Chris & Jon’s Pre-Tournament Rank – 4th
xG Report (England listed first)
vs Scotland (2-1, W) – 1.55 (+1 pen)-0.49
vs Argentina (1-0, W) – 2.45 (+1 pen)-0.02
vs Japan (2-0, W) – 1.42-1.23
vs Cameroon (3-0, W) – 1.62-0.43
vs Norway (3-0, W) – 2.25 (+1 pen)-1.03
vs USA (1-2, L) – 1.21 (+1 pen)-0.92
vs Sweden (1-2, L) – 0.63-0.64
Players to Watch
Lucy Bronze – D (RB)
If people didn’t recognize the talent of Bronze coming into this tournament, they certainly do now, as the Lyon full-back goes home with the Silver Ball and the admiration of many after a fantastic tournament. Bronze was carving opponents up in an attacking right-back role for the first five matches and was putting on one of the great all-time tournament performances. Unfortunately for England, Bronze couldn’t quite match that form in the final two matches, cooling off significantly, though she also wasn’t a primary reason that her nation lost either match and was still more than worthy as a major award winner.
Jill Scott – MF (DMC)
It feels like Scott entered this tournament with almost no heat behind her after injuries had hit in the run-up to the tournament, though she was also very effective when playing. The good news for England was that Scott stayed healthy and was pretty good throughout, though she did struggle a bit in the group finale against Japan. Like Bronze though, Scott was kept at bay a bit in the semi-final and third-place game defeats, though one wonders if England might not have fared even worse in those matches without Scott.
Beth Mead – F (LF, RF)
Mead was tipped by some, including us, to be a potential breakout player at this WWC after the winger came into the tournament as one of England’s most dynamic players. But in reality, results were more mixed for the young winger. Mead only played five of the seven games and never got a whole match, which didn’t exactly help matters, though she did net assists in three matches that she did play in. But Mead never put in a truly dominant performance and had a shocker against Sweden in the third-place game, her passing and defense combined with twelve turnovers making her one of the most disappointing players for the nation on the day.
Did Achilles’ Heel Sink Them?
Well, we were dead wrong about this one. I thought that England’s fatal flaws were at center-forward. But Ellen White had the month of her sporting life for England and was the best forward in the competition for many. England didn’t really get much else in terms of consistent play in front of goal from any of their other frontline options, but White was so acute in front of net that it hardly mattered all the way up to the last four.
Answering The Questions
1. In addition to the questions at center-forward, some wondered if England could hold up in goal as well. While both of the top options for England had looked good on paper statistically, Phil Neville had been indecisive in choosing just one to be the undisputed #1 option, and, ironically, his top two keepers would each play at least three games in France. Karen Bardsley made the most of her opportunity in four matches, giving up just one non-penalty goal on 3.14 xG against. But she was cruelly knocked out before the semi-final through injury, with Carly Telford much less assured in goal, conceding four goals on 1.58 xG.
2. England’s attacking players have spent much of the cycle trying to overcome bouts of inconsistency that had them looking like world beaters one minute and big disappointments the next. It was largely more of the same throughout this tournament. Nikita Parris came into the tournament with real star potential and was an absolute inferno in the opening win against Scotland and helped rip Norway up with Bronze. But she also put in a handful of average performances, though Neville hardly helped by moving her inside against the USA. Toni Duggan came in carrying an injury that kept her out of the first few matches and limited her influence, with the best showing come against Cameroon, though she also did not play after the quarterfinal. Fran Kirby put on a show against Sweden in vain in the third-place game, but that was an outlier on the whole, as she did little else of great significance in other matches, save an assist against Scotland.
3. Neville himself was a big source of uncertainty coming into France, as his hire was met with skepticism, but he had seemingly done enough to win some confidence given some of the results his team had achieved. But Neville couldn’t seem to keep himself out of the headlines at the WWC, making numerous comments to the press that opened him up for wide-ranging criticism. In some cases, his tactical and selection decisions were even more ruinous, with the decision to move Nikita Parris from the wing to a central role against the USA standing out.
Bronze, the Silver Ball winner, is an obvious pick that was discussed above. So was White, who was a couple of VAR reviews away from winning the Golden Boot for the tournament. Scott was also already touched upon, a player who massively improved her reputation after putting in mostly strong performances this tournament. An extra nod also should be pointed Demi Stokes’ way, as Neville started the former USF Bull as a more defensively capable left-back. Stokes was excellent in her three matches in France and may have won the job outright given her displays.
