What we learned so far:
When 4 of the 5 top ranked teams in womens football world meet there are always some aspects to discuss. Even if it is clear that the teams would have a different focus on how the matches could help them regarding their next development steps. But there is also a lot of public interest in the national teams compared to the domestic leagues and so a lot of reputation for the players at stake. Thus we have always hard fought matches. And we have close matches and so far not a single match of the SheBelieves Cup in either year was decided by more than one goal difference. What we have seen so far:
The disappointment: USA
Two games – one goal.
A short disappointing resume – but it hits the nail on the head. Maybe strangely a lot of discussions focussed on how to play the backline while having one major problem: The front line. Interestingly after the shock defeat against Sweden in Rio most people have had quite the same focus. How to improve to get through a tight defense. Scoring once in two matches here and not having created too much more chances is only mounting up the doubts. Lose 5:9 if you want. But please try something new up front and forget about the defense now when you have two years time to prepare for your next big event.
But so far it just wasnt nearly enough how they tackled the main problem. There wasnt much to see for a change to the better. And thus at the moment it is difficult to see how the problem should be solved. Changing one or two individuals and just hope for the others to do better probably wont solve the problem.
The surprise package: Germany
As mentioned in the tournament preview Germany actually do not have the amount of extraordinary players they used to. The reasons remain to be seen. An extraordinary amount of extraordinary players are having injuries or other problems. And some quit early. But they still do have a huge amount of very good players who are all very much on the same level. Thus you never know depending on how they line up. Giving the USA a handful to do was surprising but as seen against England that might have been down to the USA being not as good as expected. Against France however Germany have been comprehensively played off the field three times in the last years (but won in the important games getting a decent amount of good luck on their side). This time they turned that nearly around dominating the French midfield at times and missing a few good opportunities. Very surprising. And you still do not know what to make out of this game and the wide variety of available players they have got now.
The consistency: France
Are France the most conservative team you have ever seen not only in womens football? Not only the consistency how they underperformed in big events over years and years and years. Always going in with a highly talented squad. And always coming out rather empty handed? Seems there has been absolutely no change while the other womens football teams are moving forward and changing their approaches, tactics, players like 180 degrees every other year searching to develop.
Even after the change of the coach after the disappointing Olympics not much changed in the team. Quite the contrary. He got (rightfully) “old” faces Georges and Thiney back into the squad. But still the same tactics. But still the same players on the same positions. But still the same approaches. Just waiting for the good luck to turn around and be with them? Lets see. The matches against England and Germany have been a good starting point for this to happen at least.
The positive surprise: England
England have been very much focussed on looking to somehow disrupt the game of their opponents in the World Championships in Canada. And this has also been a dominant theme in their friendlies ever since. But here they added some alternative tactical moves. Their forechecking has gone far up front and as far as the opposite corner flag at times. That earned them the opening goal against France. And they have played a very offensive set-up against the USA. Keeping 2-3 players far up front to always have alternatives available to play to and launch attacks immediately once they conquered the ball in their own half.
That reduced the advantage in numbers in the defending areas a little bit – but they were still strong enough to hold up the USA attacks. Still they need to develop their offensive play because they havent been able to create enough chances in open play. But they have again proofed they are not easy to beat for any opponent and now they have got their biggest scalp under the belt.
Final day matches:
Germany – England
We look out for the above mentioned points. How much will England have trust to play as open as against the USA? Will they again play 2 forwards and a very offensive minded midfielder to be able to have players help providing the depth to launch fast attacks? We expect them to continue to try their forechecking. Will it again be honoured? And will Germany be able to deal better with it because the players are more used to it from the Bundesliga?
On the other side we would expect Germany to also draw their conclusions out of the two games so far. They announced letting every player on the roster having at least one starting line up. But they might lean towards the team of their second match against France. (While Hendrich has left already). Will they be able to continue their unexpectedly fluent game in possession of the ball? Or will we see a grim midfield lock up?
The probabilities not often have been better for both to go for more today.
USA – France
Expected to be the “final”. If England doesnt have other plans. Will the USA react and focus more on their offensive problems? Will they play Lavelle again who had such a promising debut and can she repeat that performance twice within 3 days? And can the USA at least at the end turn things around to end the disappointing offensive performances they have had here so far?
The only thing we wouldnt expect to change too much is France again. Probably they will play with the best possible starting line up. Lets see who that is. We have seen their midfield play being strong enough to deny the USA the majority of ball possession in recent years. But in the game against Germany they unexpectedly had not been able to dominate. Just a hick-up or a sign of their technical domination in midfield is fading away? At least when they start with some positions taken by second best choices.