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Jill Ellis may have announced the USWNT’s roster for the 2015 Women’s World Cup a little prematurely (six full weeks before the deadline), but it served as a reminder that the tournament really is not far away anymore and that more squads will be released sooner rather than later. Upon seeing the twenty-three players that will turn out for the States last week, my mind immediately switched to the England women’s national team, Mark Sampson and the big question; who is he going to pick?
Sampson arguably has the toughest task of all twenty-four managers travelling to Canada this summer to compete in the World Cup when it comes to picking his team. The USWNT’s was hardly surprising as it is more or less the same team that Ellis has chosen for their friendlies in the last few months, Germany have many injuries limiting their options, whilst Brazil and the French both have quite stable squads too, give or take a few names. However, Sampson named twenty-six players for the friendly against China this month, as Steph Houghton, Lucy Bronze and Karen Carney, all expected to make the final cut, watched from the sidelines with injuries. On top of this, Amy Turner featured in the Cyprus Cup in March, and players like Jemma Rose and Nikita Parris, both uncapped, have started the new season in fine fashion with a handful of impressive performances.
The goalkeeping candidates, unlike the squad in general, are quite straight-forward and very predictable. Unless one of them sustains an injury before the summer, the three keepers who will no doubt be on the plane to Canada are Manchester City’s Karen Bardsley, Arsenal’s Siobhan Chamberlain and Notts County’s Carly Telford, with them more than likely to be prioritised in that order too. Bardsley, currently serving a suspension for her club following a coming together with Birmingham’s Freda Ayisi on the WSL 1’s opening weekend, leads the pack with 43 caps at age 30, with Chamberlain following her closely with 33 at age 31, whilst 27-year-old Telford is some way behind having made only 5 appearances for her country.
Carly Telford, 27, is still waiting for a good run of games for her national team.Personally, I would love to see Telford sport the number one shirt in Canada as, in my opinion, she is the best of the three mentioned. Not only is she a superb shot stopper with a great kick on her, but the Geordie is a reliable and consistent player too who defenders will feel comfortable to have behind them. Admittedly, she does not have the big international experience that her competitors do, but a few things have gone her way domestically this season which could help move her up the priority ladder. Firstly, Bardsley’s suspension will not have been looked upon favourably by Sampson and his team, nor will the fact that she will miss several games before the World Cup as he looks at each player’s form. Chamberlain, on the other hand, has struggled to get regular game time at Arsenal so far this season, playing just one of their five games in 2015, with Emma Byrne playing the other four, including all three of their WSL 1 games so far against Notts County, Bristol Academy and Manchester City. As Telford enters her prime, things may be slowly starting to turn her way, but perhaps it is not quite enough just yet or quite in time for the summer.
Unlike in the men’s game, one of England women’s star positions right now is in between the sticks. Were it not for the likes of Bardsley, Chambelain and Telford, other young, up and coming shot stoppers like Sunderland’s Rachael Laws and Birmingham’s Becky Spencer would surely have a more than respectable total of caps, both aged just 24. One keeper who has certainly turned a few heads in recent weeks though is Bristol Academy’s Mary Earps. Still only 22, Earps has accumulated a total of 23 caps for the under 17, 19 and 23 England teams in recent years, and her performances for Bristol in the Champions League against Frankfurt quickly resulted in her name been thrown around in relation to a senior England call up. Whilst the women’s national team is quite committed to keeping players in the youth teams until they are too old to play there, if any of the three main contenders for Sampson’s goalkeeping spots were to get injured before the summer, Earps is arguably the best replacement, given her recent form and high confidence, and is certainly the player I would like to see step in if needed.
Still, it seems highly unlikely that it will not be Bardsley, Chamberlain and Telford selected, and rightly so as they form a formidable trio which will ensure top quality goalkeeping from England this summer.
Choosing England’s defence is arguably going to prove to be Sampson’s biggest challenge. His squad against China featured eight defenders (Anita Asante, Laura Bassett, Gemma Bonner, Alex Greenwood, Claire Rafferty, Alex Scott, Demi Stokes and Casey Stoney), whilst another two (Lucy Bronze and captain Steph Houghton) watched from the stands with injuries. Amy Turner also featured in Cyprus last month and Jemma Rose has started the season well, to add to the England manager’s selection headache.
