Wiegman defends England decision to play in Spain despite huge drop in crowd

<span>Sarina Wiegman (left) says <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:England;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">England</a>’s match against <a class="link " href="" data-i13n="sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link" data-ylk="slk:Italy;sec:content-canvas;subsec:anchor_text;elm:context_link;itc:0">Italy</a> will be a challenge and she expects the Azzurre to put a ‘really high press’ on the Lionesses.</span><span>Photograph: Naomi Baker/The FA/Getty</span>

Sarina Wiegman said England are having to strike the balance between the conditions where they play and train and big crowds, as they prepare for Tuesday’s meeting with Italy in Algeciras. About 950 fans bought tickets for England’s 7-2 win against Austria at the Estadio Nuevo Mirador last Friday, a far cry from the huge numbers they attract in England.

“It’s finding balance,” said Wiegman. “What we wanted to do was play good friendlies in good circumstances. We have very good pitches here, the weather is also good. We did know there probably wouldn’t be as many fans here as we had hoped.

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“We will be back in England. We have games in April, June and July and the rest of the season we’ll be playing a lot in England. I hope that connects us with the fans enough.”

Against Italy, England will face a different challenge. “They’ve had a great Nations League campaign,”Wiegman said. “They play a little differently. They have changed coaches. They have different shapes they have played in. They want to have a really high press on us, so that’s something we will be aware of. That’s a challenge for us, so we really like that.”

England will be without Fran Kirby after the midfielder returned early to Chelsea. “She’s well but she went home,” Wiegman said. ”She has some irritation on her knee. It’s a minor injury but we didn’t want to take any risks so she’s being assessed at her club,. We don’t expect it to be a bad injury.”

They will have Chloe Kelly back, though, and Wiegman said the Manchester City defender is flying in training. “Hopefully that’s what she’ll do later on this morning and be ready for tomorrow.”

Wiegman has taken the opportunity of back-to-back friendlies and having the Under-23s in camp to experiment with her starting XI and provide training opportunities. On Sunday, Naomi Layzell, Aggie Beever-Jones, Jess Naz and Laura Blindkilde Brown were called up to train with the senior side.

Asked about the youngsters gunning for their shirts, midfielder Keira Walsh said: “That’s the hope isn’t it, that they do come in and take our place. It’s really nice for them to be in and around us. Four of them trained with us yesterday and we had a really great session. We’re working closely with them so we can share the same ideas of football.”

Wiegman said: “Yesterday was another opportunity to bring some of them in and give them the experience of playing and training with the seniors. For us, it was an opportunity to see where we’re at and see what’s good. They enjoyed it too.

“We’re not planning on bringing in any other players but let’s see how things develop because we still have a training session and they play a game.”