German challenge awaits Neville’s Lionesses

The second International camp of the season is almost upon us! Yesterday, England manager, Phil Neville announced his squad of 28 players as the Lionesses look towards their first international friendly since March.

The squad will meet up on Sunday evening at St. George’s Park where they will train for the week. As with last month, they will play an in-house training game on Friday 23rd October before flying to Wiesbaden to face Germany the following Tuesday.

It has been a strange time for everyone involved in the Lionesses. Not only has the pandemic limited their options for finding competitive friendlies but the situation hangs in limbo as they await the arrival of Sarina Wiegman next September.

For his part, Phil Neville is getting on with the job at hand, handing a series of youngsters their chance to embed themselves in the group ahead of an exciting 3 years. Ella Toone, Esme Morgan, Millie Turner and Niamh Charles all return after impressing last camp alongside Hannah Hampton, Sandy MacIver and Alessia Russo who came in earlier this year. There is also a return for the in-form Izzy Christiansen and Nikita Parris while Lucy Bronze is back from injury. On the absent list are Jordan Nobbs and Lauren Hemp who have both suffered hamstring injuries while Toni Duggan, Jodie Taylor and Mary Earps have been omitted.

The Germans pose the toughest kind of opposition. The friendly at Wembley last year already showed that they are a step ahead in their preparations for the next cycle. They have a slight advantage in that they have already had two competitive games under their belt in the last international camp. But despite being a friendly, this fixture is always a different level and it is hard to predict what will happen on the day.

We caught up with Phil Neville as his latest press conference to find out his thoughts on his squad and the upcoming friendly:

On Germany

“They’ve got a great team. They’re a team that’s been together for a period of time where they just look consistent; they know what everyone’s doing and they’re in a really good rhythm. And we’re a team that probably doesn’t have that rhythm at this moment in time. So, there’s a little bit of unknown in what to expect in terms of performance and rhythm etc. But I want us to go there and win and I’m setting out the team to go there and win. I want to develop a culture and to keep testing ourselves against the best opposition in the world, and that’s what we always wanted to do. We want to go out there and perform and it’s a great challenge for this set of players to test themselves in Germany, against one of the best teams in the world.”

On the current state of the squad

“It’s the start of a new journey. The pandemic period makes it feel like a fresh start and we have a new manager coming in in 12 months. There is an evolution. The next three years will be really exciting – the Olympics, then going into the Euros and the next World Cup. There are new players in the squad. Since September, we spoke about a fresh start and building something that is even more exciting than what we have had in the last five or ten years. I think in sport and life, you’ve got to keep evolving. We can’t just think about what we have achieved in the past; I want new things and I want to look forward to the next three years. I think they will be the most exciting. The World Cup in 2019 was exciting but the next three years will be better. That’s why I keep talking about this new journey. The world has changed, women’s football has changed, and I want us to embrace it and take that leap forward.”

On the competition for places

“We are in a situation where the competition for places is as fierce as it has ever been. When I first came into the job there was this realisation that we had a group of players who always played for England and we did try and change that. It was probably the same 20 to 25 players we were always picking for camps. Now that is up to 35, maybe 40, players who are on our list and they have now been exposed to a really high level. Players are going to miss out, we are not going to see the same starting XI and we are not going to see the same England squad. That is difficult for some players, but I hope that spurs us on to produce better performances.”

On the form of Fran Kirby

“She knows what I think of her. I’ve obviously been speaking to Emma [Hayes] a lot over the last 12 months about Fran. What she’s gone through goes beyond football and she’s handled it incredibly. The one thing that’s probably annoyed me probably in the last two or three weeks is that, you watch the coverage and you go to games, and the focus has been on the USA players and obviously [Pernille] Harder who’s gone to Chelsea. I think what we must not forget that Fran Kirby is one of the best players in the world. We shouldn’t forget our own, and I think we have. We sometimes as a country probably look afar and think, ‘Well, they’re better than us’. But I think what I’ve seen this season is: yes the Americans coming to the league is brilliant, and I think they’re fantastic players, but not one of those players that’s come to the league has played as well as our Fran Kirby – and we must remember that.”

On the goalkeeping conundrum

“I think I’ve got a nice problem. I think Sandy [MacIver]’s performances this season, playing consistently for Everton, have been outstanding; Hannah [Hampton] the same; Ellie Roebuck the same. Carly [Telford] has not had much football, but I think she’s always someone that I’ve relied heavily on for experience. She’s the senior keeper in that group who will set the standard on and off the pitch for these keepers…So ultimately, since I came in what I’ve done is I’ve gone horses for courses where certain games suit the profile of certain goalkeepers and I think that’s worked really well. But I think at the moment, there is a position there where somebody’s got to grab that number one jersey to play in a game, like against Norway or like against Germany.”

On the return of Izzy Christiansen

“Izzy did impress me. Since the injury at the SheBelieves Cup two years ago, she’s not had a lot of football. We said to Izzy that she needs consistency in her fitness and games and then the performances will come. She did brilliantly at the last camp and then, coming off the back of that, I watched her against Chelsea, and I thought she was fantastic; I watched her against Birmingham, and she played really well. She keeps getting better and better. The selection is just reward for her performances.”

On the young players continuing to play week in, week out in the FAWSL despite influx of players

I love it. When you bring the best players in, I read and saw the worries of people that our young players won’t get opportunities and we’ve had that discussion. But I’ve said that our young players have to be better to get in those teams and what I’m seeing is Ella Toone, Alessia Russo and Niamh Charles have raised their performance level. When you train with the best and work with the best, you ultimately have two options – you either roll your sleeves up, challenge them and raise your bar or you crumble under the expectation and pressure of trying to do that. I think these young players have rolled their sleeves up and said, “I’m going to be better than you”. That’s why I’ve loved going to games this year. There’s a freshness about what I’m seeing. I think Ella Toone is a prime example. At the start of the season, United are signing all these players and you’re thinking will Ella get through? But through determination, form, performance level, hunger and desire, she’s someone I think who’s been named in every United starting XI bar the weekend.”

The Squad

Goalkeepers: Carly Telford (Chelsea); Ellie Roebuck (Manchester City); Sandy MacIver (Everton); Hannah Hampton (Birmingham City)

Defenders: Steph Houghton (Manchester City); Abbie McManus (Manchester United); Millie Bright (Chelsea); Grace Fisk (West Ham); Millie Turner (Manchester United); Lucy Bronze (Manchester City); Alex Greenwood (Manchester City); Demi Stokes (Manchester City); Esme Morgan (Manchester City); Niamh Charles (Chelsea); Leah Williamson (Arsenal)

Midfielders: Jill Scott (Manchester City); Ella Toone (Manchester United); Keira Walsh (Manchester City); Izzy Christiansen (Everton); Georgia Stanway (Manchester City); Fran Kirby (Chelsea)

Forwards: Beth Mead (Arsenal); Rachel Daly (West Ham); Chloe Kelly (Manchester City); Alessia Russo (Manchester United); Nikita Parris (Lyon); Beth England (Chelsea); Ellen White (Manchester City)

England play Germany in Wiesbaden on Tuesday 27th October. Kick off 15:00 BST.

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