Reshmin Chowdhury column: Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway excelling as England’s midfield duo

Reshmin Chowdhury column: Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway excelling as England’s midfield duo

England’s forwards rightly got all the plaudits after they hammered Norway but that midfield pairing of Keira Walsh and Georgia Stanway has really excelled in this tournament.

Sarina Wiegman has always been keen to have options and finally made the call to start Leah Williamson back in defence for the Austria game, which surprised me a little. Don’t get me wrong, she’s brilliant there for Arsenal, but she’s played a lot in midfield for England alongside Keira too.

Ultimately, it’s proven to be a bit of a masterstroke and Keira seems to be thriving. She and Leah were perhaps a bit similar, occupying the same spaces, but now Keira is very much in charge and can really conduct things.

At the same time, she still knows she’s got Leah just behind her. That ­partnership hasn’t gone, it’s just slightly altered, while Leah’s partnership with Millie Bright at centre-back is blossoming. Sometimes having your leader in the backline gives a team a sense of calmness and strength through the spine and Leah has been able to provide that from defence.

Having solid full-backs in Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly, and Keira taking on that defensive responsibility in midfield means Georgia has had the freedom to bomb forward and create opportunities.

Georgia was among the “ones to watch” at the last World Cup aged just 20. I remember being so impressed with her, and since then she’s grown into a key player at Manchester City, which has earned her a big summer move to Bayern Munich. She’s really growing in stature, epitomised by the fact that she took that crucial penalty against Norway.

That was a big call – you could have had Ellen White or Beth Mead step up, but Georgia took the spot kick and even within the game you saw her confidence grow.

The big test for Keira and Georgia going deeper in the competition is how vulnerable they could be in transition. If Georgia is always pushing ahead trying to find space, they could get caught out and that will be interesting to see against the tougher sides.

 (The FA via Getty Images)
(The FA via Getty Images)

Until now, they’ve managed to control that area of play. To that end, I think it is probably good England have avoided Germany and it looks like they’ll most likely face Spain in the quarter-final.

Spain play beautiful football but it’s more possession-based, they like to be in control, and they give you time to get your shape and then try to break you down. They don’t look to kill you in those transitions like Germany do, plus they’ve shown defensive vulnerabilities.

Of course, Spain still have to get through as runners-up in Group B, but I do fancy them to get the job done against Denmark on Saturday night.

Then on Sunday, it’s Group C, where I’ve really enjoyed covering Portugal’s two games. They’ve been great fun, but you’d imagine both the Netherlands and Sweden will take charge and qualify. Who finishes top between those two will be really important though, because it means avoiding a clash with France who, along with England and Germany, have looked the strongest team at the tournament.