Emma Hayes: The one change England must make to starting XI

Lauren James takes on and beats Haiti's Betina Petit-Frere during England's lukewarm 1-0 victory

Lauren James brought some much needed coherence to England’s attack against Haiti – DARREN ENGLAND/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Sarina Wiegman has selection headaches ahead of England’s Group D match against Denmark on Friday – and they are real dilemmas. Sarina has a history of sticking with an XI through a tournament and I completely understand the reasons for that. She doesn’t have the luxury of the 44-odd games a season that I get as a club coach; she’s got just six games left in this tournament to nail it.

From a coach’s perspective, it’s so easy to talk about chopping and changing but the problem with that is England need a solid team and they need a team that builds together through this tournament. So if there are to be changes, it cannot be more than one or two.

I do, though, think you have to play Lauren James in this England side because the team desperately needs her. I understand there are challenges to playing Lauren in every single game because she is still only 21 years old and this is her first tournament, but I’d like to see her start against Denmark.

When Lauren came on against Haiti in the second half, the most important thing was that she brought Keira Walsh into the game. Tactically, that is essential for the Lionesses.

When teams are blocking off passes to England’s pivots, like they so often try to do, Walsh cannot always get on the ball. But once Lauren came on, she brought Keira into the match, and then Keira was able to create the switches across the pitch. That for me means Lauren is crucial to Keira.

Keira Walsh wins the ball and careers away during England's opening World Cup match against Haiti

To get the best out of Keira Walsh against Denmark, Lauren James must play – Elsa/FIFA via Getty Images

Fran Kirby always had the ability to get the ball out of half spaces when Keira was marked intensely by the opposition. With no Fran Kirby at this World Cup, you need Lauren James. They are missing Fran massively as that link in the build-up, and when Lauren came on at least you could get the ball from Alex Greenwood into Lauren and then from Lauren into Keira.

Why were England always funnelling it down the same side against Haiti? They were unable to switch the ball out in the way I thought they could from last summer. They achieved it once Lauren came into the game because the game went through her, so if you want Keira Walsh to get involved then Lauren James has to play.

More broadly, England shouldn’t make too many changes from last Saturday’s 1-0 win over Haiti. Denmark are a very different type of team. The contest with Haiti was an extremely physical game, where England were playing against an unknown side. In the physical battles, Haiti were dominant and really excelled, and they had some wonderful attacking threats that caused England problems on the counter.

But we should not expect England to be perfect straight away, with the experienced players that they are missing. You can’t just put a brand-new back four together and expect that to work from the off. There has been a big gap since the season ended, too.

Compared to the starting XI that won the Euros, England have lost Ellen White to retirement, plus Fran Kirby, Beth Mead and Leah Williamson to injuries. That’s hugely significant. And the players who were amazing from the bench last year are now having to do it from the starting line-up.

Yes, some people might say “maybe put Greenwood inside to centre-back now” or “play with a different option”, but I think Sarina has to stick with a back four that she’s going to go with through this tournament because you have to build the partnerships. Partnerships are critical when you’ve only got seven games across the entire tournament.

England haven’t scored a goal from open play since April, but let’s not lay that all on the strikers. The important thing is to concentrate on the ‘team’ not scoring goals and when I watched England the other day, there was only Alessia Russo in the box and therefore, for me, Georgia Stanway and Ella Toone were both too deep. England have to get more numbers into the box. This isn’t about who’s playing up front; these are team behaviours.

However, I thought England’s intention and intensity against Haiti was excellent. Was their execution excellent? No. But if they were my team I’d have said: “Listen, I love your intention.” They intended to go into a World Cup playing with a quicker speed than we’d seen from England before. The execution of that, however, was not of the level that we’ve seen this team be at, but again, you have to look at the experienced players who are missing. It’s not easy for younger players to come in and deliver at that level all at once and for the team to gel together all at once. That’s why, for me, lots of chopping and changing won’t help it.

Friday’s opponents Denmark will defend the central areas really well. In their opening victory, they made it difficult for China to dominate anything in and around the penalty box, they forced China into wide spaces where they didn’t want to be and forced them into longer-range shooting. But if Denmark are loose in possession, there will be opportunities for England. Of course, you have to be aware of the threats of Pernille Harder – and they will be more clinical than Haiti because of her quality – but you can turn Denmark over. And England’s ability to turn teams over in their build-ups is what they do so well.

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