‘A different challenge’: Stanway ready to fill Walsh-shaped hole for England

<span>Photograph: Isabel Infantes/PA</span>” data-src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/xT7VW9.ivb5VqUsibKxOyg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/196e3ee18a148674f9b635ba14ca1d59″ src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/xT7VW9.ivb5VqUsibKxOyg–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/196e3ee18a148674f9b635ba14ca1d59″></img></p>
<p><figcaption><span>Photograph: Isabel Infantes/PA</span></figcaption></p>
<p>One year ago today, England became European champions and Georgia Stanway was an integral part. In the run-up to the tournament, though, she did not believe she would play. With Leah Williamson deployed in midfield alongside Keira Walsh, Stanway, who was playing a number of positions for Manchester City, struggled to nail down a place in Sarina Wiegman’s XI.</p>
<p>Stanway earned her place for the opening game and has not looked back. Now, she is not just a stalwart of the midfield and impressing at Bayern Munich, but critical to England’s World Cup chances with Walsh, the first-choice defensive midfielder, out with a knee injury.</p>
<p>“It’s always difficult in that moment to see your teammate, who is also my best friend, go down and in such pain,” says Stanway. “For the first few seconds she was telling me to get off, then we were laughing about it. The funny thing is that is the most embarrassing thing for her, that she got stretchered off. She wasn’t necessarily thinking about her knee but the whole nation watching her – she was more anxious about that.</p>
<p>“But she’s in good spirits, we’ve heard from her today and she’s doing well. We will support her as much as we can. There’s 22 players who need to step up and we’ll do what we can for her tomorrow. She’ll be watching.”</p>
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Georgia Stanway and the England manager, Sarina Wiegman, at Hindmarsh Stadium in Adelaide. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

Stanway dropped deeper to fill the void left by Walsh in England’s 1-0 defeat of Denmark and will resume the role in their final group game on Tuesday against China, who have not beaten European opposition at a World Cup since 2015. The weight on her shoulders has grown heavier.

“I woke up this morning feeling a lot more mature,” Stanway says, keeping a straight face before cracking and joining in with the laughter she has prompted. “I’ve just created a little bit of a leadership role with the way that I’m playing. I feel a lot of confidence in my own game and I’ve been consistent off the back of the Euros, so I’m just trying to keep that momentum. I feel I’ve proven my leadership in the way that I play and lead by example. I’m not afraid to communicate as well so I’ll try to do the two jobs.”

The deeper position is not unfamiliar to Stanway, who has played it at club level. “I’ve played alongside Keira, who is the best teacher without knowing it. Going into tomorrow it’s about communicating in the middle of the pitch. The connection we’ve had between me, Keira and Tooney [Ella Toone] has been easy and really synchronised. Tomorrow, we’ll pose a different challenge.”

Related: England’s Niamh Charles: ‘Sarina trusts all of us. We’re all ready to play’

Has she spoken to Walsh about the role? “I speak to Keira 24/7. It’s about 10 minutes of football-related stuff and the rest is just rubbish. I’m sure she will be giving me some tips and the message will be to perform in the game. She’s got trust in whoever is going to be on the pitch.

“I have to make sure I’m covering the back four and I’m disciplined. I just need to stay on my feet and make sure there’s players in front of me.”

Discipline is all the more important given Stanway is on a yellow card, meaning another would rule her out of the last 16. “I managed 45 minutes in the first game and 90 minutes in the second game so I’m sure I can manage a lot more minutes without picking up a yellow card,” she says.

It is a lot of pressure, but Stanway is relaxed and jovial 24 hours out from England’s final game of Group D when a point would secure top spot and a tie against Nigeria. That is, in part, because of the environment around camp, with players allowed to spend time with family members.

“It’s massive,” says Stanway. “From day one Sarina has made it a big thing about our family – not just within the team but also with our own families being around. We can have those special moments with families. We can relax and enjoy time with our families, even Sarina. You can take your mind away from football.”

Even Sarina? “Sometimes you don’t realise that your head coach is actually human. It’s nice to see that.”

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