Midfield options, defensive absences and room for some of the old-guard? Assesses the choices facing England manager Sarina Wiegman ahead of Wednesday’s Lionesses squad announcement
Sarina Wiegman has several options to ponder before she picks the 23 who will attempt to back up last summer’s Euros triumph with global glory – so where do the key decisions lie?
Has England done enough?
There’s always one in-form striker knocking down the door ahead of a big squad announcement and this year’s player is Bethany England.
Twelve goals in as many Women’s Super League games to keep Tottenham in the top flight – form doesn’t get much better than that.
But England hasn’t played for her country since September when she scored twice against Luxembourg.
Alessia Russo and Rachel Daly are fighting it out for the No 9 jersey with Lauren Hemp lined up to be the third-choice striker but can you have too many goalscorers?
As far as I’m concerned England should be a shoo-in. It’s in the name.
It’s clear she has the desire to represent her country again – the move from high-flying Chelsea to struggling Spurs in January was evidence of such inclination.
England does not necessarily start – based on the Sarina Wiegman’s style, Russo and Daly are better equipped – but tournament football requires plans A, B and sometimes C.
Under pressure, England delivers. Her firepower is what has kept Spurs in the WSL this term. She is no stranger to carrying teams over the finish line, sometimes single-handedly – presuming of course the Lionesses will, at some point, need similar amounts of drive and resolve to conquer the world stage this summer.
Her 14 league goals, averaging a goal every 90 minutes, and a conversion rate of 45 per cent (better than both Russo and Daly), means she should go. Oh, her shot accuracy (61 per cent) is far superior too.
Are Bronze, Bright fit?
Millie Bright and Lucy Bronze offer 170 England caps, Olympic experience, multiple Champions League and WSL titles and a FIFA Best Player of the Year award.
Both are expected to be named in Weigman’s squad but neither have played since April and only have a couple of pre-tournament friendlies to get back to full match sharpness.
England will have seven games in less than a month if they get to the final and their quality will be needed, especially as the competition gets stronger as the tournament goes on.
Clearly, England’s lengthy injury list is less than ideal. There are players who have been ruled out completely – we are all still heavy-hearted about Leah Williamson’s absense – and players who are on the cusp.
Bright and Bronze are the latter. Both nursing troublesome knees, neither with a competitive minute of football under their belts in over two months.
“No update, still in the same place, I’m confident she will make the World Cup,” Hayes said of Bright ahead of Chelsea’s final game of the season. The answer felt coy. Bright was in attendance at Reading to lift the WSL trophy alongside fellow defender Magda Eriksson, but there was no indication of her fitness. Question marks remain.
The Lionesses are a relatively young squad – there are not too many experienced heads in the dressing room. It’s vital Bright and Bronze are there, but not half fit. England don’t need martyrs.
Out from the cold?
Beth England isn’t the only experienced player that’s been on the outside looking in over the last few months.
Fellow Euros winners Nikita Parris and Demi Stokes have been dropped from recent squads, while Lucy Staniforth has been overlooked despite a perceived lack of midfield depth.
And there’s always Steph Houghton, who would not only offer centre-back cover but also leadership experience.
If Houghton is brought back from the cold it’ll be a huge shock given she hasn’t been named in an England squad since Wiegman’s first back in September 2021.
The Dutchwoman has a choice now she’s lost Williamson, Beth Mead and Fran Kirby. Stick with the younger, less experienced players like Jess Park, Esme Morgan and Maya Le Tissier or bring back some of the old guard now times have got tougher.
These decisions rest on whether there is clarity over some of the players racing against time to be fit. The aforementioned Bright and Bronze situations are key here.
If both are forced to sit out, I would be inclined to bring Houghton back into the fold. I understand Wiegman’s vision; she has ushered in a new era, one less tarnished by the failures of previous regimes. Her new-look squad is young, fresh, exciting and invigorating.
But a complete squad must strike the correct balance. I like both Morgan and Le Tissier but could not confidently say either would deputise for Bright better than Houghton.
Consideration must also be given to club dynamics here. Alex Greenwood and Houghton’s partnership at the heart of Manchester City’s defence is solid, dependable.
