Beth England: Chelsea women’s number nine on the outside looking in, again

Things in football move fast, even for Beth England, one minute you’re the top goalscorer in a title winning team, the next you’re struggling to start matches in the biggest games. 

For Beth England the 2020/2021 has been a season of reinvention, as she has to prove, yet again, that she has a place in Emma Hayes’ best XI. 

Beth England, WSL Player of the Year for
Credit: PA:Press Association

Beth England made to prove herself

This isn’t the first team England has had to prove herself, after signing from Doncaster Belles in 2016, Beth England started life as a left wing back, scoring five goals in 16 appearances. Then the following season found herself out on loan at Liverpool and feeling left out of Hayes’ plan.

England scored 10 goals for Liverpool and came back to Chelsea for the 2018/19 season with a point to prove, and did so scoring 12 goals in 18 games as Chelsea finished 3rd in the WSL. 

Her continued progression continued into the 2019/20 season as she scored 14 goals in 15 games, helping Chelsea to another title, plus a further seven goals in other competitions, including those in the Conti Cup final, to finish the season as the countries highest goalscorer and earning her the Player of the Year award.

Beth England: England’s best No. 9

In July 2020 England signed a new contract with Hayes describing her as the “best English number number in the country” which makes it all the more strange that she’s struggled to find her place in the team this season. 

New signing Pernille Harder has changed the attacking set up of the team. With the front 3 of Harder, Sam Kerr and Fran Kirby offering a fluidity and flexibility that England perhaps doesn’t offer as much, as she’s a more natural number nine. 

In the games against the big teams, Arsenal, Manchester City and Manchester United, England has started just out once of a possible five, in the away game at Arsenal.

Hayes’ has preferred using a midfield of Sophie Ingle, Melanie Leupolz and Ji So-Yun, and the flexible front three of Kerr, Kirby and Harder in order to counter press and counter attack very quickly. 

In the Champions League tie with Atletico, England was leading the line, but ended up being sacrificed for Niamh Charles after Ingle’s early red card. A rare opportunity to prove herself denied for the good of the team. In the return leg, concussed early and substituted just before half-time.  

Her eight starts from 15 appearances is the lowest of her Chelsea career (full seasons only) thus far, and despite having 10 goal contributions (five goals and five assists) England is producing her lowest goals per 90 minutes ratio (0.59) of her career and she finds herself more of a rotation player in this squad. 

The interesting stat however, is the one that proves she does have a place in this team, is her assist per 90 figure, which at 0.59 is by far her most creative season in a Chelsea shirt. This proves that she can be a more flexible striker, to run the channels and interchange with her attacking partners.

Can she fit into this strikeforce?

Chelsea’s attacking set up is less about providing opportunities for the striker to score as we’ve seen in the past, but more about creating mass opportunities for every attacking player and looking to achieve a high conversion rate. 

Internationally it’s a similar story with former England manager Phil Neville asking England to “do more” despite her having better goals and assists per 90 ratio than Ellen White. But then again selection for England seems to be based on whether or not you play for Manchester City or not. 

When we record episodes of Went To Mow Kingsmeadow, we preview upcoming matches and ask our guests to name their starting XI. The back four and midfield are usually pretty simple, but they always struggle with our attacking options as they don’t want to have to leave any players out. 

However it is usually England that faces the cut, mainly because the other three options are Kerr, Kirby and Harder, the players of the year for 2019, 2020 and potentially 2021. Perhaps more than anyone else in the squad, England has to continually prove her worth amongst that level of player.

It’s a luxury for Hayes to have some many great attacking options and we haven’t even mentioned the likes of Guro Reiten and Erin Cuthbert as well. 

Despite scoring the famous late winner against Arsenal in the Conti Cup final, England missed this year’s final with a concussion, something that didn’t please Emma Hayes.

England may have the hardest job in the squad but as she has said herself “never write off the underdog”, she’s battled her entire life to get to where she is now and she will work twice as hard to prove to Emma she’s good enough and able enough to lead this team to the levels that Emma is demanding. 

She’s done it before and I’ve no doubt she can do it again.

England for Chelsea! 

Written by Dean Mears (@DeanMears)

Edited by Tom Coley (@tomcoley49)

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