You want at least one spicy fixture in the first week of any World Cup, and England vs Scotland looks like it will certainly tick that box. England, seen by most as among the set of sides with a genuine chance of winning the trophy, will want to make a statement against the oldest of rivals, but a slip up here and finishing first in the group will be a hard task with a strong Japan side lurking.
Scotland, meanwhile, have a fighting chance of making it out of the group, and getting a result here will go a long way to making their first Women’s World Cup appearance a successful one.
If you haven’t watched England since the last World Cup four years ago, the biggest change is the style of football. Whereas Mark Sampson’s 2015 side were built on defensive resilience, Phil Neville’s outfit likes to play an expansive, entertaining game. The shape is likely to be a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 system, with an emphasis on pushing the full backs high up the pitch to generate crosses.
The wide players, though not uncomfortable crossing themselves, tuck in a little more and can play some really slick stuff interchanging with the striker. This approach has recently led to some fairly significant defensive lapses, but that feels like a risk the Lionesses are willing to take to commit players forward.
In terms of personnel, Neville has been quite opaque about what his preferred team is, though there are several certainties. Right back Lucy Bronze is arguably the one player here who could claim to be the best in the world in her position, and England’s emphasis on using the full backs to attack seems to be in part to better involve her in the game. There’s a chance she could end up playing central midfield, but her favoured right back role is still more likely.
In the centre of the park, Jill Scott should be the more advanced player in a double pivot, offering solid defensive work but potentially causing problems with well timed runs into the box. Nikita Parris, though, might be the most devastating player in the final third. She’s likely to play on the right here rather than upfront, but we’re still talking about one of the most dangerous goalscorers in women’s football, able to get a scary high volume of shots from close range.
As for Scotland, things might be starting to click at just the right moment for the team making their Women’s World Cup debut. The Scots have won four of their last five matches and looking every bit a side that deserves to be in this tournament.
Shelly Kerr sets up her side to operate a 4-2-3-1 system, and are also happy to play some entertaining stuff at times, albeit in a more restrained manner than England, often relying on the counter. We’ll presumably see a more defensive iteration in this game, but when Scotland get the ball, they are capable of doing interesting things with it.
In terms of players, you can’t talk about Scotland without bringing up Kim Little. For Arsenal, Little is a midfield dynamo, getting a very impressive 0.76 non penalty goals and assists per 90 in a role where she is invited to push high up the pitch. With Scotland, she plays a slightly more restrained role in a double pivot, relying more on her excellent passing range to create from deep. She’s the real deal.
Elsewhere, Scotland unfortunately just don’t have the same depth as England, but young Erin Cuthbert has the potential to cause problems. A hard working wide forward who has some unfortunate habits of shooting from range, Cuthbert nonetheless gets a high enough volume of chances to be a real goal threat. Further back, Manchester City’s Jennifer Beattie is a very dominant centre-back in the air while also offering a decent ability on the ball.
At time of writing, the bookmakers give England an implied probability of around 82-86% to win the game. Considering Scotland’s good form going into the fixture, this feels perhaps a little too high, but there’s no doubt who the favourite is.
In terms of the pattern of play, it’s hard to imagine England won’t dominate possession, looking to get it wide and cause Scotland problems through crossing and combination play between the front three. Scotland, meanwhile, will look to use the playmaking abilities of Little from deep to get the ball forward and launch counter attacking moves. At the risk of tempting fate, we could really have a footballing contest that matches the hype of this fixture.