As for midfield options, I don’t believe Parris has done enough, but Manchester United captain Katie Zelem should be in with a serious shout.
England’s defensive headache
England’s defence is not what it was without the injured Williamson and now Daly is seen as a forward. They have talented options but not much international experience.
Le Tissier, Morgan Niamh Charles and Lotte Wubben-Moy are all expected to be called up by Wiegman but their lack of caps will be seen as a weakness by opponents.
It’s a coin toss to decide England’s first choice backline, which no head coach likes going into a tournament. If Greenwood replaces Williamson at centre-back, who plays on the left? Is it a battle between Chelsea’s Jess Carter and Charles or is there a masterplan we aren’t aware of yet?
This is a problem spot. Take Williamson and Daly, then possibly Bright and Bronze out of the equation and you are left with precisely none of the defenders who started England’s Euros final against Germany in 2022. The entire back four wiped clean.
We know Williamson will be missing, and we know there is an asterisk against the names of Bright and Bronze. Charles has to be included based on her natural ability at full-back – I don’t believe shoehorning players into unfamiliar positions is wise.
Greenwood will be tasked with playing centre-half, presumably, so I would take Carter as cover. Wubben-Moy has also been enjoying a lot more game time at Arsenal of late, thanks to the Gunners’ ongoing injury crisis, and has coped with a series of high pressure games admirably.
Is the midfield engine room equipped?
England haven’t just lost their leader in Williamson, they’ve also lost their backup to Keira Walsh at the heart of the midfield.
No one can do what Walsh does but expected reinforcements Jordan Nobbs and Laura Coombs are not natural holding midfielders.
Does this mean a late call-up for Manchester United’s Zelem, who was dropped for April’s friendlies?
Or will England bank on Walsh being what she’s been for England over the last few years – consistently in form and available?
Zelem gets my vote. She has been the backbone of a wonderful season for United and acts as the sounding board for both Russo and Ella Toone.
Her structure and solidity allows the latter two to flourish at club level – why not for England? She can play the deep-lying midfield role, or further forward if required, and is comfortable with the possession-based style Wiegman favours.
Tough-tackling, unafraid of the hard yards, wonderful technique over a set-piece – what’s not to like? Clearly Nobbs and Coombs are also options, but neither offer the complete package Zelem does, in my opinion.
I agree with Anton, no one gets near the craft of Walsh, but you can’t do better than Zelem as a creative support act.
Versatile defender signs a four-year deal; the 23-year-old has had loan spells at Coventry City, Wigan Athletic, Blackpool and Stoke City
Rangers have completed the signing of Chelsea academy graduate Dujon Sterling with the player set to join officially on July 1.
Joining Chelsea at just eight-years-old, Sterling worked his way through the academy, making his debut for the first-team against Nottingham Forest in an EFL cup tie in September 2017.
He has gained valuable experience with loan spells at Coventry City, Wigan Athletic, Blackpool and Stoke City and has represented England up to under-20 level.
Sterling said: “I am really excited to come to such a big club, there’s a lot of history and the supporters are so passionate, so I am thrilled. I wasn’t expecting to make my mind up about my future this quickly, but the gaffer came in for me straight away and what he proposed to me was everything that I believe I need.
“We were on the same wavelength, he believes in me and I believe in what he is trying to do as well so it was a no-brainer for me to come.”
Boss Michael Beale commented: “I am delighted to welcome Dujon to Rangers, he is an exciting young player who, I’m sure, will be a great addition to our squad.
“He is someone I was aware of from my time at Chelsea, and I have always kept an eye on his career as it has progressed.
“He is a very powerful and strong defender, who has fantastic attacking qualities and I look forward to working with him at Rangers.”
Mauricio Pochettino was confirmed as the new Chelsea boss on Monday; club targeting a goalkeeper, midfielder and striker in the summer window having finished 12th in a disastrous Premier League campaign
AC Milan want to sign Chelsea midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek
AC Milan are in talks with Chelsea over the signing of midfielder Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
Loftus-Cheek has one year left on his contract at Stamford Bridge but has the option to extend that by a further year.
The 27-year-old appeared to say goodbye to the fans when he was substituted during Chelsea’s final day 1-1 draw with Newcastle on Sunday.
