The SheBelieves Cup has become one of the more important tournaments in the women’s football calendar, and now its significance only falls behind the holy trinity of international competitions: the World Cup, Olympics and Euros.
Whether as a measure of new players, new managers or even how prepared national teams are before the summer tournaments, SheBelieves has increasingly become the platform to make an impact on the international stage.Embed from Getty Images
As the first test for new England manager Phil Neville, it is hard to gauge expectations for the tournament.
However, ahead of the Lionesses first match against France in Columbus on March 1, the former Manchester United and Everton man has made it clear that he wants to instil a winning culture in his team.
So, after announcing his first squad last week, what can we expect from Neville’s England?
GoalkeepersEmbed from Getty Images
As far as goalkeeping selections go, it’s as you were for Carly Telford, Siobhan Chamberlain and Karen Bardsley. Mary Earps is unlucky to miss out, especially considering Bardsley’s lack of appearances this season due to injuries.
Ellie Roebuck gets a much deserved seat on the plane, although only as a 24th member of the squad – no doubt it will provide valuable experience for the 18-year-old, who already looks a shoe-in for the number one jersey in the future.
If current club form is anything to go by, Chamberlain would be Neville’s safest bet to start between the sticks.
DefendersEmbed from Getty Images
England have taken a big hit in the absence of captain Steph Houghton, who is out with an ankle injury, but big game talisman Lucy Bronze will take the armband for the duration of the tournament.
Demi Stokes and Millie Bright are the only outright defenders that remain from last year’s SheBelieves squad, although Rachel Daly has also been called up and could be put to use as a wing-back.
Anita Asante has been recalled to the squad – well earned after impressive performances with FC Rosengard and Chelsea since she last pulled on an England shirt in 2015.
Alex Greenwood, Hannah Blundell, Gabby George and Abby McManus make up the remainder of the defensive unit, bringing plenty of youth to the squad. Retirements and injuries have forced Neville to introduce a relatively untested back line to the England set up all at once, rather than one or two players at a time as he might have preferred.
Despite that, there are signs of a competent and exciting defensive unit here.
MidfieldersEmbed from Getty Images
The Lionesses’ midfield selection is made up of just five players, although they have plenty of international appearances between them in Jill Scott and Fara Williams alone.
Manchester City trio Izzy Christiansen, Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway all receive well-deserved places in the squad after a great couple of seasons for club and country.
Although quite a short list, Neville’s midfield selection shows plenty of diversity across the five players.
In the past, namely the Euro 2017 semi-final against the Netherlands, there was the sense that the Lionesses’ midfield lacked the diversity and creative spark it could have, with too many players from the same mould making the cut.
ForwardsEmbed from Getty Images
The forward line is where competition for a place in the starting XI will hot up, as familiar faces Toni Duggan, Fran Kirby, Jodie Taylor and Ellen White all travel to the USA with the England squad.
Mel Lawley and Nikita Parris complete the offensive lineup, with Rachel Daly also an attacking option.
Dan Carter is unlucky to miss out, as is Beth England given her incredible run of form in the league since moving on loan to Liverpool.
On paper there are plenty of goals in this selection and, much like with the midfield options, the players offer a range of experience and a variety of offensive styles that can only be a bonus if the Lionesses are having trouble with ‘plan A’.Embed from Getty Images
Overall, Neville’s first squad selection is a promising one. While the core of the established England team remains intact, he hasn’t been afraid to call up young players too.
There’s no doubt that the squad will miss the leadership and experience of the injured Steph Houghton, Jordan Nobbs and Karen Carney, however this leaves room for other players to step up.
For the first time in who knows how long, not a single Arsenal player has a seat on the plane – where that leaves them is a discussion for another day.
Above all, the squad selection is informed, different enough from anything we’ve seen before and a fair indication of Neville’s coaching style. Can the team win SheBelieves? Only time will tell.
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