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Ellen White column

England need to start scoring some goals soon at this Fifa Women’s World Cup, but the current lack of cutting edge is certainly not Alessia Russo’s fault.

It is more than five and a half hours since the Lionesses found the net in open play, and they had to rely on Georgia Stanway’s twice-taken penalty to edge past Haiti in their opening game in Group D.

Russo has gone even longer since finding the net at international level, going back to February’s win over South Korea, but I am not worried about her form with tougher games against Denmark and China to come.

She may not have scored against Haiti, but she still led the line really well and did all the right things for the team. In fact, the only part of her game I want to see her do differently is to get in the box more.

So much is asked of centre-forwards these days and a big part of Russo’s role is to start the press when England don’t have possession as well as link play when they are starting attacks.

We know she is very good at holding the ball up, and she can turn and run with it too, but, instead of going out wide left so often and working down that channel, I wish she would leave that to the wingers and get in the middle, in front of goal, instead.

Heat map of Alessia Russo's touches against Haiti
The heat map of Alessia Russo’s touches against Haiti shows how much work she did in deep areas, and out on the left

Russo is great at all of the above, but what I really want to see is her doing what she does best – arriving in the box at the right time, her tight control in those situations and the way she can strike a ball so sweetly with hardly any back-lift.

She had a couple of opportunities against Haiti where she mistimed her headers slightly, but her aerial ability is unbelievable too.

Let’s get her and the ball in the penalty area at the right time and give her the chances she wants, because it will only take one goal and the floodgates will open for her. Hopefully that will happen against Denmark on Friday.

What can the team do better for Russo?

I know how much expectation comes with the job of being England’s number nine, and the criticism you get when the goals dry up.

It’s tough to play with that pressure, but I got to know Alessia really well after she broke into the England squad in 2020 and she’s strong enough to deal with all of that.

I am still right behind her and, just by starting her, England head coach Sarina Wiegman has shown she believes in her and trusts her.

It’s easy to point the finger at your striker when the team are not scoring, but the whole group of players needs to ask how can they create better chances for Russo and what else they can do for her.

From watching England play Haiti, lots of other relationships between players are still developing. The link-up with Russo was just one of the combinations that needed work.

England lost the ball far too often when they were building play and it felt like they didn’t really know the best way to put the ball into the box for the forwards, but it wasn’t just the execution that let them down.

It’s true that not enough of our crosses found Russo, but that should not have mattered. The idea should be that she can take a couple of defenders away with her runs and free up space for Chloe Kelly, Lauren Hemp, Ella Toone or Stanway to come flying in.

That didn’t happen enough against Haiti and the front three – and maybe even the midfield too – need to watch the game back and have some conversations about how that aspect of their attacking play can improve.

That could be done just by sitting down collectively or by working on it on the training pitch, but they should start by asking Russo what she wanted, plus what worked and what should have been done differently, to help her out.

Why Weigman will stick with the same XI

England’s performance against Haiti was disappointing, but they won’t find any rhythm by making lots of changes for the Denmark game, and Weigman will be leaning towards picking the same starting XI.

That continuity starts in goal – Weigman is not going to drop Mary Earps, who made some crucial saves – and the back-line need more minutes together, so it would be counter-productive to chop and change there.

Graphic showing England's starting XI v Haiti: Earps, Bronze, Bright, Carter, Greenwood, Stanway, Walsh, Toone, Kelly, Russo, Hemp

Weigman might bring in Lauren James for Ella Toone and try something different in the number 10 role, but even that feels unlikely.

Elsewhere in midfield, Keira Walsh and Stanway have got a good relationship and England have to keep the front three the same for the reasons I explained above – they need to build their relationship if they are going to gel in attack.

Hopefully we will see a big improvement all round now that first game is out of the way, with fewer nerves but a lot more intensity.

England definitely need to keep the ball better and be more patient in possession because, when they lost it, Haiti caused lots of problems on the counter-attack.

At least England have those three points as a platform, because Denmark will be full of confidence after their late winner against China.

Friday was always going to be an important game in terms of deciding who wins the group, but it is even bigger now.

Ellen White was speaking to BBC Sport’s Chris Bevan.

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