Lionesses need Lauren Hemp to hit top gear at World Cup

Lauren Hemp playing for England against Haiti - Lionesses need Lauren Hemp to hit top gear at World Cup

Hemp has pace to burn, but has not displayed it in recent matches – The FA/Naomi Baker

Not so long ago Lauren Hemp was England’s most dynamic and threatening attacking player; the one every opposition team were most afraid of.

What we have seen of her recently, though, is a player who gives the impression she no longer has the same freedom to express herself or willingness to take risks.

From the moment she broke into the senior side, handed her debut by former England manager Phil Neville against the USA in the SheBelieves Cup in the spring of 2020, Hemp thrived. She looked special.

Heading into last summer’s European Championship, the Manchester City winger was widely expected to be one of the players of the tournament. She did not let anyone down, starting every game as the Lionesses were crowned champions of Europe.

However, it is also fair to say, there was a spark missing. Hemp was functional rather than thrilling. Having tormented full-backs with her speed and skill in those early years as a young Lioness, the girl from rural Norfolk appeared more cautious, possibly even restricted, in her approach.

For those who craved the sight of her running at – and beating – defenders, there was a feeling she had started to play it safe. It was like watching a sports car being driven in third gear in the inside lane of a motorway.

It can happen to wingers, whose natural inclination is to attack and then attack some more. A natural game can become curbed by managers and team structures. Sarina Wiegman, though, has always been a fan and if she has asked her to change the way she plays, it would seem odd given how dangerous she was.

So is it pressure? Does the fact she is expected to turn on the afterburners and torment defenders with her dribbling ability and speed all the time play on her mind? Has she become risk averse?

“I feel like it’s the same,” replied Hemp, speaking at the team’s training base on New South Wales’ Central Coast. “Obviously, as I’m getting older I’m getting more experience. I’m now turning into one of the more experienced players here, which is weird saying that seeing as I’m still only 22. But I’ve taken it all in my stride really.

“Of course [I’m still playing with the same freedom on the pitch]. I always remember where I come from and why I started playing. I started playing because I love it, and I’ll carry on playing until I stop loving the game and, for me I’m still enjoying it, I still enjoy my football.”

Hemp did not have her best season for City, but like her international performances, there have still been flashes of brilliance. It is just, with Beth Mead and Fran Kirby missing at the World Cup, this England side desperately needs a creative spark. It needs Hemp at her rampaging, marauding best to help fire up an attack that has not scored a goal in open play for four games.

“Towards the end of the season, I felt like I was picking up form again,” Hemp said. “I think it’s important that I’m working hard every day to try and be better. I’m one of the forward players, we all really want to score, we’re trying desperately hard to get those connections [with each other], and so hopefully it’ll come in the next game.

“We’ve been together for a few weeks now, so the connections are building, and yes, I think you can feel it amongst the squad that we’re all getting really excited now the tournament is in full swing.

“As a team we’re creating a lot of chances. I think it is just about being more ruthless. We have shown we are dominant against a lot of teams. We just need to be a bit more clinical.

“It’s not like we have not scored before. We are all capable of scoring. It is just about making it click and getting those connections working.”

If those connections do not click against Denmark on Friday, England will surely make changes. Hemp needs to be the player we all know she can be again.

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