England 2-0 Japan: Phil Neville’s Lucky Dip Lineup Provides More Questions Than Answers in Nice

?Phil Neville loves it when a plan comes together. 

“I’m going to play my best team. I want to finish top and win the game,” he told the assembled media the night before Wednesday’s Group D decider against Japan. 24 hours later, the very same press corps were handed teamsheets with an England lineup that featured eight(!) changes from the win over Argentina five days previous. 

It’s fair to say that eyebrows were raised. At least one person half-joked about looking up train tickets to Rennes, where the Lionesses would play their round of 16 match if they lost to Japan and finished second in the group. 

Four players in the lineup hadn’t started either of the first two games. The left-hand side was made up of two players who hadn’t played a single minute in the tournament. Only three starters – Lucy Bronze, captain Steph Houghton and the tireless Jill Scott – had been on the pitch for more than 50% of England’s minutes. 

The Stade de Nice was well under half full, the atmosphere was flat, and the scene was set for a thoroughly underwhelming night. Then England started by giving the ball away, and had to be bailed out by a stunning Karen Bardsley save from Kumi Yokoyama’s free kick. 

Even if you didn’t watch the match, you know roughly what happened next. England scored (Ellen White, delightfully cultured finish, 15 minutes in) and held out. 

Neville vindicated, England on track and on target, and some squad players given valuable minutes. Right?

It’s tricky to say. In the short term, yes – the Lionesses won, that’s about as successful in a single match as you can be. But they looked sloppy, a lot of passes went astray, and the midfield completely failed to stop Japan from creating chances. 

England have now made more changes than any other team in the tournament, with 12 across two games (granted, at the time of writing there are still eight teams waiting to finish their group campaign). As good as it is that Neville has depth in the squad that he trusts, the lack of consistency of selection could prove a problem when the knockout rounds start and that momentum bred by familiarity becomes key. 

That’s not to say there weren’t positives. Toni Duggan’s return from injury is a big boost and she’ll contribute a healthy amount in the coming weeks, while Rachel Daly’s performance as part of a completely changed front three will give Neville pause for thought when putting together his lineup for the round of 16 game against a team yet to be decided. 

Georgia Stanway’s performance deserves a special mention, providing something in a deepish number 10 role that Fran Kirby has thus far failed to deliver on, despite her undoubted talent. She was denied a goal when her wicked, dipping, bending shot was clawed away by Ayake Yamashita. There were flaws in her performance too, but her range of shots should have her considered for an increased role as the tournament draws on. 

The front three played well. But. Keira Walsh was loose in midfield, and even Scott looked leggy by the time the match reached the final 25 minutes. Pass after pass found a blue shirt, wave after wave of attack was repelled – very effectively – by Houghton and Millie Bright in the heart of the defence, arguably England’s two stand-out performers on the night, White aside.

Let’s leave the last word to Neville, his own counterpoint to the questions. “I said yesterday that we’ve picked our best team for this game, because the players that we picked was the strongest team to play against this team. There’s certain players who are experts in certain games. We need to look at which team we’re playing, how they play, how to beat them and then pick the players that fit the profile the best. 

We strategically plan each rotation. At times when you make more than five changes you suffer with rhythm and flow and I think we did that tonight – but we had some players who needed those minutes. We knew that at times we might suffer, but I think it was a game we needed to have to keep us focused.”


Phil Neville Blames Tiredness for Sloppy Second-Half Against Japan as England Seal Group D Top Spot

?Phil Neville pointed to tiredness as the reason for his England side’s limp showing in the latter stages of their Group D match against Japan, despite sealing their progression to the round of 16 as group winners.

Ellen White scored in either half to hand the Lionesses a 2-0 win over Japan, which ensured they won all three of their group matches on the way to the knockout stages.

Having started the game very brightly, White finished off smartly from Georgia Stanway’s neat through ball to hand Neville’s side the lead. England dominated for much of the first half but Japan grew into the game and were in control for the majority of the second period.

As much as their opponents grew into the game, however, the Lionesses became sloppy, with question marks being raised about their hopes of World Cup success. Nevertheless, Neville refused to call his players out, instead insisting that fatigue played its part in ?their 2-0 win.

“Some of our play in the first half was fantastic, but in the second half a few of the players that maybe hadn’t played as much got a little bit tired,” he said, via the ?BBC. ?”But it’s job done and we’re looking forward to the last 16. We don’t need to do much work [on our sloppy passing] we just need to take care with our simple passes and need to keep it tight.”

White once again showed why she is so highly revered in the England camp, scoring with neat finishes with her two shots on target, as Neville praised both her and the more experienced members of the squad for their showings on Wednesday night.

“My experienced players Stephanie Houghton, Lucy Bronze and Karen Bardsley did well and Ellen White is banging them in so it’s a happy house,” he added. “[White and Jodie Taylor] have scored four goals between them in three games. I love it when my centre-forwards are scoring goals.”


Napoli President Urges Roma to Lower Price Tag for Defender Kostas Manolas

?Napoli president Aurelio De Laurentiis has told Roma to lower their €36m asking price for Greek defender Kostas Manolas.

Whilst I Partenopei are keen to bring the 28-year-old to Stadio San Paolo this summer, De Laurentiis has claimed the price tag is too high for a player of his age with no resale value.

Roma have a reported debt in excess of €200m and it’s been reported that they will need to sell players this summer to make ends meet. This would explain the valuation they’ve put on one of their key assets, but Napoli are playing hardball over the transfer.

