Above: Sarina Wiegman and Leah Williamson captured during today’s media conference. Photo: FA.
by Ben Gilby (16/2/22)
England head coach Sarina Wiegman and captain Leah Williamson met with the media today ahead of tomorrow’s Arnold Clark Cup match with Canada at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.
Wiegman goes into the game in unique circumstances under her tenure. It is the first game in charge for her where England are not the overwhelming favourites. In terms of squad and availability, Wiegman revealed that everyone goes into the opening match with Canada fit and healthy.
When asked by Impetus about what she wants to see from her team over the coming week bearing in mind the Lionesses have found it hard to get consistent results against the top nations in the world, England’s head coach was brutally honest.
“I’m aware of the situation England were in with these teams before I came in. The pressure is high in these upcoming games. I want to see what we’re like in possession, out of possession, and in transition against the best. We’ll see where it goes. We have a technical plan and want to develop a new style of play.
“We have a way of doing things on and off the pitch – creating clarity wherever we can and focusing on growth – being better each day. I want every member of staff to facilitate that to the players so they can grow.”
Wiegman went on to highlight the importance of playing these three nations in particular. “They each have very different styles of play and for me, that is an important challenge in our growth and how we best approach them and then evaluate.
“We need these games because we want to be exposed to every aspect of the game – defense, possession, and transition. After this tournament, we’ll know better about where we are in terms of preparing for the Euros.
“We want to try out things in these three matches but also be aware that we need to manage player loads within developing our style. Three games in six days is a lot, along with the schedule that players have with their club sides.”
England’s head coach knows that despite being the host nation, there are a whole host of countries who are capable of lifting the European Championship trophy at Wembley this July. She believes that being able to compete with the best such as the three sides competing at the Arnold Clark Cup can help to see England over the line.
“There are lots of teams who will go into the Euros thinking they should win it. More and more countries are favourites for this competition. Far more so than the previous tournament and from the European sides’ perspective in the World Cup. I’m convinced that we will be ready for 6th July when the Euros start.
“The players and myself like the fact that we play across the country so that we can connect with our fans in different parts of the country. They can be the 12th woman for us which can be exciting for them and for us. We can play well with that with energy and be dynamic from the crowd.”
Whilst hosting the Euros is a big positive for the country and team, Wiegman also knows it will not be without its difficulties.
“It’s all about pressure, decision making under pressure. In terms of everything all around the team. That pressure coming from outside, we’re talking about it already to prepare for it. We are turning around every stone to be prepared to ensure the less new things we come across during the tournament the better.”
Finally, asked specifically about the strengths of tomorrow’s opponents, Wiegman said: “Canada are a team… they are a real team. They have lots of structure both in possession and out of possession. They are able to use their strengths which is quality.”
Leah Williamson spoke of her joy at being back in the Lionesses squad as well as highlighting the changes in the camp since Sarina Wiegman took over.
“I’m very happy to be in the squad, fit, and to pick up where I left off having missed the November international camp. It’s not about the captaincy, more about being here and in the team.”
That November international window included England’s 20-0 win success against Latvia. Whilst the headlines surrounded the Lionesses’ ease in winning, Williamson highlighted the positives in terms of the relentless nature of the performance.
“In terms of the 20-0 win, it offers a challenge as you have to keep that focus and standard. However, these games now will allow us to see where our real strengths are and what we need to tighten up in.”
Impetus asked the Arsenal star how to reflect on the differences she has noticed in camp since Wiegman and her staff took over.
“The dynamic of the team has changed. We have realized that we have underachieved in the last few tournaments. We want to turn that around and that’s a collective push to reach a higher standard and need to bring out the best in everyone.
“This is the most competitive training that I’ve been involved in for a long time here and the fight for positions, to reach your potential is all tying in nicely. We get an opportunity to learn more about ourselves which is a gift ahead of the Euros in the summer.”
Tomorrow’s match sees a reunion with Bev Priestman, who was Phil Neville’s assistant under a previous Lionesses regime. Williamson identified the Priestman’s qualities and what she is expecting from Canada.
“Bev was involved in a lot of our defensive traits when she worked with us previously. Looking at Canada now you can really see that with her and she has lots of pace in the squad and she’s utilizing it. Bev has them playing a very efficient style which wasn’t really the case when she was with us.
Talking about the feeling of being awarded the captain’s armband for Thursday’s game, Williamson said: “I didn’t think I could ever be prouder of playing for England, but this gives it something even more special. We come together as a team from different places, different clubs and have a chance to bring people together and as captain, I have a part to play in that.
“I’ve been really lucky in terms of playing under lots of different captains and different types of captain. Some just lead on the pitch with their performance, some are very vocal. Having the exposure to those different styles is a big help.”