Five talking points ahead of England vs Portugal

England's Lucy Bronze in action with Brazil's Marta Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith
England's Lucy Bronze in action with Brazil's Marta Action Images via Reuters/Lee Smith

Their World Cup homecoming may have been spoiled by Brazil on Saturday but the Lionesses have the opportunity to get back on the winning track when they travel to Setubal to take on Portugal on Tuesday evening. Here, we take a look at five talking points ahead of the game, by Ella Jerman.

Neville under pressure

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Phil Neville is facing heavy criticism after the Lionesses’ dominant first-half performance in Saturday’s 2-1 defeat to Brazil was ruined by all-too-familiar lapses in concentration and weaknesses at the back.

Such criticism may seem harsh at first glance, but the Lionesses are now without a win in five games and the last time they went on such a poor run of form, Hope Powell was sacked as manager.

Four defeats and one draw since their 3-1 victory over Norway in the World Cup quarter-final in June has heaped pressure on Neville, and he knows he’s being judged.

There has been plenty of talk about the World Cup becoming the tide-turning moment for women’s football but as it stands, the Lionesses’ results are doing little to carry the women’s game forward.

When 70,000 fans flock to Wembley to watch England face Germany next month, they won’t want to be expecting their side to slump to another defeat. If Neville gets it right, Tuesday’s match against 30th-ranked Portugal is the best-possible opportunity to turn their fortunes around.

The making of Bethany England

If Neville wants to take the Lionesses to the next level, it might be worth thinking about other options in his squad, Chelsea’s versatile forward Bethany England being a good place to start.

England, who scored 22 in all competitions for her club in the 2018/19 season, scored her first goal for her country in Saturday’s defeat to Brazil, bursting into the box to meet captain Steph Houghton’s well-timed ball with a brilliant header.

But that goal came seven minutes after England came on from the bench, Neville opting to start with Jodie Taylor in the absence of World Cup star Ellen White.

It is clear England miss the ruthlessness of White, with the likes of Taylor, Nikita Parris and Beth Mead all missing good one-on-one opportunities to give their side the lead against Brazil – so why not give the chance to England, a hard-working forward with fine domestic form?

While White is hoping to be fit enough to return to the squad for November’s friendly, there is surely no harm in giving England the No.9 shirt against Portugal. White is 30, Taylor is 33 – 25-year-old England is surely one for the future.

Williamson out to impress once more

She may have been one of the best in the position for months but Arsenal’s Leah Williamson has had to patiently wait in the wings for her turn at centre-back for the Lionesses.

Williamson, 23, was nominated for the inaugural Barclays FA Women’s Super League Player of the Month award after a string of impressive performances for Arsenal in central-defensive midfield this season.

While Neville has preferred to opt for Houghton and Millie Bright as his starting centre-back pairing, Williamson proved why she has the potential to be a regular feature for England on Saturday, showing composure on the ball and positioning herself well to nullify Brazil’s attacking threat for long periods of the game.

Williamson has the experience too. She may be just 23 years old but she has already made more than 100 appearances for Arsenal in the top-flight. If she can nail down another good performance on Tuesday, she could just prove the answer for Neville’s defensive problems.

Potential for new faces

We’ve mentioned England and Williamson but they aren’t the only bright sparks who could get opportunity to make a name for themselves on Tuesday, with City forward Lauren Hemp and Everton striker Chloe Kelly receiving call-ups after Jill Scott withdrew through injury.

Manchester City’s Scott, who started Saturday’s defeat by Brazil, picked up an ankle strain and returned home as a precaution, leaving room for a new face in midfield.

Neither Hemp nor Kelly will likely feature in the starting eleven, Neville more likely to opt for the more experienced Lucy Staniforth to replace Scott, but with the Lionesses dropping out in quick succession through injury, it seems sensible he would make plenty of changes from the bench.

Hemp certainly isn’t afraid of the big stage, the 19-year-old having scored the winner in City’s 3-0 win over West Ham in last season’s FA Cup final at Wembley, while Kelly is more than capable of providing an attacking threat, as demonstrated by her two stunning goals against Bristol City in the league last month.

Friendly foe for Lucy Bronze?

Back in 2017, Lucy Bronze revealed how she one almost considered switching her allegiance to Tuesday’s opponents Portugal when frustrated with the lack of opportunities she was getting in the England senior side.

Bronze, who was nominated for the 2019 Best FIFA Women’s Player award, has a Portuguese father and was contacted aged 16 by the national side.

While it may be hard to imagine an England team without Bronze now, the right-back admitted a senior debut did not look like it was on the horizon when she was 21 but decided to stick with the Lionesses when she was given her debut by Powell in a pre-Euro 2013 against Japan.

Now, six years into her England journey, Bronze will have no split loyalty on Tuesday but ask her father the same question, and you might get a slightly different answer.

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