Sarina Wiegman hopes selecting an experienced 23-player squad will help England escape tough waters after losing two of their first four UEFA Nations League games, which has also left qualification for the 2024 Olympics hanigng by a thread.
The formidable England manager was dealt her toughest test last month, suffering a crushing 3-2 defeat against Belgium – a third loss in the last five games including the World Cup final – and leaving the team’s hopes for reaching the inaugural Nations League finals, and in turn, the Olympics in tatters.
But Wiegman believes that England’s last performance was not indicative of the squad’s ability.
“I think we still do good things, but we have to do better in moments in games and be more ruthless,” she said. “The last result was not a reflection of us, now we are in a situation where we need wins.
To complete their Nations League campaign, the Lionesses face the Netherlands at Wembley before travelling north of the border to face Scotland. Topping the group they currently sit third in is not only crucial to progressing in this competition, but to reach the Olympics – only the two finalists (excluding hosts France) will book their place in Paris next summer and England are a proxy for Great Britain.
“Our approach will not change, we will refuel, the process we do will not be a lot different. We just need to do better in moments in the game. We just have to be aware on the counter attack too,” Wiegman explained as she aims for better results.
“I’m really looking forward to playing at Wembley, and eager to get a result.”
But it will be no easy feat to progress. England have to beat the Netherlands by a least two goals and hope Belgium drop points in the process. There is also matter of defeating Scotland. England are the only team who can secure Olympics qualification for Great Britain and, bizarrely, the only hope Scottish players have of playing in the tournament is English success at their own detriment.
Due to the high-stakes nature of the fixtures, Wiegman has opted to stick with a mostly tried and tested 23-player squad brimming with experience rather than introducing new, fresh talent.
“It’s all about quality, but this is a moment for experience a little bit, we know what we have to do,” she said.
Beth Mead has returned to the England fold for the first time in more than a year since suffering an ACL injury that kept her out of the summer’s World Cup.
Ahead of the last camp in October, Mead had just returned for Arsenal but Wiegman deemed it too early to recall her to the international stage, having only spent 15 minutes on the pitch.
Mead earned her first WSL start since recovering against Brighton over the weekend, a year to the day since her injury. Rewarded for proving her fitness, she is now selected by England once again.
“That was a very nice phone call, she was very happy,” Wiegman explained. “We’ve had phone calls all the time, since September, and October too, because she was training and getting some minutes, but I wanted to see more. Her health now is really good, she can just go. We hope she keeps improving, but she showed enough for me to bring her in.”
It is not only Mead’s clinical finishing that England have missed. The Euro 2022 Golden Boot winner has an infectious personality and brings a light and energy to the squad, something Wiegman is glad to see reintroduced to her team.
“She is a character who brings positive energy on and off pitch, her experience, the way she plays, she is different to other players on the wing. We expect on and off pitch it gives us extra energy,” the Lionesses boss revealed.
It has been a tough time for Manchester City goalkeeper Roebuck, who has not registered a single minute since a red card in the Manchester derby in May of last season – now just over six months ago.
Since then, 19-year-old Khiara Keating has taken her place as Gareth Taylor’s number one at club level, with Roebuck failing to even make the matchday squad on most occasions.
Few answers have been given for the shot-stopper’s lack of minutes. But, as a result, Wiegman has dropped the World Cup back-up ‘keeper from the last squad of the year.
“We did have conversations with her,” Wiegman revealed. “I had to give her the hard message that we didn’t pick her for now. Of course it’s hard. She needs to work hard and try to find opportunities to play; in the short-term that’s probably not going to happen.”
Chelsea’s Aggie Beever-Jones has been flying since returning to her parent club this season, netting four WSL goals in five appearances and proving a valuable asset to the Blues’ front line.
Having been exceptional for the Under-23s, fans were calling for the 20-year-old’s first inclusion in the senior squad. However, due to the philosophy for this camp, placing experience ahead of giving space to a player who would unlikely play, Beever-Jones will have to wait another day to get the nod.
“She’s in our conversations, I think it’s a little bit too early,” Wiegman admitted. “We see good things. She’s in the Under-23s and it’s good she can get the minutes there and keep developing. I hope she keeps improving and gives us headaches with our selection.”