The questions Sarina Wiegman must answer before England's Euro 2022 campaign

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Women's International Friendly - England v Netherlands - Elland Road, Leeds, Britain - June 24, 2022 England's Beth Mead celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates - Action Images via Reuters
Women's International Friendly - England v Netherlands - Elland Road, Leeds, Britain - June 24, 2022 England's Beth Mead celebrates scoring their second goal with teammates - Action Images via Reuters

England head coach Sarina Wiegman says she is “close” to knowing her starting side for July 6’s Euros opener against Austria at Old Trafford, but that her squad’s high performance levels are giving her a “hard time” to make the last-remaining decisions.

The Lionesses face Switzerland in Zurich on Thursday in their final warm-up match before their first home tournament in 17 years gets under way, and the game will be one final chance for the former Netherlands coach to test things out on the field.

Wiegman’s side were boosted by the arrival of Ellen White in Basel - where they are training ahead of Thursday’s game - late on Tuesday night. White flew to Switzerland on her own after testing negative for Covid-19, which had ruled her out of last week’s 5-1 win over the Netherlands. She joined the squad for training on Wednesday morning, with the only absent player being Lucy Bronze, who is feeling unwell but has tested negative for Covid. Bronze will fly back to England on Wednesday as a precaution and to allow her to rest, and will not feature in Thursday's friendly.

If everybody is fit, the core of the England side does though appear to be relatively settled, with the team unbeaten so far since Wiegman’s arrival last September. So what are the outstanding questions to answer, for her starting team?

Who will start at left-back?

Rachel Daly speaks with Alex Greenwood and Millie Bright of England during the Women's International friendly match between England and Netherlands at Elland Road on June 24, 2022 in Leeds, United Kingdom - Charlotte Tattersall - The FA/The FA via Getty Image
Rachel Daly speaks with Alex Greenwood and Millie Bright of England during the Women's International friendly match between England and Netherlands at Elland Road on June 24, 2022 in Leeds, United Kingdom - Charlotte Tattersall - The FA/The FA via Getty Image

Of the back four, three starting positions appear to be relatively nailed down, with Alex Greenwood and Millie Bright having built an impressive partnership at centre-half over the past nine months, and with Barcelona-bound right-back right-back Bronze all-but assured of a starting spot, too, assuming she makes a speedy recovery after feeling unwell on Wednesday.

In contention for the left-back spot are Manchester City’s Demi Stokes and Houston Dash’s Rachel Daly, as well as Chelsea’s Jess Carter as a possible back-up although Carter has played more frequently in central defence.

Of those players, Daly got the nod for last Friday’s victory at Elland Road, perhaps partly with some sentiment in mind because she is a lifelong Leeds United fan. However, she took her chance well and made a good impression before being withdrawn to give Carter some gamete with 15 minutes remaining. Stokes had started England’s first warm-up match, a 3-0 win over Belgium earlier in June, before being replaced by Daly at half-time.

Daly is widely seen as a more attacking option, with Stokes arguably the more experienced defensive option for the tougher fixtures. The full-back positions will be key for England particularly in their second Group A match against Norway, because of the Norwegians' dangerous wide players including Caroline Graham Hansen of Barcelona and Chelsea’s Guro Reiten.

Who is the second-choice No 9?

White’s return after Covid increases the anticipation that she will be England’s starting striker for the Euros once they get under way, although it is understood she will be monitored carefully ahead of Thursday’s friendly against Switzerland.

Wiegman, speaking at the team’s training base, said: “She’s ready to train. She has been training over in England, and now she can join football training again. We’ll take it from here and build her up again and get her into the football action again, so that’s really nice.

“Especially when you get closer to the tournament, you want to have all your choices. She was very disappointed she had to step out and we were too. While we were disappointed by that, it gives other players opportunities to show where they are at the moment.”

If White does not start Thursday’s friendly, it could give Chelsea striker Bethany England and Manchester United’s Alessia Russo another opportunity to stake their claim. Russo replaced England with just under half an hour remaining for the victory over the Netherlands and struck the crossbar late on, but neither of them have scored for their country since November’s 20-0 hammering of minnows Latvia.

Is Beth Mead an option as a No 9?

Beth Mead of England celebrates scoring their side's second goal during the Women's International friendly match between England and Netherlands at Elland Road on June 24, 2022 in Leeds, United Kingdom - Lynne Cameron - The FA/The FA via Getty Images
Beth Mead of England celebrates scoring their side's second goal during the Women's International friendly match between England and Netherlands at Elland Road on June 24, 2022 in Leeds, United Kingdom - Lynne Cameron - The FA/The FA via Getty Images

One player who seemingly can’t stop scoring is Arsenal’s Beth Mead, who has scored a national-team record of 14 goals for her country over the past season.

Under Wiegman - and in recent seasons with the north Londoners - Mead has been deployed as a wider forward or a winger, but earlier in her career she also had success as a central number nine with Sunderland.

Asked if England were considering trying Mead in a central striker role, Wiegman replied: “That’s a very good question. We question that ourselves all the time too. She has played as a nine. With us, she hasn’t played as a nine, we took other options with that. Maybe we have it in mind. We haven’t tried it yet.

“Now that Chloe [Kelly, Man City winger] is back, now we have more options up front, as you have noticed. We have an extra player up front. So yes again we have many options, but it’s in the back of our minds.”

Who will get the nod at No 10?

Wiegman is also blessed with an array of options in the deeper-lying slot behind the central striker, with the flexibility of picking a ‘No 10’ or deploying somebody in a more attacking-midfield role.

Georgia Stanway seems most likely to get the nod if England want to play with a more traditional 4-3-3 shape, positioned slightly further advanced than deeper-lying midfielders Keira Walsh and Leah Williamson. But if Wiegman goes for something resembling a 4-2-3-1 instead, Manchester United’s Ella Toone and fit-again Chelsea forward Fran Kirby both have a lot to offer as a ‘No 10’. Toone’s role off the bench against the Dutch was particularly effective late on.

Asked how far off she was from knowing her exact starting XI for the Euros opener more generally, Wiegman said: “We’re close, but it’s hard.

"And even though we’re close, you still have the opportunities to change it a little bit, because the level is so high and it’s so close [between the players] that we have many options. But we’re really close.

“We’re talking about it every day, we watch players every day, of course, we talk to the players every day and they’re giving us a hard time to make choices.”

Telegraph Sport’s predicted England starting XI for 6 July’s Euros opener v Austria:

England (4-3-3): Earps; Bronze, Bright, Greenwood, Daly; Williamson, Walsh, Stanway; Mead, White, Hemp

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