The Right Side
Looking at aspects of England’s performance, the first thing worth mentioning is the right side of the team. Much of England’s build-up and attacking play came from the right, with right-back Lucy Bronze being one of the best individual performers in both the team and tournament.
Watching the games saw Bronze look hugely important to England and the numbers back it up. Bronze had England’s highest pass progression completed per 90 and 4th highest xA p90 – behind more attacking players like Beth Mead, Fran Kirby and Nikita Parris.
Bronze’s athleticism gets a lot of credit and it’s not surprising to see why. Her ability to get up and down the flank and her powerful running is hugely impressive, with her powering down the flank one of my favourite things to watch in the World Cup.
There was another fairly similar clip against Norway, where she turned defence into attack almost on her own, leading to a shot from Beth Mead (which I accidentally cut out).
She’s not just all athleticism though, as her strong progression and xA numbers indicate. She talked about how she became better technically thanks to the standard and training at Lyon and it seems to have paid dividends.
Her ability to go both outside and inside of Nikita Parris on the right helps bring variety to attacking play. She can do the typical full-back overlap, taking the ball to the byline and picking out someone in the box.
But she can also come inside and link play there too. The best example would be her assist against Cameroon. While there isn’t much pressure from Cameroon, she runs inward with the ball and rather than making the easy pass out wide to (an offside) Nikita Parris, she plays a clever little outside of the boot pass to put Ellen White in on goal.
These kind of moments aren’t just spurts though, Bronze was hugely influential. There was only the match against Argentina where Bronze didn’t have the most touches for England – although she did have the same amount as Alex Greenwood vs Scotland and Demi Stokes vs Norway.
The game against Cameroon was the one where England seemed to place the most focus upon the right flank, while the game against Norway seemed to be the one where they reaped the most rewards from it.
The pass map below shows just how much England looked to build down the right flank, with Jill Scott and Nikita Parris having an almost identical average position and Fran Kirby being closer to the right.
The right side wasn’t just strong in build-up though, it also had some stronger numbers than the left defensively. Looking at the pass completion for passes that move the possession closer to goal and intersect the flanks, England’s right side performed better than their left and was the 4th strongest in the tournament.
Of course, this doesn’t look at what’s created from the progressions, but England did have the biggest disparity for pass completion between the right and left for sides with a stronger right side, as can be seen below. Under the line means the right is stronger, above the line means the left is stronger.
While Bronze was great and looks to be a contender for the Golden Ball, she wasn’t the only reason the right side was strong.
In front of her Nikita Parris received the 2nd most pass progression per 90 for England, had the 3rd best xA per 90 and most attempted dribbles per 90. While her xA per 90 is England’s 3rd best, it does feel like she should’ve made a bigger xG contribution given how strong her and Bronze looked on that right side.
I’ll come back to this later on, but she only had 1.4 shots per 90, while her best chance in terms of xG came against Norway and she probably should have cut it back to Fran Kirby.
The final piece of the right side was midfielder Jill Scott. Scott did a great at operating in the right half space, capable of receiving the ball with her back to goal and still look to progress play.
@EveryTeam_Mark found a weird quirk in Scott’s game in this piece on StatsBomb, where she’s much more progressive (higher percentage of passes aimed towards goal) when she’s under pressure. This seems like an ideal thing for her role. She can receive the ball in the half space, hopefully committing a defender, before resisting the pressure and looking to find the free player.
The clip is split because of the GIF site. So the first clip shows her keeping the ball under pressure against the USA.
Before getting the ball from Walsh a second time and this time drawing Crystal Dunn in and finding Parris in space out wide – although the pass is slightly overhit and gives Becky Sauerbrunn time to get across.
Her positioning and ability for these round the corner type passes is great. The disallowed goal against the USA comes from a similar situation. She positions herself in the half space, scans to see Ellen White’s positioning and receives the ball before playing a first touch pass to send her through on goal.
As I’ve mentioned before, I used this World Cup as a gateway into women’s football, so I’m not too sure on the talent pool that England have, but it feels like it’s going to be difficult to replace Scott’s ability in these kinds of situations and given she’s now 32-years-old, it’s something England will need to be thinking about.
England’s right side was one of their highlights of the tournament. It was effective and often great to watch, which makes it even more frustrating that Phil Neville changed it for the biggest game of the tournament.
I’m not sure whether Rachel Daly was seen as a better option to deal with the US attack on the left or Neville thought utilizing Parris centrally could be beneficial, but it seems odd to change the best part of your play for the biggest game. Game state and America being conservative plays a part, but England did look like they had more of a chance of equalizing when the trio of Bronze, Scott and Parris were reunited on the right again.