Five ways England can kickstart Women’s World Cup campaign

How to fill a Kirby-shaped hole?

There is a Fran Kirby-shaped hole in the No 10 position that Ella Toone is struggling to fill. To be fair to Toone, few could replace the ingenuity and guile of Kirby. Toone is a different style of player, a very, very good one with bags of potential, but more box-to-box. Against Haiti, Toone had most success shifted to the left and struggled to make things happen down the middle. If Sarina Wiegman is not going to change the shape to make the midfield work most effectively with the sum of its parts, then Lauren James is the more natural successor to Kirby. Against Haiti, James coming on as a wide player, in place of Lauren Hemp, felt like a missed opportunity. Yes, Hemp was on a yellow card and perhaps it was a slightly precautionary move but James showed in the pre-tournament friendly against Portugal just how well-suited she is to the number 10 role.

Related: England need more control but Sarina Wiegman will know the plan for Denmark | Jonas Eidevall

Be less predictable

Without Kirby to find space where there is none, against teams who defend narrowly to block off that route England lose the unpredictability that made them so potent last summer. Part of the beauty and threat of the Euros-winning team was that it was difficult to know where the goals would come from. The Lionesses were a threat out wide and through the middle and that made them harder to defend against. There is no Leah Williamson to play out from the back, there is no Kirby to unlock the most stubborn defences, and so England’s greatest threat is from their wide players, either coming inside or putting in crosses. That predictability could prove costly, particularly against lower-ranked sides who are less likely to play an expansive game that gives England options.

Reorganise the defence

England struggled defensively against Haiti and that is a concern. Wiegman has had five weeks to try to get her favoured backline in sync but it didn’t quite click in Brisbane. Millie Bright is back but she was clearly rusty, having not played competitively since March. Giving her 90 minutes against Haiti will have presumably been in part to get as many minutes in the centre-back’s legs as possible. Hopefully match action will have gelled the backline in ways they couldn’t in training. Who partners Bright is also still an open question, with Jess Carter not overly convincing in the first game and Alex Greenwood’s shift into the left-back position as a result not necessarily playing to her strengths. If Wiegman is going to persist with Alessia Russo up top then there is an argument to say that Rachel Daly should revert to her Euros starting position at left-back, with the option of shifting her forward later on. That would allow Greenwood to resume the partnership she established with Bright in the run-up to the Euros before Williamson’s experiment in midfield was over. A backline of Lucy Bronze, Bright, Greenwood and Daly, three out of four of the European Championship winning back four, would be a strong one.

Bench worries in hunt for goals

The Lionesses need a goal from open play. They may all say they are unworried and it is creating chances that matter, but there can be no doubt there will be a wave of relief when they see the ball ripple the back of the net from open play for the first time since April. Russo was hugely impactful coming off the bench alongside Toone last year but in a starting role she has struggled to make the chances count. The goals will come, particularly if Wiegman solves the lack of creativity through the middle, but the bigger issue is that Daly and Bethany England are far less effective off the bench than Russo is. If anything, Russo did too good a job last summer. Against Haiti, the introduction of James and Daly had an impact but it was worlds away from the dynamism of Toone and Russo at the Euros. The question is whether Wiegman, who is known for sticking with a tried and tested starting XI, has decided she is already done with the testing and stays with the same formula.

Take Earps’ tips on handling pressure

When Mary Earps spoke out over her failed fight to get England’s goalkeeper shirt on sale to the public, she knew it heaped pressure on her to perform. “If we can be more successful, our voice can be more valuable,” she said. Much as it is a “damaging message” – in Earps’s words – to be able to talk about issues only if you are successful, it is a reality that success helps. Earps shrugged off that pressure against Haiti, though, her fine saves making up for the team’s defensive lapses. Earps’s managing of the added pressure, of speaking out within days of doing so, was hugely impressive. Last year, in England’s opening game of the Euros against Austria, the team looked a little hesitant under the fiercest of spotlights. They got the job done though, a 1-0 win kickstarting their run to the trophy. Against Haiti they looked similarly rusty. It is Denmark up next and if the rest of the squad need tips on managing the pressure, they should look at their No 1.

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