Kostas Manolas

Rome-based newspaper Il Messaggero report that De Laurentiis told Radio Kiss Kiss: “We understand the price if we are to buy him. Because he is in his prime years he becomes an empty investment which we cannot re-sell.

“I want to invest, but the price must be lowered because with his very high salary the price is clearly too high.”

Should the two clubs come to an agreement it could see Napoli’s Amadou Diawara head in the other direction in a separate deal. Due to Roma’s financial situation it’s been relayed by ?Football Italia that the transfer would be structured in a way that it only appears on next year’s accounts.


It would be in both clubs’ interests to make a deal happen, but Napoli’s outspoken demands could see Roma dig their heels in, perhaps in the hope that someone else will stump up the cash.

Napoli are aiming to make big moves in the transfer market this summer as they look to close the gap on Serie A champions Juventus. They are close to announcing a deal for ?James Rodriguez and their reasons for pursuing a player like Manolas are understandable, whether Kalidou Koulibaly remains with the club or not.


Arsenal Ready to Bid £9m for Teenage Hungary International Dominik Szoboszlai

?Arsenal are ready to table an offer of £9m to bring highly rated Hungary international Dominik Szoboszlai to the Emirates Stadium.

After impressing for RB Salzburg last season, the 18-year-old attacking midfielder has attracted the attention of some of Europe’s top clubs.

The Gunners are long time admirers of the teenager and are hopeful they can tempt the Austrian champions to sell as Unai Emery looks to build a squad capable of breaking into the top four in the coming season.

RB Salzburg v SKN St. Poelten  - Tipico Bundesliga

With a Champions League campaign high on RB Salzburg’s agenda, it’s thought they would be reluctant to sell before the January transfer window. However, that timeline could change if Arsenal match their valuation, according to Football Insider.

He’s already been capped four times by Hungary and Arsenal will face fierce competition from Borussia Dortmund and Juventus among others for his signature.

Szoboszlai’s agent has also confirmed a number of Premier League teams are interested in his client, but declined to name any of the clubs.


“I can confirm a number of the top Premier League clubs are interested in Dominik but at this point I can not confirm or deny specific clubs,” Szoboszlai’s agent, Matyas Esterhazy, told ?football.london.

“My client is focusing on his current club and the upcoming challenges of the next season both in the league and the Champions League.”

The price tag would suit Arsenal’s £45m transfer budget. Another season without Champions League football has taken its toll financially on the north London club and this kind of signing could be an indication of their approach as they try to re-establish themselves among Europe’s elite.


Arsenal are yet to secure any incomings and have already ?missed out on ?Lorient youngster Alexis Claude-Maurice and Belgium international ?Yannick Carrasco.

With some key departures already announced this summer and some uncertainty surrounding Lucas Torreira, there are serious concerns about the look of Arsenal’s squad ahead of the new season.

The Gunners finished fifth in the Premier League last term and lost 4-1 to Chelsea in the final of the Europa League.


An Ode to Ellen White: Why You Should Fall in Love With England’s Number 18

When Ellen White ran through on goal after 15 minutes against Japan on Wednesday, there was essentially zero doubt in most people’s mind that she would score. 

The same again on 85 minutes. The reason for that is…well, she’s Ellen White. 

She is the sort of player all fans would like to think they would be on the pitch. She plays with a smile on her face but with the sort of bullish intensity every single one of us is desperate to see in our number nine. An out and out striker who leads by example and has an eye for goal.


Half of Ellen’s game is spent on her back side, but that is by no means a criticism. Every two or three minutes there will be another slide tackle to stop a clearance. This isn’t for show, and it’s not a hopeless endeavour. Sure, attempting to stop a clearance isn’t the goal that wins you the game, but it sets such a strong and clear tone to the rest of the team and to the fans. 

You know from minute one that Ellen White will give absolutely everything for the shirt, and when you have a player who is prepared to do that on the edge of the opponents’ 18 yard box, the ten others behind her know what is expected of them.

She is so much more than just hard work. There is so much to her game. It’s also too easy to look at the goals that she scores and peg her as just a ‘finisher’. Let’s settle that first. At the risk of sounding a bit Marks and Spencer, she’s not just a finisher, she’s a sublime finisher. 

The composure she showed in front of goal for both the strike against Scotland as well as her two finishes against Japan was world class. This is someone who has tirelessly honed her craft to an art form, so much so that when she’s through on goal you find yourself watching just to see which part of the net is going to ripple.

When she scores goals, she celebrates like a fan. Literally. A mixture of going berserk combined with her ‘Specs’ celebration that she robbed from her favourite player Anthony Modeste. As a spectator you find yourself hoping that she will whip it out when she scores, hoping to see her charge toward the corner flag with a huge beaming smile alongside her customary temporary specs.

When she’s not scoring goals, the ball sticks to her like glue. 


Considering England want to play out from the back and make use of a pivot in midfield, whether that be Kiera Walsh or Jade Moore, there is an automatic default that means pressure will be invited onto the centre backs. 

90 percent of the time the shape of the back four means England can progress the ball up the pitch safely. But, whenever needed, that emergency thumped long ball is usually perfectly brought down before being recycled and distributed.

After the full time whistle has blown, those who have the chance to meet Ellen find out incredibly quickly that she’s a brilliant person. She’s exactly the sort of player we are all lucky to have representing us. She gives her time and passion to whatever she’s doing. She is a dream to interview, generous with her energy and thoughtful with her words.

Ellen White

So well played Ellen White, England’s number 18. A goalscoring, hardworking, target player and all round top person. On she and the Lionesses march to the round of 16, with three wins out of three.?