The seasoned England midfielder Jill Scott was full of praise for the attitude of the young players in the Lionesses’ latest training camp, after a back three of Manchester United’s Millie Turner and the Arsenal duo Lotte Wubben-Moy and Leah Williamson all impressed.
“They were brilliant,” said Scott. “The communication from behind made my job very easy today and technically they are such good players. One thing I like about all three of them is they are front-footed defenders and they want to put a tackle in.”
Scott’s thoughts were echoed by Phil Neville who, having watched the trio shine in an 8-1 defeat of a team led by England’s captain, Steph Houghton, looks to have found the players he needs at the back to make the best of the system he sees as an important part of England’s future. “I love the system, I really do,” the manager enthused. “With that system you need to have the right profile or players in the right position. What we saw today was that we had the right players in the right positions.”
It is hard to read much into experimental internal friendlies under a manager who will be gone in the summer, if not before, but there was perhaps some symbolism to be found in the contrast between the resolute, youthful three-at-the-back at one end, marshalled by Williamson, and the collapse of a back four led by Houghton at the other. Playing with three defenders also looks to get the best out of Lucy Bronze, with the 2019 European player of the year afforded an extra layer of protection when she forages forward on the right wing.
Houghton is not quite England’s past – at 32 and still playing at the top level for Manchester City she has a lot more to give. But with each match it is becoming clearer that Williamson is the future. Arsenal’s manager, Joe Montemurro, has hinted as much in his glowing assessment of Williamson and her new partner Wubben-Moy, who returned to the club following three years in the US with the dominant University of North Carolina Tar Heels. The pair collaborated to stifle a star-studded Chelsea attack on 15 November – only a cruel deflection off Wubben-Moy in the 90th minute denied the Gunners three points – and the unfortunate player “looked like a seasoned professional” according to Montemurro.
“Have a look at that, Leah Williamson and Lotte Wubben-Moy, two centre-backs, it’s amazing and is maybe something exciting for England going forward,” he said. Now, excitingly, the blossoming partnership at club level is being tested by the national team coaches.
Speaking after Friday’s England v England game, Williamson said: “We really made everything count, the way we were playing, in terms of the score line,. It was different roles in terms of playing in a two and now playing in a three, but everyone adjusted really well and yes, I suppose those minutes with Lotte at Arsenal have really helped.”