Where should England play Leah Williamson?


In April, Arsenal’s Leah Williamson was announced as the next captain of the England national team. She had worn the armband before, but now it was made official. To the surprise of many, Williamson was little more than a squad player under Phil Neville, but Sarina Wiegman set her stall out early, emphasising Williamson’s importance to the team as she inherited the armband from Steph Houghton.

Arsenal managing to convince Williamson to extend her contract was seen as just as important for their future as extending superstar striker Vivianne Miedema’s, so well regarded is the new England skipper. Aside from being an uncompromising defender, Williamson’s ability on the ball is second to none, and her willingness to look for progressive passes, or carry the ball into midfield, makes her an exceptionally important player for both club and country.

A versatile footballer, Williamson was a midfielder earlier in her career and, since starting regularly under Wiegman, she has often found herself featuring in the middle of the park for England. While there’s no doubting that her presence in the side greatly increases England’s football betting odds, the question on everyone’s lips is whether she should feature in the centre of defence, or in midfield.

Chelsea’s Millie Bright and Manchester City’s Alex Greenwood have been the defensive partnership that Wiegman has opted for most often. The pair are in their late 20s, and are experienced internationals. Millie Bright’s distribution has improved over time, lessening the loss of Williamson from the defence, while Greenwood’s transformation in recent years from left-back to centre-back has gone as well as could be hoped, with the Man City defender looking a natural fit.

The strong partnership of Bright and Greenwood suggests that playing Williamson in midfield is the right approach, it’s been difficult for England to find the right balance in midfield. Wiegman tends to operate with a pair that play relatively deep, with a more attacking midfielder further forward.

The most natural partner for Williamson looks to be Kiera Walsh. At 25, the Man City midfielder is the same age as Williamson, and they know each other well after coming through England youth squads together. The duo look to be Wiegman’s default choice, although there are concerns in some quarters that the partnership is a little too defensive, with England essentially lining up with two more defensively-minded midfielders.

While Walsh offers a threat going forward, England are finding it difficult to find a truly dynamic midfield partnership, often settling for a stable base that doesn’t offer too much in attack, with a reliance on the likes of Ella Toone further forward to link play and support the attack.

Jill Scott is England’s most natural option to offer the midfield more dynamism but, now 35 years old, she’s likely too old to be considered as a key player in the middle of the park. In truth, if England had a natural partnership in midfield, as they do at the back, then Williamson would find it harder to break into the midfield, and Wiegman would likely look at breaking up her defensive pairing.

But, with no real combination standing out, it makes sense for Wiegman to put Williamson in the centre of the park, and build around one of her key players in midfield. The pairing of Williamson and Walsh should make England difficult to play through, and the duo’s work rate means they’re able to shield the defence effectively. Perhaps the area of the pitch where England look weakest, Wiegman’s decision to play Williamson further forward could be crucial in making sure that England are able to control the midfield.