Sarina Wiegman knew there was going to be high expectations when she accepted the England Women job in 2020.
She had led Holland to glory in a home Euros in 2017 before reaching the World Cup final two years later. She was coming to England as a winner and her appointment as Phil Neville’s successor was a sign of intent from the FA.
Her task is to repeat her achievement from five years ago with the Lionesses this summer and she is now just 90 minutes away from writing herself into English football folklore with England in the final of Euro 2022 after a stunning 4-0 demolition of Sweden on Tuesday.
England have perhaps never had a better chance to win an international tournament, and Wiegman’s influence during the competition has only helped build that notion.
Sarina Wiegman has helped guide England into the European Championship final
The Dutch coach has brought the best out of a very talented England side at the women’s Euros
Several players have described this as the best squad they have ever been a part of and there is optimism that this could be their year.
In September, Wiegman took over an England side that had won just four times in their last 13 games. Hege Riise had been interim manager for six months after Neville’s departure for Inter Miami but it was an unsuccessful and disappointing period.
Confidence was low after Team GB, which included several England players, were knocked out of the Olympics at the quarter-final stage. A fresh start was needed.
Ten months on and England are unbeaten in 19 games under their new manager and are on the cusp of winning their first major trophy in the women’s game. But what exactly has Wiegman changed to make the Lionesses serious contenders for the Euros? Sportsmail takes a look…
Wiegman succeeded Phil Neville when she took charge of England in September 2021
The Euro 2017 winner leads England to a first major tournament at Euro 2022 on home territory
Under Neville, England’s philosophy was to build from the back. When it worked, it was brilliant. But there was a sense of predictability in their play and when it failed, they often came unstuck.
The Lionesses feel more adaptable under Wiegman. She too wants to play out from the back, but there is no fear in going direct if the conditions require it.
Take England’s win over Germany in the Arnold Clark Cup back in February. Wiegman’s decision to put centre back Millie Bright up front for the final minutes of the game paid dividends, with the defender scoring the decisive goal.
England have a greater adaptability under Wiegman and have even played defenders in attack
At the Euros, she has been incredibly pro-active from the touchline when things have not quite gone England’s way.
Signs of this came in the first game against Austria. England dominated but were slow to get going even if they did lead 1-0 following a first half goal from Beth Mead.
But rather than defend their advantage and look to hang on, Wiegman decided to make a triple change just after the hour mark that saw an effective brand new attack introduced of Ella Toone, Chloe Kelly and Alessia Russo.
Wiegman’s substitutions have been effective, with Ella Toone netting a crucial equaliser against Spain in the quarter-final victory at the Amex Stadium
No goals were added but the trio looked lively to see out the victory. The tactic has been repeated since throughout the Euros and came into its own during the quarter-finals.
Again the trio came on against Spain with England having gone a goal down at the start of the second half. Toone went on to grab the vital equaliser with six minutes to play before Georgia Stanway’s stunning strike in extra-time secured an incredible comeback against one of the tournament’s big favourites.
The same changes were made against Sweden in the semi-finals, albeit spaced out across the second half even with England already 2-0 up. Again though it paid dividends with Russo’s sensational backheel putting the Lionesses well on their way to the Wembley final.
Alessia Russo celebrates after coming off the substitutes’ bench to score for England
Goalkeeper Mary Earps explained how Wiegman allows her team to be versatile.
‘The right ball is the right ball. If I’m playing a longer ball, it’s a pass, you’re not just whacking it around. Sarina’s definitely keen on the players having the freedom to express themselves and making their own decisions.’
We also saw a more defensive England when they played Spain in February. Wiegman knew their opponents would look to dominate possession but her team were able to limit the amount of chances they created and earned a 0-0 draw.
The Lionesses’ starting XI that day was heavily rotated and included several players who are more likely to be used from the bench this summer. It was an encouraging performance and result which demonstrated the depth at Wiegman’s disposal and her ability to get results without fielding a full strength team.
Goalkeeper Mary Earps, of Manchester United, says Wiegman has encouraged precise passing
Direct and honest approach
A common theme that has emerged from speaking with different players is clarity. Every member of Wiegman’s squad knows their role and what the Dutch coach wants from them.
‘She’s super direct and she’s really honest which definitely goes a long way,’ says Earps. ‘She’s really keen on transparency and having open conversations.’
One player who has flourished since Wiegman’s appointment is Beth Mead. After being dropped from the England squad by Riise, Mead went on to score 14 times under Wiegman — which broke the record for most goals in an international season.
Wiegman has earned much respect from the England players who play under her
Since the tournament started she has added another six goals and is now Euro 2022’s top scorer to complete a remarkable turnaround in fortunes.
‘I’ve known where I’ve stood, what she’s expected of me,’ Mead says of Wiegman. ‘She’s given me a lot of confidence on the pitch and on the training pitch.
‘It’s just been easy for me to go on the pitch and do what I know I can do and have the backing of my manager. I would say I’ve been a lot more free. The expectation she has for me, I understand a lot more than probably in the past.’
Beth Mead has completed a turnaround under Wiegman and is the top scorer at Euro 2022
Dutch managers are known for their direct approach and Wiegman doesn’t beat around the bush, especially in press conferences.
She will not be drawn into bold statements or analogies and she is reluctant to talk about individuals, preferring instead to focus on the team as whole. In the past for example, Neville labelled Lucy Bronze the best player in the world, a comment the right back seemed uncomfortable with.
With Wiegman there is less emotion. Her decision to leave former captain Steph Houghton out of her 23-player squad showed she has no room for sentiment.
Leaving Steph Houghton out of England’s Euro 2022 squad was a brave decision by Wiegman
England’s record under Wiegman is 19 games played, 104 goals scored and just four conceded. Her team are currently averaging well over five goals a game. Part of that is to do with the standard of opposition they have faced. England beat Latvia 20-0 in a World Cup qualifier last year and there have been 10-0 wins over North Macedonia and Luxembourg.
But even then, the 8-0 hammering of more respectable opponents like Norway at these finals show just how merciless the Lionesses can be even against fair opposition.
There is no doubt they have become more ruthless under Wiegman. This is a term she has used constantly in press conferences. She always wants her team to score more goals. There have been times when they have won 10-0 and Wiegman has insisted they should have scored more.
Wiegman held the Euro 2022 trophy at the draw — and she would love to keep it after the final
When England were 6-0 up against Norway at the break in the group stage, the familiar trio of Russo, Toone and Kelly were still introduced for the second half – and it was the same story in the dead rubber final group match against Northern Ireland when they were 2-0 ahead.
When England were 8-0 up at half-time against Latvia, Wiegman could have made several substitutions or told her team to ease off. But she wanted them to score as many as possible.
It is a similar mindset to the Americans, who beat Thailand 13-0 in the group stages of the 2019 World Cup. Wiegman herself spent time in America and has that winning mentality, which is so crucial in international football.
England have turned into a major force under Wiegman and are on the brink of success
Including her record with Holland she has coached 18 matches at a major tournament only failed to win one – against the United States in the World Cup final held in France three years ago.
Across those matches her sides have scored an incredible 44 goals and conceded just nine times.
She is not someone who will ‘give caps away’ to players on the fringes of the first team. Even for games England are expected to win comfortably, she will usually pick the strongest available team.
‘Obviously as a striker it’s great,’ Mead says. ‘We have scored a lot of goals in qualifying but we could have scored more, we missed a lot of chances as well.
‘Sarina is keeping us on our toes and she’ll always expect more. No team is perfect but she’s striving for perfection and that’s what we want as well.’
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