It wasn’t perfect, but England’s performance against Scotland saw them over the line in the end. Phil Neville’s side have never been a afforded a better chance to win a World Cup, with a squad packed with experience and quality likely to threaten any opponent.
They showed as much in the first half in Nice, leading 2-0 by the break thanks to goals from Nikita Parris and Ellen White; but an opportunity missed by Scotland’s Erin Cuthbert just before half time and a disallowed strike by Beth Mead 30 seconds after galvanised Shelley Kerr and her team.
As the Lionesses tired and became sloppy, Scotland grew in confidence, halving the deficit late on and going close to grabbing a draw. England head into Friday’s clash with Argentina expected to win comfortably once again, but they certainly must improve in some areas if they are to dominate the game in the way that they should.
Parris was undoubtedly the key player on Sunday; her energy and constant willingness to make direct runs caused issues throughout for Scotland. Rather than dragging fullback Nicola Docherty to the touchline to create space in the middle of the pitch for the likes of Fran Kirby and Jill Scott, she tucked in and drove toward the box, or held her position, allowing Lucy Bronze to get forward and create an overload in wide areas.
The crucial difference between the first and second half was England’s ability to swarm the Scots, starving their creators Caroline Weir and Kim Little of the ball and isolating Cuthbert up front. They became less effective at this as the game went on, which led to Scotland’s resurgence.
White’s ability to lead the line was crucial, she held the ball up well which allowed Kirby, Parris, Bronze, Scott and Mead to join attacks. Neville isn’t likely to change this approach against an Argentina side which doesn’t possess the creativity of Scotland’s midfield.
Having held Japan, finalists four years ago in Canada, to a 0-0 draw on Monday, it wouldn’t be too far-fetched to suggest Carlos Borrello will look to frustrate England and play through veteran midfielder Sole Jaimes on the counter attack.
Jaimes, one of just nine professional players in the side ranked 37th in the world, 34 places below England, can be nullified in a similar way to Little last week. Neville was livid with the drop off in intensity, but if the team keeps going, they should win this game comfortably in the end. Here are three factors that could impact how this game goes.
Can Argentina keep a hold on Parris?
For reasons already alluded to, Parris is the player to watch for England, both for fans and the Argentine defence. Her unpredictability on the ball can drag players out of position and create space for others, but also overload one side of the pitch.
As a result of her and Bronze doubling up down Scotland’s right, the defence was often unbalanced, which afforded Mead more space on the other side and lead to her scoring a third goal that was disallowed due to White being offside. Because Scott and Kirby press high, it’ll be hard for Argentina to stop England breaking through the lines, meaning Parris will see a lot of the ball and impact the game again.
Will Toni Duggan be fit to play?
One of the headlines from Neville’s first team selection was the injury to Barcelona’s Toni Duggan, which allowed Mead to make her World Cup debut. Duggan is expected to be fit to feature in both this game and against Japan, which calls into question whether Mead will be replaced.
The likelihood is that she will, because Duggan offers more of an attacking threat, and will push on in a similar vein to Parris. This graphic here shows how much deeper Mead was against Scotland, which hindered England’s ability to fully utilise the flanks. If Duggan is fit enough, she’ll add another goal threat, which could press home England’s considerable advantage.
What will Karen Carney’s role be?
Neville’s reaction to the change in emphasis in the second half was to bring the experienced Karen Carney on to replace Mead in a change of system. Carney was then able to shore up the midfield and regain control of the game alongside another World Cup debutant Keira Walsh.
If England are worried about quick transitions from Argentina, Carney could become a problem solver without a specific change in formation, replacing either Kirby or Scott and sitting slightly deeper.