Phil Neville is facing his biggest test as England women boss at sold-out Wembley… his Lionesses must impress against Germany – or else
- Much of the focus on build-up to England-Germany has been on the ticket sales
- That will be a relief for Phil Neville, who has been receiving plenty of criticism
- Neville says plenty of his players are still inexperienced in how to be a top athlete
- He conceded the change in approach has been a steep learning curve for squad
Much of the talk around England’s friendly against Germany at Wembley on Saturday has focused on record-breaking ticket sales.
That narrative has probably been something of a relief for Phil Neville, who is fast approaching the two-year mark since his appointment as England manager, and the running theme this week has largely overshadowed the criticism that may have otherwise been coming his way.
Neville’s side have struggled for form in the four months since their brilliant World Cup campaign with just one narrow win in their last five games, producing a string of uninspiring performances.
Phil Neville’s England side have been in poor form and they must arrest their slump soon
The players trained under the watchful eye of their coach at Wembley Stadium on Friday
TOP THREE ENGLAND V GERMANY MATCH-UPS
Steph Houghton v Alexandra Popp
This is the battle of the captains. The experienced VfL Wolfsburg striker Popp, who was a late call-up, has a history of causing England problems. She also has a habit of getting under the skin of her opposition. Phil Neville’s skipper must keep her cool.
Jill Scott v Dzsenifer Marozsan
A star in Lyon’s glittering midfield, Marozsan has the ability to create something out of nothing and change a game. Keeping the playmaker quiet is an impossible task but one Scott will relish.
Ellen White v Sara Doorsoun
27-year-old centre back Doorsoun, also of VfL Wolfsburg, is prone to errors and the odd lapse in concentration. Returning Manchester City forward White could prove a lethal handful drifting in behind.
The former Manchester United man can ill-afford a thumping defeat by Germany in his own back yard with near-on 90,000 supporters watching from the stands.
But with England having lost 20 of the 25 previous meetings with the two-time world champions and eight-time European champions, history is not exactly on his side.
In recent weeks Neville and the players, sometimes frustratingly overly well-versed in toeing the line, have said: ‘It’s all about the process’ and ‘working with the long-term goals’ in mind — the Olympics next year and the European Championship on home soil in 2021.
However, that only gets you so far when England have shown few promising signs of progression since losing the bronze medal match to Sweden in France.
Speaking to the press following an open training session at Wembley on Friday, Neville claimed that some of his players are ‘still really inexperienced at how to be top elite athletes’ and therefore monitoring their routine 22 hours before a game is now crucial.
‘It’s anything that takes away from the performance in those 22 hours, like walking to the coffee shop, taking your dog for a walk, or anything that fatigues you or stresses you out — basically you need to put your feet up, rest, massage, ice bath, recover and mentally switch off,’ said Neville.
England’s players make their way onto the Wembley pitch; on Saturday, 90,000 will be present
England have a tough game against Germany and Neville will be desperate to see his side win
‘What you do with the extra 22 hours in a day is actually what’s going to make you the best player in the world, particularly when you come back from a major tournament and you are fatigued emotionally and physically.’
Neville conceded the change in approach to how players use their free time during international camps has been a steep learning curve for the squad but some already appeared to be breaching the 22-hour rule — with a handful of senior Lionesses seen sipping coffee in a cafe on Wembley Way on Friday afternoon.
The England manager added: ‘Some of the players have had to perform when they’re not at their best, be under pressure for not performing at their best and then maybe being criticised for not performing when they’re not in a fit state to.’
Should the Lionesses fail to perform on Saturday in front of the biggest crowd they will have ever played in, worrying about what his players get up to in those 22 hours before kick-off might not be Neville’s problem.