England can beat the USA. As much as I hate to say it, my advice to Phil Neville would be to go direct. Most teams want to be entertaining, pass the ball, and play an attractive style. The problem for England is that the US know how to defend against teams that play like that. The way to win is to catch the US with their lack of speed in defense and the way to do that is to play fast and direct.
England can’t let the US get ahead early. As the Americans showed against France, once they go one up, they can lock up the game. The great irony is that at the Rio Olympics in 2016, Sweden packed the box against us and won a penalty shoot out. Against France, the US took a similar approach but executed it slightly differently by scoring early and then dropping the whole midfield back to defend.
At times against France the US had five players in the backline and eight behind the ball. It was a very conservative approach. They didn’t attack in numbers and the midfield didn’t get high up the field to support the attacking players. When you have Megan Rapinoe, Tobin Heath, and Alex Morgan in a talented forward line you can try to get an early goal and then focus on defending.
During the game against France, you may have seen coach Jill Ellis and assistant Tony Gustavsson on the sideline screaming at players to get back and defend. I can tell you from experience that only adds to the stress for the players. Some players were telling the coaches to calm down. The players on the field have a lot of experience and know how to close out a match.
The US have played five at the back in big games for some time now but taking a conservative approach almost backfired against France. Not many people in the US seem to be discussing it but in Europe a lot of people want to talk about Kelley O’Hara’s handball late in the game. Should it have been a penalty to France? Why didn’t VAR take a look at it? I watched the replay three different times and it was definitely not a handball.
Earlier in the tournament it was being called but, if you read the law, it’s only handball if a player’s body is stretched out or in an unnatural position. The ball definitely did strike Kelley’s arm and I understand why a lot of people are upset by it but her arm was next to her body in a natural position. The bigger issue is that law has not been applied consistently.
Megan Rapinoe played well against France but England will also need to pay attention to Tobin Heath. Lucy Bronze is a great one-on-one defender and her likely duel against Rapinoe will be something to see. England might need to clone Lucy and also have her look after Tobin on the right wing. The English defense is not very quick and that could provide an opportunity for Alex Morgan to take control of the game. If Alex does what she does best – run behind defenses with diagonal runs at speed – then England will have a lot of problems to deal with.
Maybe Jill Ellis will surprise us with her lineup against England but it looks like she’s decided on her starting line-up. Maybe Lindsey Horan comes in for Rose Lavelle but I think any change will only come as a result of how the players recover after the France game. Jill seems sure that she likes Julie Ertz as her defensive midfielder and builds the midfield around her.
England’s Ellen White is one of my favorite players of the tournament. She’s strong, stays on her feet, can hold the ball, and turn on a dime. She’s a smart player who can elevate those around her. I would love to have her as a teammate. Nikita Parris against Crystal Dunn will be another key match up. Dunn was fabulous against France.
France’s Kadidiatou Diani is a fantastic attacking players with speed and strength and the ability to turn but Dunn but locked her down. Even though Rapinoe scored twice against France, Dunn was my player of the game and Parris will have to be at her best for England.
Phil Neville will need to look at the USA-France game and think of a different way to break down the USA. France are a great attacking team but they couldn’t find a way to get past a big block of defenders. Being direct is one idea but Phil Neville will know by now that the US backline doesn’t like to be pressed. We saw Spain do that and it forced mistakes.
I’m not sure England can tighten up their own defense in a few days. Norway got behind England’s backline quite often but didn’t finish the chances they created. The US don’t miss many chances. That said, Phil Neville is a good tactician and can outperform the US coaching staff. It will be interesting to see what he has in store. I think he’s a good tactician and knows how to fill his players with confidence. England will be very well prepared and they will need to be. Player for player, the US have better athletes and more endurance. England, though, are playing with confidence, they believe in themselves, and Phil Neville is a great leader. I’m confident the US will win but can England find a way to prove me wrong? On the day, I won’t be surprised if they do.