Earlier this month, Sky Italy reported Milan’s interest, with the Rossoneri thought to be “cautiously optimistic” of getting a deal done for the England international.
Loftus-Cheek has made 155 appearances for Chelsea since making his debut in 2014, and has won the Premier League, Europa League and UEFA Super Cup during his time at the club.
The news comes after Chelsea confirmed former Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino would take up their vacant manager’s position from July 1 on Monday.
The 51-year-old Argentine, who has signed a two-year deal at Stamford Bridge with the option of another year, returns to the Premier League following previous spells in charge of Spurs and Southampton, succeeding Graham Potter, who was dismissed at the start of April after less than seven months in charge.
Frank Lampard, who led Chelsea on a caretaker basis until the end of the season following Potter’s sacking, has left the club.
Jesus Perez, Miguel d’Agostino, Toni Jimenez and Sebastiano Pochettino will form part of Pochettino’s coaching staff at Stamford Bridge.
Move makes sense – but neither party can afford failure
“While Mauricio Pochettino will no doubt be excited to return to the Premier League and Chelsea will be delighted to have secured a manager of his pedigree, there is a lot riding on the Argentine’s appointment – for both parties.
“Unusually for a manager whose previous Premier League stint ended with him being sacked by Tottenham nearly four years ago, Pochettino’s stock remains high in the top flight, with Spurs’ regression since his exit helping to explain why.
“But while the 51-year-old is rightly praised for the work he did at Spurs, culminating in their first Champions League final in 2019, he ultimately failed to bring any long-awaited silverware to north London during his five-year spell in charge – the kind of record that won’t be tolerated at Chelsea.
“Pochettino did end his personal trophy drought at Paris Saint-Germain, winning the French Cup in 2021 and Ligue 1 a year later, but he was also sacked by the French giants and has been out of work since last summer.
“That’s a long time for an elite coach to be away from the day-to-day of club management, while the fact that Unai Emery was still at Arsenal and Frank Lampard had only just begun his first spell in charge of Chelsea at the point of Pochettino’s Spurs exit shows how long he has been away from the Premier League.
“The pressure on Pochettino is clear – but it weighs even heavier on the shoulders of his new employers. Since their takeover last summer, Todd Boehly and Behdad Eghbali have overseen one of the most chaotic and unsuccessful seasons in Chelsea’s recent history.
“After seeing their decision to sack Champions League-winning head coach Thomas Tuchel and replace him with Graham Potter spectacularly backfire, the owners need Pochettino – who will be the fifth person to take charge of a Chelsea match in less than 12 months – to justify their faith.”
Mauricio Pochettino appointed at Chelsea with the task of rebuilding the club on the back of their first bottom-half Premier League finish since 1996; Paul Gilmour, Melissa Reddy and Lyall Thomas lay out why he is the ‘perfect fit’ at Stamford Bridge
There has not been so much doom and gloom around Chelsea for a long time. Even after former owner Roman Abramovich was sanctioned. Even after losing Eden Hazard at the start of a year-long transfer ban.
Chelsea finished outside the top 10 in the Premier League for the first time since 1996 at the end of a miserable season, which had promised so much under new, deep-pocketed ownership and a manager, Thomas Tuchel, adored in the stands.
Two sackings, £600m and the worst sets of results for nearly three decades later and the mood has soured to unpalatable lows. Now, Mauricio Pochettino is the man to press the reset button again this summer at Stamford Bridge.
This is the same man who signed off from his last job with a Ligue 1 title and French Cup during 18 months with Paris Saint-Germain, and barely four years ago led Tottenham to their first Champions League final. On the surface, there are plenty of reasons why inheriting a bloated squad low on morale and a seemingly impulsive, scattergun owner don’t look appealing.
Todd Boehly has learned lessons the hard way from a chastening first 12 months in west London, and it is no coincidence he is about to appoint a man with a history of moulding clubs for the better.
On a special edition of the Essential Football podcast, Sky Sports News’ Melissa Reddy and Paul Gilmour explained why the Argentine will bring a sense of optimism back to Chelsea from the ashes of a season they can’t wait to forget.