Let’s break the players down into specific positions at the back. Alex Scott is arguably Sampson’s first choice right-back, with Lucy Bronze hot on her heels and sure to get plenty of game time too in the summer with matches coming thick and fast and fatigue very likely in the squad. Choosing who gets the starting berth here is going to be a difficult job, but it will still be the easiest decision Sampson has to make because his selections for central defence and left-back are far from set in stone, as opposed to the more predictable right backs.
There are countless contenders for the positions in central defence, with the only real guaranteed inclusion likely to be that of the captain, Steph Houghton. Sampson will probably take four players to Canada in this position, meaning three spots remain up for grabs. The main contenders for those spots are probably Laura Bassett, Casey Stoney, Anita Asante and Gemma Bonner, with Amy Turner having an outside chance and Jemma Rose well in the picture if she continues to perform well for Arsenal whilst Sampson looks at his options. For me, Stoney simply has to go because of her priceless big game experience and influential character both on and off the pitch. She can certainly help out younger players like Bronze, Bonner and Alex Greenwood at the back and she is a very intelligent footballer who always puts on reliable performances. Laura Bassett is another player I’d like to see selected. Notts County have one of the meanest, if not the meanest, defence in England, and Bassett is a big reason for this with her no-nonsense approach and brilliant aerial ability. She has a good level of international experience, being one short of fifty caps, and is arguably the most in form defender in contention right now.
Albeit by my judgement, this leaves four very different types of defender competing for the final central defender’s spot. Anita Asante is a safe bet with seventy caps to her name and a whole host of experience playing football all over the globe at club level, whilst the Sweden-based 29-year-old can also play as a defensive midfielder if Sampson sets his team up in a 4-3-3 formation. The remaining competitors are all 23-year-olds plying their trade in the WSL and arguments can be put forth to say that they each deserve to be given a chance by Sampson. Gemma Bonner perhaps leads the pack when it comes to deserving an opportunity the most, as despite captaining Liverpool to back-to-back titles in 2013 and 2014 whilst proving to be a model of consistency in defence, she still has just the eight caps to her name. Bonner offers a lot going forward too, regularly driving through the middle to inject pace into an attack and getting up for corners to utilise her great aerial power. Amy Turner perhaps joins the party too late having only been gifted her first call up only last month, whereas Jemma Rose remains uncapped despite a superb season with Bristol last year that earned her a move to Arsenal. The latter two are undoubtedly underdogs in the running for a ticket to Canada, but if injuries occur, their consistent performances at club level could earn them an unlikely spot on the plane.
Two time WSL 1 winner Gemma Bonner surely deserves a good chance for England sooner rather than later.Twelve months ago, England’s left-back position was identified by many as a position of weakness and one which lacked depth. Fast forward to now and it is instead another area Sampson will struggle to decide on, with him likely to pick two players to cover the position despite there being three particularly strong candidates who have recently emerged. Unfortunately, the fact that they have only risen to prominence lately means that they each lack real experience, with a combined 34 caps between them, but each will be hungry to show what they can do on the world stage if they are given the opportunity. Demi Stokes and Alex Greenwood looked odds on to be the duo Sampson would select a month ago, but Claire Rafferty’s flawless display against China earlier this month surely has to mean something to the manager and it will not have done her cause any harm whatsoever.
Stokes is certainly a very attacking option with her being a natural winger, and she is confident in her ability to get forward as well as getting back effectively. Both footed with a great strike on her and an eye for goal, she provides a very positive mentality from the back that can help England surprise big teams like France in the summer. Alex Greenwood also offers this when she plays on the left too. She can whip in a brilliant cross and is not afraid to unleash a fierce shot when she gets the chance. On top of this, she also offers cover in the middle of defence and has played as a centre-back on several occasions already this year for both club and country. By including Greenwood, Sampson could possibly sacrifice a central defender in order to bring another player into the squad in another position as the Notts County player is good enough to put in a more than reliable display at both the heart and on the left of the back four. The remaining contender, Claire Rafferty, is perhaps the more defensive choice of the three. She has superb awareness, good positioning and stands up in a tackle, never letting her opponent past. She also has the pace to keep up with any threatening wingers she may come up against and is a player Sampson can trust to take care of any danger on her flank.
