World Cup semi-final to miserable form – what’s going wrong for Neville and England?


Highlights: England 1-2 Germany

It has become a theme of late. The Lionesses have won just one of their past seven matches, including the World Cup semi-final defeat by champions the United States.

“The results are not good enough,” was boss Phil Neville’s assessment after his side were beaten 2-1 by Germany at Wembley on Saturday, courtesy of an injury-time goal.

So how have England gone from World Cup semi-finalists to consistently struggling in fewer than five months? And is Neville’s position under threat as they head to the Czech Republic on Tuesday seeking a much-needed victory?

Will Neville remain as manager?

Neville’s contract with England lasts until the end of 2021, which comes after next summer’s Olympics and a home European Championship.

Despite leading his side to a World Cup semi-final in July, they ultimately finished in fourth place. They picked up a bronze medal four years earlier in Canada.

And while Neville admits “there’s no hiding away”, he insists “there is a long-term plan”.

“One win in seven is totally unacceptable. I’ve got to take responsibility for those results,” he added.

Former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis told BBC Two Neville has “got to start delivering at some point”.

“Yes, there’s a long-term plan, but we need results,” she said. “Germany executed their plan far better than England did.

“In around 18 months’ time, England want to be out on this pitch in a Euro final – they have a lot to do to topple perennial champions Germany.”

But is Neville the right man for the job? Chelsea manager Emma Hayes told BBC Radio 5 Live “it’s clear” he is.

“Everybody has to ride it out with Neville,” she said.

Same defensive mistakes again and again

One of Neville’s main concerns will be that nine of England’s past 13 goals have been conceded from crosses or corners.

Germany’s approach at Wembley suggested they sensed a weakness in England’s back four and when striker Alexandra Popp headed in their first within nine minutes, it temporarily silenced the otherwise boisterous crowd.

Frustrations grew for the England players – Lucy Bronze slapping her thighs after a failed one-two with Nikita Parris down the right.

Jordan Nobbs (left) and Steph Houghton were among the England players who were frustrated at times at Wembley

And while Ellen White’s equaliser kept England in the game, Hayes said they “look so vulnerable defensively”.

“I think there is a problem for England at full-back areas,” she added. “Lucy Bronze is the best attacking full-back but I think defensively she is vulnerable.

“Alex Greenwood couldn’t shut a cross down in the first half and if I’m really honest, Bronze was nowhere to be seen for the late goal.”

It almost seemed inevitable Germany were going to score the winner after Steph Houghton threw herself in the way of the ball twice to make crucial blocks before eventually being wrong-footed in the box.

England have now conceded 13 goals in their past seven games and Neville has put his trust in a centre-back pairing of Houghton and Leah Williamson for the past three friendly matches.

“That centre-back partnership has to play together now, because it’s changed so much. The centre-backs and defensive midfielder shouldn’t change because they need to build relationships,” said ex-England centre-back Casey Stoney, the current Manchester United Women boss.

“If Neville can give Leah Williamson lots of experience now, she will be a lot more experienced going into the Euros.”

England getting left behind?

With Great Britain and England’s qualification already secured for the Olympics and Euro 2021 respectively, Neville’s side will spend most of the next two years playing non-competitive fixtures.

England have lacked rhythm and intensity in recent friendly matches against Brazil and Portugal and Neville said they “froze” during the first 20 minutes at Wembley.

And Neville admitted earlier this week the team had struggled to “reach the highs” of competing in France.

“It’s not about effort, the reality is there’s just a sameness to their performances,” Hayes added.

Midfielder Jill Scott said the occasion of the Wembley game “perhaps got the better of us initially”, while Nikita Parris’ saved spot-kick was her third penalty miss in 11 games.

In contrast, Germany were playing flowing football from the off, killing the pre-match excitement in the stands.

Alexandra Popp (number 11) celebrates her early opener at Wembley

“I haven’t seen an evolution from England’s team,” said Hayes. “I think the nature of the play is changing and this German team is more Spanish-Japanese-like in their approach play.

“I’m sure Phil will be concerned with the form, I would be in his position. But this is the team he thinks will build towards an Olympics and a European Championship.”

Everything was in place for England at Wembley on Saturday as a passionate record crowd of 77,768 cheered every tackle, every corner and every block. But one thing was missing – a home victory.


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