The Lionesses maintained their unbeaten record under Sarina Wiegman with a second-half performance, boosted by their super subs, earning a 4-0 win over Switzerland in their final match before they face Austria at Old Trafford in their Euros opener next Wednesday.
This was not the easiest of games for the visiting team that, in the stifling heat, had to contend with the pride of a team that had suffered a 7-0 defeat in their preceding game, a record crowd for the Swiss national team of 10,022, positional shifts and fears of injury before the Euros.
If there is a need to experiment, then a pre-tournament friendly is likely the time to do it. Whether, though, the final one before a home Euros is the time to pull apart an established and impressive centre-back pairing is another question.
The decision of England manager Wiegman to play Arsenal’s Leah Williamson at centre-back and shift left-sided centre-back Alex Greenwood wide was an unexpected one.
It was likely partly enforced, with Lucy Bronze flown home sick, as a precaution, and Rachel Daly shifted from the left-back berth she occupied to great effect against the Netherlands to right-back. With Demi Stokes and Jess Carter on the bench though there were other options.
Wiegman had hinted that her captain, Williamson, could be used at the back again before this game, telling Sky Sports that she thought the player “felt a little bit uncomfortable in midfield and felt more comfortable at the back” after she was shifted backwards in the second half of England’s 5-1 defeat of the Netherlands.
The effect of the change on England, against a bruised Switzerland, was to disjoint things at the back and in the middle. The effective double pivot that would shield the defence when out of possession, provide extra pressure in midfield, and exploit Williamson’s charges forward, left a path through the middle that the Swiss, and forward Ramona Bachmann in particular, exploited to great effect.
Meanwhile, Greenwood looked uncomfortable at left back, having spent the season performing excellently in the middle for Manchester City and working so well with Millie Bright on international duty that she has arguably become one of the first names on the team sheet for England.
It was far from one-way traffic in the hot and humid Stadion Letzigrund. Even though England should perhaps have been three goals up within 10 minutes, with Fran Kirby firing straight at goalkeeper Seraina Friedli from 10 yards out and Lauren Hemp pounding the ball into Friedli’s midriffthen testing the keeper again when Friedli swept the fumbled ball away from the line.
Just shy of the hour mark and the visiting team made the breakthrough. Williamson’s tidy diagonal pass found Daly on the right and the full-back delivered a cross to the back post that was powered down, back across goal, and in, by the head of Alessia Russo.
A quadruple substitution injected some energy into England and they powered forward at the tiring Swiss. Beth England would be the first sub to go close, forcing a fingertip save from close range. Fellow sub Chloe Kelly chipped a wonderful cross towards Hemp whose volley beat Friedli but was flicked off the line by the foot of Viola Caligaris. The ball fell towards Georgia Stanway but Lara Marti fell with it and smothered it with her arm in the process to concede a penalty that Stanway would whip into the bottom corner.
Stanway would provide for the third, sending a low corner in that was headed through the crowded box and in by England. With seconds left it was four, with Jill Scott steering Kelly’s cross in.
This was not the swaggering performance we have come to expect from Wiegman’s England, but it was also a last chance for players to stake their claim for a starting spot next week and one eye will have inevitably been on getting through unscathed. Once more, the team had to rely on the strength of its substitutions to force the game beyond their opponents. That isn’t a bad thing, the depth in the squad is a pretty powerful weapon in England’s Euros arsenal.