It’s perfectly plausible that Sampson may look at his decision as being one of Rafferty and Stokes or Rafferty and Greenwood, bringing an attacking left-back and a more defensive one to give him two options in this position. On the other hand, Rafferty may be too defensive for his liking, although she does like to get forward, and may have put a good case forward too late, though this is unlikely given Sampson has recently looked to strive for a team more solid at the back and is constantly expressing that his mind is not yet made up about his squad. It will certainly be interesting to see who he picks.
Midfield is another area of the park full of depth for England. The main contenders, minus an injured Karen Carney, were all selected for the China game and only Katie Chapman and Jess Clarke did not get time on the pitch to show what they could do. Jordan Nobbs started on the right, with Jill Scott and Fara Williams operating in the middle as Jade Moore found herself on the left. Jo Potter and Toni Duggan would then be introduced as substitutes in the second half. One expects Sampson to whittle these down to just seven names ahead of the World Cup, with five forwards then following.
Of these players, you could say with some confidence that quite a few of them have nailed down places in Sampson’s squad for the summer. The experienced trio of Jill Scott, Fara Williams and Karen Carney are players you expect to be included, whilst the fact that Jordan Nobbs has captained the Lionesses in their last two games is a not-so-subtle hint that she will be flying to Canada. In my opinion, these four should be included too as they are all reliable and consistent performers who you are guaranteed to get 100% from in every game. Scott is one of the side’s star players, albeit not with the flair that comes with the title, but instead by being a solid tackler, hard-worker, great passer and fantastic dribbler. The same can be said about Williams, who also brings a fierce strike to the field when she gets a sight of goal and is a player you always want over a free-kick or penalty. Karen Carney is somewhat the opposite; a creative play-maker with goals and assists in her that can change games. She also puts a shift in for her side and will track back to help out.
Jill Scott and Fara Williams are a solid, experienced central midfield duo that will be tough to break down in Canada.Jordan Nobbs is then somewhere in between Scott/Williams and Carney. Personally, I view her as the female equivalent of Liverpool’s Jordan Henderson (of whom I am admittedly a huge fan). Her work rate is tremendous, her distribution the same whilst she brings both that battling side of a midfielder and the inventive, attacking part to her game. In many ways, she is the perfect midfielder, or at least that in the making. I really can see this as being her break-out season and the World Cup will be where she showcases just how much potential she has, still aged just 22.
Toni Duggan and Jess Clarke, who operate more on the wings, are both likely to help make up the twenty-three that travel to Canada too. Sampson seems to be tinkering with a 4-4-2 at the moment, and if it is to have full effect he needs to deploy these two on the flanks in my opinion. Against China, Nobbs played on the right and Jade Moore on the left, but these two are natural central midfielders so it did not work perfectly, whereas when Duggan came off the bench to play on the left things looked better – albeit not on the opposite flank where Williams eventually ended up. England line up better in a 4-3-3 for me, with players like Duggan and Clarke taking up the wide roles in that front three. However, a 4-4-2 can work if the right players are in their right positions.
Whilst focusing on these wide players though, one who deserves a mention is Nikita Parris. Yet to be called up for the senior team, Parris has scored four goals in six games for Manchester City in 2015, thriving again in the top tier having joined the club on loan from Everton, who were relegated to WSL 2 at the end of last year. In England’s youth teams, she has been consistently prolific too to give further reason why she deserves a senior call up, scoring twenty-five goals in forty-three games for the under 23s, 20s, 19s and 17s in total. With plenty of pace, and, as evident, an eye for goal, she must not be far from her first senior cap now, though if Sampson wanted to take her to Canada he probably would have included her in one of his squads by now. Perhaps this one comes too quick for the young forward, but Parris is certainly a player who will be important for England in the future if not now.
Nikita Parris is on fire for Manchester City at the moment and deserves a chance for England’s senior team soon.Looking at a few more of the not-so-guaranteed candidates for the summer’s squad, Katie Chapman, Jade Moore and Jo Potter are all looking to provide cover in the centre of midfield and get some games in when Sampson rotates the squad. With Williams, Carney, Scott, Clarke, Nobbs and Duggan extremely likely to be in the squad, this leaves one more place up for grabs that the three have to compete for. Potter has been, arguably, the more favoured choice over the last few months, and when you watch her play it is easy to see why. The 31-year-old is one of those players who does all the simple things right, never over-complicating things in risky positions but still willing to try some special in the final third. Potter’s vision, awareness and distribution are all excellent, as well as the defensive work she puts in, making her a reliable player to call upon and one who helps England control games and dictate play.
