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The Lionesses: Will Sarina Wiegman lead us to World Cup victory?

BY Abdullah Abdullah

27th Apr 2023 Sport

The Lionesses: Will Sarina Wiegman lead us to World Cup victory?

England’s emphatic victory at the 2022 women’s Euros has been called a watershed moment both for the team and for women’s football. But can this talented side prove their mettle on the biggest stage of all and achieve World Cup glory in 2023? 

In his new book, tactical writer and analyst Abdullah Abdullah offers an in-depth tactical analysis of the team, and uncovers the compelling stories of coach Sarina Wiegman and her Lionesses squad

Unbeaten


Under Weigman's management, the Netherlands were unbeaten throughout their whole first tournament

Wiegman was determined to make a statement. It turned out to be a winning combination. Just six months after her appointment, the Netherlands won their first major international women’s title. Wiegman’s influence and tactical nous saw the Dutch go unbeaten throughout the whole tournament, including an exhilarating 4-2 win over Denmark in the final.

"Wiegman’s influence and tactical nous saw the Dutch go unbeaten throughout the whole tournament"

It was there that she was able to really exhibit her values and principles and mould the setup to her liking. It wasn’t just the team that she constructed but the surroundings to create a very solid base. 

Meticulous nature 

One of the first moves she made was to hire a more experienced assistant in Foppe de Haan, who quickly realised Wiegman’s value to the KNVB setup. They established their job roles rather swiftly which gave them both time and space to thrive and offer the team the best environment possible.

"Wiegman was a stickler for details and even under immense pressure, she was able to make sound decisions"

Through all of this, there was one personality trait that impressed de Haan the most – the meticulous nature in which Wiegman carried out her job. Wiegman was a stickler for details and even under immense pressure, she was able to make sound decisions. None were more pressurised than that half-time break against Denmark in the 2017 final, with the match level at 2-2. The second half saw the Dutch decimate their opponents and win 4-2. 

"She knows what she wants but she was also open and keen to hear other people’s ideas." – Foppe de Haan for BBC Sport 

Total Football philosophy


Johan Cruyff, seen here in his playing days, was instrumental to the Total Football philosophy application as the Netherlands manager

When it comes to her tactical culture and identity, Wiegman is very much cut from the Total Football cloth. She set out to make her Netherlands side replicate and instil the Total Football philosophy given that it’s a part of the unique culture that Johan Cruyff brought to the team decades earlier. Her definition of the term is dynamic, creative, and about positional rotations. It was from there that Wiegman was able to build her Netherlands side and successfully guide them to two tournament finals. It is little wonder then that Wiegman is such a conscientious tactician and wants to ensure that every angle is covered. There’s an air of simplistic complexity to her philosophy, which we saw first with the Netherlands and later with England. 

Hybrid tactics 

Wiegman’s tactics were based around a 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 hybrid involving rotations of players and a focus on attacking with the wingers. There are many similarities between Wiegman’s Netherlands and England sides, with a set profile of players used in certain positions. The midfield is particularly important to Wiegman given that it’s there that her best ball-players are positioned – at least it was with her Netherlands side. Jackie Groenen, Sharida Spitse, and Daniëlle van de Donk were all key personnel who linked play and ensured service was given to Vivianne Miedema. Van de Donk played a hybrid number eight and number ten role akin to Fran Kirby for England.

"I think the England players have appreciated her straight talking, sometimes too straight, but it guarantees clarity"

I believe that because of the higher calibre of ball-playing centre-backs available in Alex Greenwood and Leah Williamson in Wiegman’s England squad, she will look to change her point of progression to the back, despite also having Keira Walsh available. However, the core principles remain identical and they show why she was extremely successful with both the Netherlands and England. 

"[Wiegman’s] communication is absolutely key. Her consistency over the last two Euros has shown the importance. The players know exactly what’s expected of them both on and off the pitch so I think that’s been very key. I think the England players have appreciated her straight talking, sometimes too straight, but it guarantees clarity. It’s made a massive difference to the players." – Willie Kirk 

England’s chances


The Lionesses in 2022, just months after their Euro victory. Photo credit: James Boyes

Wiegman’s spell as England manager has shown signs of improvement from previous Lionesses teams in terms of their structure, cohesion and consistency. England have taken their reliance away from individuals and leant more on a core system instead. Though Wiegman has proved her acumen once again with a win at the Euros, the World Cup presents yet another opportunity for her to stake a claim as the best international manager of her generation. Beating the likes of the USA, Brazil, and more informed European sides will be even more of a test than what she’s faced so far. If Wiegman can navigate through the 2022/23 season in keeping the style of play and bringing through fresh faces, then there will be a lot of hopeful optimism going into Australia and New Zealand. 

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Lionesses: Gamechangers by Abdullah Abdullah is out now.

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