How Keira Walsh's Injury Could Force Sarina Wiegman To Find England's Spark

England have been lacklustre so far but a change in system could get the Lionesses going
16:00, 31 Jul 2023

Sarina Wiegman must be tearing her hair out. Every time she looks to have found her ideal starting XI, the devil curses one of her stars with another injury. England haven’t looked like the same side that won the Euros on home soil this time last year, and things took another turn against Denmark as Keira Walsh was forced off with a knee issue. 

Fortunately for her, scans have proved it is not an ACL injury similar to that which ruled Beth Mead and Leah Williamson out of this tournament. She will miss the final group game against China, and from there, who knows? For now, England have to plan for life without her, and in the midst of despair comes opportunity. 

Few would have expected the duo of Laura Coombs or Katie Zelem to receive a large chunk of minutes during this tournament, but now the door has been opened for them to nail down a starting spot. The initial choice for Wiegman looks to be to pick the older member of the squad, Coombs, to replace Walsh. 


At 32, she had an eight-year absence in between her second and third caps for her country, only returning to the fold this year after a sustained period of sparkling form for Manchester City. Having missed out on the Euros triumph, she’s not been seen as a key player for Wiegman during her tenure so far, but that could all change on the biggest stage of the lot. 

She was chosen to come off the bench against Denmark when Walsh went off, and there could be a slight tactical switch if the Lionesses do go for Coombs. In training and in matches, Georgia Stanway has been trusted to switch into that deep-lying role, although there are fears it could limit her attacking influence on a side that is already struggling for goals. She is also one yellow card away from suspension, so deploying her in that ball-winning role against China feels slightly risky given England already have six points on the board. 


As a box-to-box midfielder Coombs would provide energy and could compliment Ella Toone, who is seen as the creative force for the midfield trio. The other option could be Jordan Nobbs who at 30 has 71 caps to her name but is a similar profile to Coombs. Perhaps her experience on the international stage could lead to more discipline, which could open another avenue. 

Wiegman has stuck fairly religiously to a 4-3-3 system since she came into the role, but she has made slight tweaks in game. One of them was to take Toone off against Denmark for Lauren Hemp, who played on the left-wing. With such a variety of attacking options, the exciting Lauren James moved into the number ten position and Stanway and Coombs provided a double pivot behind her. 

That’s a serious option to consider given James’ growing influence on this team, while a more direct option would be to go back to a 4-4-2. That takes the need for another central midfielder out, while it may also unclog England’s lack of goals - especially if the physical presence of Bethany England is handed a start alongside Rachel Daly or Alessia Russo. 

The Lionesses have scraped by in their opening two matches, and if they play that way against stronger opposition in the knockout stage, they’ll be on the first flight back home. Now is the time for change, and Walsh’s injury may just have opened the door for one of the fringe stars to shine. It may have even forced Wiegman’s hand. A switch to a 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 could ignite England’s tournament. And boy do they need a spark. 

*18+ | Be Gamble Aware

Suggested Searches:
The Sportsman
Manchester United
Manchester City
Premier League
Sportsman HQ
72-76 Cross St
Manchester M2 4JG
We will not ask you to provide any personal information when using The Sportsman website. You may see advertisement banners on the site, and if you choose to visit those websites, you will accept the terms and conditions and privacy policy applicable to those websites. The link below directs you to our Group Privacy Policy, and our Data Protection Officer can be contacted by email at: [email protected]

All original material is Copyright © 2019 by The Sportsman Communications Ltd.
Other material is copyright their respective owners.