Jade Moore is almost the same player as Potter, just seven years younger. Teammates at Birmingham City, the two are a pleasure to watch in action and it’s fantastic that Moore has Potter to learn from as the 24-year-old really is one for the future. When the likes of Williams, Potter and Scott start to move on, Moore will be there to step in and take over, alongside Nobbs and a few other up-and-coming talents. For now, there is perhaps too much depth in midfield for her to get a place in the squad this summer, but, like Parris, she is certainly one who will be integrated into the side more in the next twelve months or so if not this year. As for Chapman, it would be great to see her earn a place in the squad as it is likely to be her last World Cup – she will be 37 when the next one comes around. Her experience of eighty-two caps does give her a slight advantage over Potter and Moore, who only boast nineteen and sixteen respectively, and she too is a consistent performer who Sampson will have no worries about starting. Her big game experience could be crucial this summer if she is selected, and she will be hoping her manager is looking at it in that way too.
Though many of the places up for grabs in midfield could be slightly predictable, like defender Jemma Rose, a few players in the WSL are making late pushes for a first cap with some good performances for their clubs. Izzy Christiansen at Manchester City is still uncapped despite a tremendous season last year, in which she scored the winning goal in the Continental Cup final, and she has picked up where she left off in 2014 by getting off to a great start this new year to give Sampson something to think about. Brooke Chaplen is another trying to prove a point with newly promoted Sunderland, and her superb performance on the opening day was instrumental in her side’s surprise win away at reigning champions Liverpool. Remi Allen is another young player, aged 24, putting forth a good case in the blue of Birmingham with some exciting attacking play which has especially caught the eye recently with her stepping up in Carney’s absence. If Sampson wants to surprise the teams in Group F this summer, including one of these three would do exactly that, as opponents are unlikely to be prepared to face any of them and will have a lot less knowledge about their game. Each would bring a lot of energy and positive play to the side, driven by a desire to impress having been given such an opportunity on the world stage, so this is another approach for the manager to consider.
The difficulty of choosing five forwards is somewhere in between that of the tricky defensive dilemmas and the more predictable midfield selection for Sampson. There are a lot of good attacking talents for the Welshman to choose from, each of whom bring different dimensions and strengths to the table, and the manager will be looking to bring a range of these to Canada in order for him to have the tools to approach games differently if needs be. Eniola Aluko, Natasha Dowie, Fran Kirby, Lianne Sanderson, Jodie Taylor, Ellen White and Gemma Davison were all called up for the game against China, suggesting that Sampson really has not made his mind up on his attacking options just yet as Davison, White and Dowie were all missing from the previous squad that travelled to Cyprus.
With Duggan, Clarke and Parris included in the midfield section, this allows me to really focus on players likely to play through the middle as centre-forwards under this title. Taking this into account, Fran Kirby simply has to be Sampson’s number one striking option. With a ridiculous eleven goals scored in her first five games this season for Reading in WSL 2, Kirby is incredibly clinical and a nuisance for defenders with her high pressing style of play and large amount of energy. For such a young player, she has fantastic decision making skills too, fully aware of when it is best for her to shoot and when it is best for her to pass to a teammate in order to maximise the chances of her side scoring from an opportunity. Kirby has worked well with Jodie Taylor in recent games too, especially against China where she set the Portland Thorns striker up for the opening goal. Taylor is also very energetic and knows where the back of the net is. She has the ability to score a wide range of goals as well, scoring from distance or after a sublime piece of skill as well as claiming the odd tap-in – as was seen in her hat-trick against Australia last month. These two are arguably England’s most deadly options up front at the moment and can be relied on to score goals.
Fran Kirby is in fine form and must be England’s number one striker this summer.Eni Aluko comes just behind these two in terms of goal-scoring, but her involvement in goals is much higher as she is able to use her wicked pace to get behind defences and set up teammates, and she does this frequently for both club and country. Easily up there as one of the most skilful players England possess, Aluko is guaranteed to bring something special to the table that can change the course of a game. Whether this be an exquisite finish, a lovely piece of skill to beat a defender and create an opening or a defence-splitting pass, Aluko can and will do it. Able to play through the middle or out wide, the Chelsea forward is a guaranteed inclusion for this summer’s squad.
