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Sarina Wiegman could hardly have wished for a more perfect opening chapter to her reign as England manager. Her time in charge has so far been a blur of one-sided score lines and clean sheets, a pattern that continued on Tuesday after her side’s 20-0 demolition of Latvia.
It is hard to be critical of a team that has won its past six fixtures with an aggregate scoreline of 53-0. What does stand out, however, is Wiegman’s penchant for consistency in her team selection. It has become a defining feature of this high-flying England outfit, although one that seems at odds with such landslide victories.
To give an idea of how similar the Lionesses’ line-up has been of late, the same six players have started all of England’s World Cup qualifying matches under the Dutchwoman this autumn. Mary Earps, Millie Bright, Alex Greenwood, Ella Toone, Ellen White and Lauren Hemp have been the regular starters and they were again out in force in Doncaster.
Against minnows Latvia, a group of part-timers who had lost 15 games on the bounce before their return meeting and who England thumped 10-0 last month, this seemed like an obvious opportunity for Wiegman to rotate some personnel.
Except the dice wasn’t rolled any differently and the same core of players stepped onto the pitch. Lotte Wubben-Moy, who was rewarded with her first England start, was the only major change. Even Sunday’s FA Cup final between Arsenal and Chelsea could not force Wiegman’s hand to drastically experiment with her starting eleven unless you count Nikita Parris’ premature exit from England's camp earlier this week.
You have to wonder what would Wiegman’s Plan B would be if one of her key starting players were to suffer a similar fate before next year's home Euros. England are not lacking in squad depth – the problem is that there is a reluctance to tap into it. Alessia Russo was among England’s four hat-trick heroes against Latvia and the sharpness that the energetic Manchester United forward displayed in front of goal looked more than enough to warrant a starting place.
Her teammate, Katie Zelem, was also made to wait for her debut until the 70th minute, but Niamh Charles, the young Chelsea defender, was not so lucky. Both players have featured for a combined 37 minutes across six matches under Wiegman. Lucy Staniforth has been on the pitch for just 10, while Ebony Salmon, despite her high-profile move to Louisville in America’s National Women’s Soccer League, is yet to have a look in.
Spare a thought too for Hannah Hampton – Aston Villa’s 21-year-old keeper who was awkwardly left waiting for her debut on a record-breaking night for England when Mary Earps, Wiegman’s perennial choice between the posts in Ellie Roebuck's absence, barely touched the ball. By contrast, and to further demonstrate the colossal gulf between the two nations, Laura Sinutkina, Latvia’s 18-year-old keeper, was earning only her second cap.
The lack of rotation has been surprising – if not a little unsettling – in the context of these walkover wins. The unpredictable nature of sport means you never know when injury might strike, a fate which England are all too familiar with before major tournaments. Take the example of Jordan Nobbs, who ruptured her anterior cruciate ligament before the 2019 World Cup in France. The Arsenal forward did make a welcome appearance after the break with Jess Carter, with both getting on the scoresheet.
Some might argue Wiegman is still familiarising herself with her relatively new group of players. After all, the limited time international managers are known to spend with their players is well documented – and was a popular grievance aired by former manager Phil Neville.
In Wiegman’s defence, the absences of Steph Houghton, England’s captain who has been forced out with a lengthy Achilles injury and Lucy Bronze have hardly been felt during this autumn campaign – but that's only because England’s mettle hasn’t been tested.
There is no doubt that the England manager is sticking to what she knows best. Defensive organisation and consistency of selection were hallmarks of her management when she was in charge of her former side Holland, a team that transformed under her leadership to win the 2017 European Championship.
In time, we will discover whether hunting out a record-breaking, relentless hammering was just as necessary as exposing fringe members of England's squad to valuable match time.