No striker wants to be a super sub, but so far it is working to perfection for England forward Alessia Russo.
The Manchester United player has come off the bench in all of the Lionesses’ Euro 2022 group matches and scored three times — once against Norway and twice against Northern Ireland.
There is an argument that she should start Wednesday’s quarter-final against Spain. If she played in any other position, she probably would. But there is little chance of Sarina Wiegman dropping star striker Ellen White.
It is likely that if she played in any other position Alessia Russo would start against Spain
It was a given before the start of the tournament that White, the Lionesses’ record scorer, would be the starting forward. Russo has only ever started once for England, a Euro warm-up game against Switzerland, with her other nine caps coming as a substitute.
But every time she has played, she has taken her chance. In November, she came off the bench to score an 11-minute hat-trick — the fastest of any Lioness — against Latvia. And since her debut in 2020, no player has a better goal-per-minute ratio than Russo — who averages one every 49.1 minutes.
Russo likely knew that her role in this tournament would be as an impact substitute and it has perhaps provided extra motivation. She has looked energetic and determined every time she has come off the bench.
The forward (L) will be expected to make a significant impact off the bench on Wednesday
There is also an argument that you don’t need to fix what isn’t broken. White starting and Russo coming off the bench has worked a treat for England so far. White wears down and tires out defenders with her work off the ball, which the explosive Russo is then able to exploit once she is introduced by Wiegman.
It is also important to remember that White has a vast amount of experience when it comes to tournament football, whereas this is Russo’s first senior international competition.
White was the leading scorer for England at the 2019 World Cup and for Team GB at the Tokyo Olympics, with six goals at each. She was also one of the best players on the pitch as England thrashed Norway 8-0 in their second group game, before she was replaced by Russo.
There is no doubt that 23-year-old Russo is the long-term successor for White, who is 10 years her senior. What is most impressive about the Manchester United forward is the different types of goals she can score, which her brace against Northern Ireland demonstrated.
Russo (r) is the likely successor to veteran forward Ellen White under manager Wiegman
The first goal, a header from a Beth Mead cross, showcased her strength and power in the air. The second, arguably the best goal England have scored in the tournament so far, required skill and composure. Russo took Ella Toone’s pass on the half-turn, flicked it through her own legs, skipped past the Northern Ireland defence and slammed the ball into the net.
‘I enjoy every game in an England shirt and to come on and score is great,’ reflected Russo after her performance in Southampton. ‘Tournament football is tough and team football is tough — unfortunately there are only 11 spaces in the team.
‘The competition is so high in training. We just work hard and whether you’re starting or on the bench, you just try and push the 11 to go out and get the result and then if you’re called upon, you’re ready. The group of girls are amazing and we love being with them every day.
‘We have such threats going forward. Obviously, I want to play in every game for England but I know I have to be patient. I’ll take my time when it’s given and keep training hard.’
White (pictured) remains at the top of the England forwards’ pecking order under Wiegman this summer
Russo (L) averages a goal every 49.1 minutes for England since her debut in 2020 – no player has a better record
One man in Russo’s corner is former England striker Ian Wright, who visited the team’s hotel before the game against Northern Ireland. ‘He came into camp, it’s great to have someone like him being a bit of a torch for women’s football. We actually watched each other’s goals so maybe his goals inspired me.’
There is a determination to Russo that perhaps stems from the two serious injuries she has already experienced in her short career. The first was a broken leg which came during the second year of her stint at the University of North Carolina. The second was a serious hamstring injury which required surgery and caused her to miss the majority of the 2020-21 season with United.
Russo felt like a new signing for her club when she returned for the 2021-22 campaign. Her nine WSL goals and four assists earned her United’s Players’ Player of the Year award and her place in Wiegman’s Euros squad.
The exciting element about Russo is that she is only going to get better. ‘You’ve not even seen half of it yet,’ her Manchester United manager Marc Skinner said last season.
‘This is her first season back from a really serious injury and I’ve been really pleased. Now, we’re at a point where we’re seeing the real Alessia Russo and I know there is so much more to come.’
This is Russo’s first taste of international football – a factor that could impact Wiegman’s thinking
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