‘It has never been as perfect a fit as this’
“When you look at where the club are at the moment and their issues, structurally and squad-wise the amount of untapped potential there, and then you look at Pochettino’s strongest qualities and what he’s improved at clubs in the past – you see perfect symmetry, and why it makes sense for them to appoint him now,” Reddy said.
“This is the third or fourth time they’ve tried to approach him, and I don’t think any of the other times were as perfect a fit as this. The major thing Chelsea need is direction, purpose, clarity, an overhauling of all those things and that is his sweet spot, his skill set.
“He’s very good at assessing the landscape. Competition in the Premier League is as high as it has been, but he will think Chelsea just need a few tweaks and they will be there. They don’t need much to be a successful, triumphant team, they just need the right man to pull it together.
“That squad that Chelsea have, they’ll be enlivened by him and excited by him. He’ll have a clear identity and philosophy for the squad to work towards, which also gives the football structure an idea of how they should be recruiting – it’ll create a sense of clarity, excitement and direction which they’ve been lacking.
“One of the other things to fix at Chelsea is interference from the owners. It’s too hands-on in a lot of respects, not just in recruitment but going into the dressing room and addressing the players, when it’s not their place.
“Pochettino has experience in dealing with this at Southampton, Nicola Cortese used to speak to the players directly but he made him come through the coaching staff instead. Part of the negotiations with Chelsea would have been about being allowed to work in the way they do, without undercutting them.”
The scale of the Pochettino revolution at Tottenham and previously Southampton was evident from the results on the pitch, but the foundations behind it weren’t always as evident from the stands.
At St Mary’s for example, the individual conditioning programme he curated for Adam Lallana helped the midfielder shake off recurring fitness issues – and was something he missed after he was sold to Liverpool in 2014.
“He takes a real genuine interest in his players, what they’re going through, what their personal lives are like,” Reddy added. “There’s an open-door policy where they can go and chat to him about anything.
“Ryan Mason is another one who will speak highly of him as a manager. He was a shell of a player and Pochettino and Jesus Perez saw that, worked with him, rebuilt his confidence, and when he went through that career-ending injury it was them who supported him and helped him gain that pathway into coaching.
“He sees things in players they can’t see themselves and previous coaches couldn’t – in terms of simple things like positioning, but their push points, how they need to be spoken to, how to motivate them. He creates a sense of the collective where no individual is greater than another.”
Pochettino had been reluctant to speak English to the media at Southampton but still got his point across that respect sat at the heart of his philosophy, and when he moved to Tottenham – without his translator – his personality shone through even clearer.
“It’s been talked about a lot the culture he brings to clubs; the handshakes where players shake hands at the beginning of every day, it’s that culture of respect,” Gilmour said.
“I remember it when we used to go and interview Pochettino at the airport on the way to European games, the players used to come up to us, ask how we were and shake our hands – it was all about representing the club and badge.”
A carefully planned appointment
It is precisely because of those harsh lessons learned that Boehly has taken his time over this appointment, already the second of his short reign.
Graham Potter was sacked well over a month ago, but even Frank Lampard’s struggles have not hurried the American into his next move – and he has been willing to accommodate Pochettino’s desire for a summer start rather than walking into the malaise of this season.
“Chelsea wanted to go through a thorough process to find the next manager. They wanted to trust the football people and work together as a team to do that,” Gilmour added.
“Pochettino was keen to come back at the start of pre-season, most managers love to start from scratch and certainly he likes to do that, to run his players into the ground and get them fit for the new season.
“People like Todd Boehly and Behdad Egbhali don’t get to where they are without realising what’s working and what isn’t. That’s where I think they deserve credit. At first, there was a lot of change and upheaval, not just on the pitch but off it too. You think about Marina Granovskaia and Petr Cech, and a lot of people left the club at the same time.
“It hasn’t worked this season, Chelsea fans have become accustomed to winning trophies, and it’s what they demand and expect. As we’ve seen this season, you have to be ready to win and with the changes, the huge squad and new manager, it wasn’t set up to win.”
Pochettino is best known for his time at Tottenham, but it was in Paris where he finally broke his trophy duck, something he will be expected to add to sooner or later at Stamford Bridge.
