England and the USA meet in the World Cup semi-final in Lyon on Tuesday evening. Tim Stillman thinks it will be close, but that the reigning world champions will progress.
"Julie Ertz is one of the best midfield ball-winners in the women’s game and her battle with England stalwart Jill Scott could define this encounter."
England v USA
Tuesday July 2, 20:00
Neville looking to match USA's confidence
Since being appointed as the coach of the Lionesses some 18 months ago, Phil Neville has cited the US as a benchmark for his team. In his unveiling press conference, Neville told journalists, "I relate it back to the USA team and the way they puff their chests out and say 'we're the best in the world', that's the kind of arrogance I want from my team."
Neville has continued this bullishness into the World Cup and in the build-up to this crunch semi-final against the US- England's biggest game since losing the Euro 2009 Final to Germany. "Nobody cares who loses a semi-final, it's all about winning. No-one cares about silver and bronze - it's the gold medal everyone wants," Neville said in his pre-match press conference.
The Lionesses boss describes Tuesday's opponents as 'the best team in the world' with good cause. They are the reigning World champions after all. They also possess quality and depth in pretty much every position. It is difficult to identify too many weaknesses. The forward line of Tobin Heath, Megan Rapinoe and Alex Morgan is as star studded as they come.
Both teams have goalscorers- but the midfield is where the real battle lies
Both on 5 goals at the World Cup, Morgan and Rapinoe are engaged in a private battle for the golden boot- you can get 10/3 for Morgan to score first or 7/2 on Rapinoe, who has scored all four of the US' goals in the knockout stages. England striker Ellen White is also on 5 goals for the tournament and you can get exceptionally good value on her as first goalscorer at 8/1. Unlike past tournaments, the US' power base, however, is not just their star-studded forward line.
Coach Jill Ellis has moved away from a 4-4-2 shape recently and towards a more modern 4-3-3. This is because they have a well-balanced engine room. Julie Ertz is one of the best midfield ball-winners in the women's game and her battle with England stalwart Jill Scott could define this encounter. Rose Lavelle and Sam Mewis are likely to complete the midfield trio with Lindsey Horan on the bench, showcasing the incredible depth available to Ellis.
Lucy Bronze in midfield?
I think Phil Neville might spring a surprise and move away from the 4-2-3-1 formation that he has played throughout the tournament. I think Fran Kirby, who has played as a number 10, will be sacrificed and that Neville might play Rachel Daly at right-back and move Lucy Bronze onto the right-hand side of a midfield three.
This would prevent the US from having numerical superiority in midfield and it would mean Bronze's attacking instincts need not be preoccupied with shackling Megan Rapinoe on the USA left. Daly plays in the NWSL for Houston Dash and knows Rapinoe well. If my hunch is correct and Bronze plays further up, then 14/1 for her to score anytime represents value. The US have played Crystal Dunn in an unnatural left-back position during the tournament and she has been identified as a potential weak spot.
Can Nikita Parris expose Crystal Dunn?
However, Dunn dealt brilliantly with France's rampaging right sided forward Kadidiatou Diani in the quarter-finals. The question is whether she can repeat that trick against Nikita Parris, who poses a similar threat. If Bronze moves to the right side of a midfield three, there is potential to test Dunn. This will be a very close encounter and I would expect goals given the attacking talent on both sides, who drew 2-2 in their last meeting at the SheBelieves Cup in March. USA has Carli Lloyd and Christen Press and England has Jodie Taylor and Beth Mead waiting in the wings if either side need a goal.
Betting on over 3.5 goals is worth a look at 31/10. Neville has talked frankly about attacking this game and the US will certainly do likewise. The Lionesses will be able to match their opponents physically, but when push comes to shove, I expect the USA's experience and nous to get them over the line in a close match. My recommended bet is for USA to win after extra time at 8/1.