Neville shuffled the deck so often, it’s hard to really pick out true disappointments. Rachel Daly was left for a late sub most of the time but didn’t do much of note in two starts against Japan and the USA on the wing. Jodie Taylor scored against Argentina but missed a couple of chances against Cameroon and was abysmal in a half against Sweden in the third-place game. And while Keira Walsh and Millie Bright weren’t awful in defensive midfield and central defense respectively, neither looked to be of the quality that’s expected of a contender for global honors.
“There’s a lot to like about this England side but also some serious red flags.”
This was essentially true, but they weren’t exactly the red flags we had picked out. England’s lack of finishing and sometimes shaky goalkeeping leading up to the tournament wasn’t as big of a factor once the event itself actually started. Instead, the lack of ability to put together a complete game and worries about Neville were the red flags that burned brightest in France.
It’s a bit tricky. Technically, England won’t be at the Olympics next year…”Team GB” will be, with Neville managing the squad in Tokyo. It’s almost assuredly going to be composed almost entirely from this England squad. Scotland’s Kim Little looks to be the only non-English player that’s more than a bubble player for that team, so there should at least be some continuity. There won’t be a UEFA EURO qualifying campaign either with England hosting in 2021, meaning it’ll take some creativity to keep the team playing quality opposition.
In terms of personnel changes, some probably would like to so the back of Neville despite reaching the semi-final, though with a contract through UEFA EURO 2021, it’s not likely. They’ll likely need a new #1 GK, as Bardsley will be 35 at the Olympics, 36 at the EUROs, and 38 at the next WWC, with Carly Telford also getting up in years. Third-stringer Mary Earps looks likely to ascend, while youth international Sandy MacIver has impressed as well. Other important players that could reach the end of the line soon include Scott, Steph Houghton, and White, who are all 30+. But the good news is that there is youth coming through for England, and youngsters like Leah Williamson and Georgia Stanway, who played limited minutes or not at all this time out, could grow into big roles by the time 2023 rolls around.
Chris & Jon’s Pre-Tournament Rank – 10th
xG Report (Sweden listed first)
vs Chile (2-0, W) – 3.00-0.17
vs Thailand (3-1, W) – 4.25 (+1 pen)-0.34
vs USA (0-2, L) – 0.74-2.50
vs Canada (1-0, W) – 0.95-0.78 (+1 pen)
vs Germany (2-1, W) – 1.62-1.32
vs Holland (0-1, L) – 1.28-1.76
vs England (2-1, W) – 0.64-0.63
Overall xG Average – 1.77-1.07
Players to Watch
Caroline Seger – MF (DMC)
Seger had looked ageless for Sweden in the months leading into the tournament, a passing metronome at the heart of the midfield with ludicrous completion rates. And Seger looked like a passing dynamo early on in the tournament but saw her play erode notably as the month went on. After a long, long string of completing 85% or more of her passes coming into the tournament, Seger saw her numbers dip to 75% and 72% in the final two games Sweden played. The erosion of Seger’s defense also has to be a worry, as though she put in a great shift against Holland, Seger looked past her best defensively in the other knockout stage games. She’ll likely make it to the Olympics, but I’m not sure the legend will last until the 2021 UEFA EUROs.
Nilla Fischer – D (CB)
There likely aren’t any Seger-like worries for Sweden over Fischer, at least in the very short-term. Fischer didn’t play against the USA and was subbed off against Germany, but she still stood out as one of, if not, the very best center-backs at this edition of the WWC. While the goal line save against England will stand out most for many, Fischer’s challenge winning numbers overall in the last two games were amazing, winning 8-of-9 against Holland and then 8-of-8 defensive challenges against England in the third-place match. The Olympics look like a given for the veteran, and it’d hardly be a shock to see her at the EUROs one year later.
Hanna Glas – D (RB, CB), MF (RM)
Glas came into this tournament as the rare Swedish standout who wasn’t likely entering their last WWC. The PSG full-back looks like she’ll be a key piece for 2023 though after a very good showing in France as the right-back for a stout Swedish rearguard. Glas was the rare Swede to play in all seven matches at this WWC, and outside of a rather patchy showing against the USA off the bench, she was outstanding for her nation, with the highlight being a display against England in the third-place game, completing 86% of her passes and winning ten defensive challenges in the win.