Whether he succeeded or failed at the Parc des Princes is up for debate, given anything less than a Ligue 1 title is never enough for France’s richest club, and though he failed to get them close to lifting the Champions League trophy, he is far from the only PSG manager to find life tough on the continent.
“He’s taken an awful lot from his PSG experience,” Gilmour said. “It was incredibly different from Southampton and Tottenham. He faced quite a big squad there as well, and quite a few were captains of their national teams so were big personalities – but he still got on well with the players. There was never any falling out.
“It was difficult, for example, when Gianluigi Donnarumma was signed and he was a big fan of Keylor Navas, and he thought both were incredible No 1s and he had to deal with that. And as has been proven many times, top managers have struggled at PSG.”
Match report and highlights as Abdoulaye Doucoure’s 57th-minute strike preserves Everton’s Premier League status against Bournemouth; Toffees will play top-flight football for a 70th consecutive season as Leeds and Leicester are relegated
Everton survived relegation by the skin of their teeth to preserve their top-flight status for a 70th successive season after overcoming Bournemouth 1-0 on a final day fuelled with drama at a raucous Goodison Park.
The Toffees, one of six ever-present clubs in the Premier League since the competition’s inception in 1992, were in the bottom three for much of the opening hour on Sunday after Leicester took the lead against West Ham.
But Abdoulaye Doucoure’s superb strike from the edge of the box (57) dragged his side back out of the relegation zone to break Leicester hearts, as the Foxes join Leeds in dropping to the Sky Bet Championship.
Bournemouth, who finish in 15th place, threatened an equaliser when Kieffer Moore’s header was scrambled clear, while Jordan Pickford saved well from Matias Vina, but following an interminable 10 minutes of stoppage time caused by a hand injury to Pickford, Everton held on.
A breathless Pickford told Sky Sports: “I’m knackered! Doucs find a strike from somewhere. It’s massive for the club. We didn’t want it to go down to the wire but we keep going.”
Everton: Pickford (7); Coady (7), Mina (7), Tarkowski (7); Garner (8), Onana (7), Gueye (7), Doucoure (8), McNeil (7); Iwobi (6), Gray (7).
Subs: Simms (n/a).
Bournemouth: Travers (8); Smith (6), Zabarnyi (6), Senesi (6), Kelly (7); Lerma (6), Billing (6); Brooks (6), Christie (6), Ouattara (7); Solanke (7).
Subs: Vina (6), Moore (7), Anthony (n/a).
Player of the match: Abdoulaye Doucoure.
How Everton staved off relegation again
Abdoulaye Doucoure fires Everton in front
Writing in his programme notes, Dyche outlined how important it was for each component of the club to align and pull in the same direction, highlighting the connection with his battle-hardened supporters.
“We all know about the power of Goodison. It’s real and it’s powerful, tangible and deeply affective.”
- Winger Demarai Gray was handed the goalscoring responsibility for Everton in their potential relegation-decider at home to Bournemouth.
- With Dominic Calvert-Lewin injured again and back-up striker Neal Maupay woefully ineffective manager Sean Dyche turned to Gray, who has occasionally performed a role through the middle on occasions this season.
- He was one of two changes with Conor Coady brought in for the injured right-back Nathan Patterson, most likely requiring a change of system to a back three.
- Bournemouth, who have been safe for some time, also made three changes with a fit-again Philip Billing and Dango Ouatarra coming in for Lewis Cook and Jaidon Anthony, while goalkeeper Mark Travers replaced Neto who was absent for personal reasons.
How Goodison roared at the final whistle. Gary O’Neil, Bournemouth’s manager, played in Everton’s last final-day victory back in 2016 as a member of the Norwich side that lost 3-0.
His side switched Everton around at the coin toss for them to attack the Gwladys Street End and the hosts started as though they were already playing catch-up. It allowed Bournemouth to assert themselves as Jefferson Lerma skied a shot inside five minutes.
Everton operated almost exclusively down the left in the opening half an hour, involving Dwight McNeil and Alex Iwobi but, shorn of the presence of Dominic Calvert-Lewin, there was no presence inside the six-yard box as too often Demarai Gray gambled by taking up a deeper position.