This is likely to leave two more spots for Sampson to fill, one of which will probably be occupied by Lianne Sanderson. The Arsenal striker offers a different dimension going forward, with her height and aerial presence giving her side a ‘plan b’ if their initial tactics prove ineffective. However, she will not just be brought along for the sake of throwing a few long balls her way. Sanderson is also a technically sound forward who tots up respectable tallies at club level wherever she goes. She might not be the ‘goal-machine’ that some of her fellow teammates are, but she is strong, able to hold the ball up well and is clever in possession too, using players as decoys before performing a quick change of pace to give herself room to strike. Her inclusion is a must for Sampson in case he does need to adjust his approach to games as the rest of his attacking options offer very similar outlets to each other.
The one remaining spot then has its fair share of contenders. Ellen White is a good shout with her experience of fifty caps and sublime start to the new season having missed the entirety of 2014. The Notts County forward is very much like Kirby in the sense that she is lively and clinical, however this could lead to Sampson looking elsewhere for his fifth striker in order to bring in a slightly different option. Still, the 25-year-old is a consistent goal-scorer who could be effective off the bench when opposing defenders begin to tire. Another way Sampson could go is by looking at Natasha Dowie who provides a slightly different style of play. Despite not being the biggest, the Liverpool striker brings the ball down well, is strong and able to hold the ball up well as a result whilst she waits for attacking reinforcements. Her technical ability is outstanding, with a delightful first touch in particular, whilst she can also find teammates with some exceptional passes to catch the defence on their heels. As for her goal-scoring, she has averaged just over a goal every other game during her three years at Liverpool so far and is a regular in the team because of this and what she gives the team building up to opportunities too. With all of this taken into account, I would love to see the 26-year-old included this summer, especially given her respectable England record of five goals in fourteen appearances.
Natasha Dowie’s consistency and all round talent should earn her a spot in Sampson’s squad.A couple of players with an outside chance of going to Canada include Chelsea’s Gemma Davison and Sunderland’s Beth Mead. Despite disappointing in the States, with Liverpool and in her latest spell with Arsenal, Davison has started life at Chelsea with a bang, scoring three goals in three games for the Blues this season and earning herself an England call up as a result. With good energy, pace and persistence on the pitch, the 28-year-old would make for a solid back-up option, at the very least, on the bench if she continues to perform at her current rate, though her inconsistency over the last few years could dent Sampson’s faith. Mead, on the other hand, is a huge underdog for a call-up given that she is yet to play for the senior side still aged 18. Her goal-scoring record at youth level is decent though and her form right now is superb, so she could yet land a spot in the reserve options and may earn a surprise inclusion if injuries occur.
Perhaps the biggest question when it comes to England’s attack is whether they will play two up front or three. Sampson may play around with both this summer, tailoring the formation to suit the game and the opponent, but if he is going to prefer one then this will affect the way he approaches his squad selection – playing two up front will cause him to select more centre-forwards, whilst a front three will surely result in more wide players being included. Personally, the front three is my preference, especially with the likes of Jess Clarke, Toni Duggan and Eni Aluko in the squad, but the Welshman has tinkered with both approaches in the build up to the World Cup so he looks like he is yet to decide. The squad announcement could therefore also give us more of an insight to England’s tactical approach this summer.
The squad will be announced in the next few weeks and it is sure to result in plenty of debate regardless of Sampson’s approach. Not everyone can be pleased as every one has a different opinion and I personally would like to see the following twenty-three on the plane to Canada:
Siobhan Chamberlain, Karen Bardsley, Carly Telford; Alex Scott, Lucy Bronze, Steph Houghton, Casey Stoney, Laura Bassett, Gemma Bonner, Alex Greenwood, Claire Rafferty; Fara Williams, Karen Carney, Jill Scott, Jess Clarke, Jordan Nobbs, Jo Potter, Toni Duggan; Jodie Taylor, Fran Kirby, Eni Aluko, Lianne Sanderson and Natasha Dowie.
Hopefully you’ve given your own opinions on the polls over at my personal site when the original post is, and I would also like to hear which twenty-three players you’d like to see represent England this summer, so please leave a comment below or at my site!
Hi, I’m Ameé, I write reguarly about the English Football League on my blog, A Pitchside View, and also women’s football at A Women’s Pitchside View. If you liked this post, please feel free to rate it and also check out other pieces I’ve written on these sites, as well as on Fanthem. Thank you.
Credit all authors of images used in both article and as cover image : Ameé Ruszkai