Did Achilles’ Heel Sink Them?
Sweden looked likely to be victimized by their inconsistent offense coming into this WWC, but that wasn’t the case. Sort of. It was hard to really glean anything out of the first few games, since they came against such weak opposition, while a weakened team was sent out against the USA. But Sweden got some fine attacking performances out of temperamental players in the first few knockout stage games, with Sofia Jakobsson and Stina Blackstenius finally enjoying solid performances. But they fell back to Earth against the Dutch, with Holland’s defense able to stifle said attack just enough to edge a win.
Answering The Questions
1. Sweden looked like one of the few sides that could have realistically played with three at the back coming into the tournament. They had the personnel to offer up multiple fits on the backline, which helped, as well as actually having done it in the cycle leading up to the WWC. But it wasn’t really in the cards, as Sweden primarily went 4-2-3-1, with a dash of 4-4-2 thrown in.
2. With so many of Sweden’s best players getting up in years, there was the thought that this would be the last global tournament for them if they didn’t manage to qualify for the Olympic Games, which looked like a distinct longshot to most at tournament’s beginning. But the third-place finish ensures Sweden will be in Tokyo next year, likely extending those careers at least a year further. Lindahl’s already said she’ll be there, while given their performances, it’s likely Fischer and Seger will be with the team for one last hurrah as well.
3. By contrast, Sweden’s younger stars, or younger players even, were more of an unknown commodity. Glas certainly stood out, but a few others also got a chance to shine. Madelen Janogy was crucial early on in the group stage but seemed to fade as the tournament went along. Nathalie Bjorn got a chance or two later in the tournament but was merely average at best. Lina Hurtig seemingly won a lot of favor throughout the tournament, but she also showed her best in the group stage and struggled with greater competition as the knockout stage progressed.
Fischer was the main standout for Sweden, playing at a level that should land her on the All-Tournament Team when released. Glas will probably be overlooked for said team given Lucy Bronze’s performance, but the right-back was still every bit the outstanding performer we had tipped her as before the tournament. On the other side of the ball, Sofia Jakobsson and Kosovare Asllani both had some spectacular moments but were still probably a little less consistent than the aforementioned defensive stars.
Blackstenius was extremely frustrating, scoring against Germany and Canada but also missing a hatful of chances against Chile and not really looking a threat herself on goal in the last two matches for Sweden. Janogy did well to score against Chile to give Sweden a late let-off against the minnows but then couldn’t replicate that type of show against Thailand or Holland. Other than that duo, it’s tough to single out many who played more than a few games for Sweden. Nathalie Bjorn is probably the lesser of the remaining options, though she was just middling as opposed to outright bad.
“They have an experienced, talented spine in defense and midfield that will make scoring against them a chore. But the shadow of the retired Lotta Schelin still looms large over the attack, which has suffered too many untimely breakdowns to entirely trust heading into France.”
The spine was strong enough to keep them sturdy all the way to victory in the third-place game, outperforming likely even the rosiest expectation for them coming into this tournament. The attack was not exactly explosive or consistent, but it was still good enough to come through in big moments in the knockout stage to secure a bronze medal.
The Olympics are over the horizon, which isn’t something most could have expected coming into this tournament. While Lindahl is seemingly the only of the old guard to have confirmed she expects to be around in Tokyo, it’d be surprising if any of the other elder warhorses depart before a chance at going one better than their silver medal in 2016. After that, they’ll be finishing up qualifying for UEFA EURO 2021, which looks to be something that’s more than achievable, with Iceland really the only threat in their group.
But there’s also the realization that this generation may have peaked with the bronze in France. The Lindahl-Fischer-Seger trio might not make it to the EUROs, while Linda Sembrant could be aged out as well. What’s perhaps more worrying from a long-term perspective is the likelihood that Asllani and Jakobsson, who both showed signs of real quality this Summer, could have already seen their best days, with both being thirty-three years old for 2023. Glas is the only player who seems like a lock for 2023 that could be called a “star”, meaning players like Fridolina Rolfo and Lina Hurtig need to take a big step up the next cycle, not to mention the likes of Blackstenius finally reaching their potential by the time the next WWC rolls around. There’s probably enough talent to qualify with some certainty for 2023, especially if the field expands, but this is a nation in desperate need of new stars to get this far again.