In 2022, England celebrated their victory in the Euro tournament with a focus on their potent attack. However, the narrative surrounding the 2023 Women’s World Cup has drastically shifted. While goal-scoring heroics still make the highlight reels, the backbone of England’s success lies in their new-look defensive setup. With a shift to playing three at the back, England’s backline has provided a solid foundation for their victories, showcasing a defensive prowess that has been instrumental in their journey to the semifinals.
The England team that advanced to the semifinals of this major tournament is vastly different from the one that clinched the Euro title last year. Several key players, including Beth Mead, Leah Williamson, and Fran Kirby, were sidelined due to injuries, while Ellen White and Jill Scott retired. Despite these changes, England managed to secure impressive wins, and their defensive trio played a crucial role in their success.
The trio consisting of Jess Carter, Millie Bright, and Alex Greenwood has proven to be the backbone of England’s defensive solidity. Although they had varying experiences during the Euro tournament, they have now taken center stage in this World Cup. England has only conceded two goals, one of which was a penalty and the other a lobbed shot. These commendable numbers position England as the fifth-best team in shots on target faced per game and fourth in terms of expected goals against.
Alex Greenwood has been a standout performer for England, displaying versatility and exceptional skills. Throughout the tournament, she has played as a left-back, center-back, and left wing-back, adapting to different positions without compromising her impact. Her contributions have been undeniable, leading the competition in touches (596), interceptions (13), completed passes (436), and progressive passes within the England team (40). Her technical ability, vision, and calmness under pressure make her a vital asset to the team.
Millie Bright’s journey to the Women’s World Cup was marked by uncertainty due to a knee injury she sustained while playing for Chelsea in March. However, she overcame the obstacles and showcased her strength and agility throughout the tournament. Leading in ball carries (118) and distance covered while carrying the ball (1190.34 metres), Bright has also made her presence felt in the air. Her aerial dominance has neutralized opponents’ attempts to exploit the gap between the back three and the wing-backs, showcasing her importance to the team.
Jess Carter, Bright’s Chelsea teammate, has seamlessly integrated into the England squad and formed a formidable partnership with Lucy Bronze on the right. Carter’s pace and ability to win duels have added stability to England’s defense, while her versatility nurtured at Chelsea has allowed her to adapt to different positions. Her contributions have been crucial in nullifying the threat of star midfielders, enabling England to maintain a solid defensive structure.
England’s defense faces its toughest test yet in the upcoming semifinal against Australia, a team boasting formidable attacking players such as Caitlin Foord, Hayley Raso, Mary Fowler, and Sam Kerr. The flexibility of the back three will be crucial in countering these threats, with wing-backs Rachel Daly and Lucy Bronze providing additional support. As England adjusts their formation between a three- and five-man build depending on the situation, the ability to adapt will play a significant role in determining their success.
What sets England’s defense apart is the seamless integration of each player’s strengths, which creates a cocktail of defensive stability. Their understanding of the game, passing range, and defensive capabilities have provided a solid foundation for their attacking exploits. The back three has exceeded expectations, demonstrating that they are not only capable of shutting down opponents but also contributing to goal-scoring opportunities through their ability to build up from the back.
From Euro 2022 to the Women’s World Cup, England’s defense has evolved into a formidable force. The reliance on a back three has transformed their approach, and players like Alex Greenwood, Millie Bright, and Jess Carter have stepped up to anchor England’s defensive stability. As they face Australia in the semifinals, England’s defense will be put to the ultimate test, but their adaptability, resilience, and cohesion have given them a solid chance of success. The Women’s World Cup has shown the footballing world that it is not just goalscoring prowess that wins championships but also a rock-solid defense.