Finally, a chance came as Amadou Onana released Idrissa Gueye, but his shot was superbly tipped over by Mark Travers. Another swirling strike from Gueye moments later was watched and batted away by Bournemouth’s deputy goalkeeper as news filtered through of Harvey Barnes’ strike for Leicester.
Bournemouth looked to add to the nerves by edging in front as David Brooks’ miscued volley from a Philip Billing corner landed at the feet of Dango Ouattara. He set up Marcos Senesi for a poked shot from an acute angle that drifted just wide of the far post.
Travers, who conceded nine against Liverpool on his last visit to Merseyside back in August, was in the mood to frustrate his opponents as he tipped over James Garner’s dipping effort on the stroke of half-time.
Everton were in need of a rousing tonic at the interval, and Gray was presented with the perfect opportunity six minutes after the restart. Yerry Mina’s aerial presence caused panic in the Bournemouth box as Illya Zabarnyi’s attempted clearance landed on the head of Gray, but Travers got down to shovel his effort around the post. Gray had to score.
But then the moment arrived. Gueye’s searching ball towards Onana was headed out to the edge of the box when Doucoure lurked. He steadied himself and drilled the ball beyond the static Travers. Goodison erupted.
Everton now had to hold on as Leicester doubled their lead over West Ham, and with Moore now on, the Welshman caused havoc when his header back across goal was clawed away from the goal-line by a combination of Pickford and Conor Coady at the feet of Dominic Solanke.
It led to an almighty delay as Pickford and Solanke squared up, with the Bournemouth striker appealing for a bite by Mina during the heated skirmish. It would lead to plenty of time being added on for the home fans to suffer.
During the 10 minutes of stoppage time, Vina drew a fine stop from Pickford after Moore’s header back across goal. Doucoure – the lion heart who signed a contract extension in midweek – drove forward, one last time to force Travers into another save to keep the contest live.
Referee Stuart Attwell mercifully put an end to all that, as a pitch invasion ensued and cries of “sack the board” rained down from those who abided by those commands to remain in their seats. Twelve months on from survival under Frank Lampard, Everton had found themselves in the same position. A busy summer now lies ahead.
Dyche: Hideous game that means everything
Everton boss Sean Dyche:
“It means a lot. I took over what they called a broken club. It’s not broken. It’s had its cracks but it’s not broken. We’ve shown the fighting spirit that you need.
“But equally, I’ve just told the players that we shouldn’t be in this state. We’ve got to learn from that and next season’s going to be big. It’s a magic day but we shouldn’t be in this shape. You’re only a big club if you’re doing big club things. It is a big club but we have to get it back to being one on the pitch.
“Anyone can take the wheel of a ship in calm waters. We haven’t changed everything but we’ve affected the group. It’s difficult – you’re taking on someone else’s group, so I’m pleased for me and my staff. There’s a hell of a lot to be done now.
“It was a hideous game. No manager wants those games. You have to find some weird, twisted way of enjoying it. But it’s fantastic when you come through it and get the job done.
O’Neil scathing of match officials
Bournemouth boss Gary O’Neil:
“It was enjoyable, I thought the lads handled it well and stood up to Everton’s direct play. It was what I expected it to be. I thought we were the better side and had control for the most part. Still lots there we need to progress on.
“We knew what we were coming into against a direct team. We’ve struggled against direct sides this season and maybe didn’t create enough. I’m excited that we’ve got to the point where we can perform like that in those conditions under a lot of pressure. I saw a team that stood up to the battle and represented what I stand for.
“The fact we had 39 points against this level of officiating is a miracle. I thought the refereeing was terrible. It’s a miracle it’s taken this amount of time for me to get booked. It can’t be us who always suffer on the day. Hopefully next season it improves for us as it’s been really poor this season. My biggest disappointment this season has been the level of officiating we’ve suffered.”
Everton clamber up the mountain but change must come
The last time Everton were relegated in May 1951, Clement Attlee was Prime Minister, Cliff Britton was manager and Everest had yet to be scaled.
It took three years for the club to climb out of the old Second Division. Monday marks the 70th anniversary of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s historic ascent.
Everton will have their platinum jubilee at the summit of English football, but their supporters have stared into the abyss throughout this 69th campaign.