on the new tactical flexibilities available to managers than most onlookers.

Same again in Sheffield? Why not? Wiegman knows it’s not just about the first XI anymore.

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