Ella Toone, Lauren James & England's options to replace injured Fran Kirby at the 2023 Women's World Cup

Lauren James Fran Kirby Ella Toone England women composite
The Chelsea star has confirmed that she will miss the tournament, so who are the contenders to make an impact for the Lionesses in her place?

It's not been a great few months for England on the injury front and, on Tuesday, Chelsea star Fran Kirby added her name to a growing list of absentees and concerns. In a statement, Kirby confirmed she will miss the 2023 Women's World Cup as she undergoes knee surgery to solve an issue that has plagued her since she limped off against West Ham in early February.

That news followed an ACL rupture for Lionesses captain Leah Williamson late last month, the same fate that Arsenal team-mate Beth Mead suffered before Christmas. Millie Bright and Lucy Bronze are also currently on the sidelines due to their own knee surgeries, though neither player is expected to be ruled out of this summer's tournament.

England have, at least, been without Kirby for the last two international windows, and have therefore been able to take a closer look at other options in the advanced midfield role that she often holds in the team.

The Lionesses are not exactly blessed with depth in the centre of the park, but there are a number of candidates for head coach Sarina Wiegman to consider in Kirby's absence - not only for her starting line up, but also as substitutes who could have an impact in the freer midfielder role.

GOAL runs the rule over the contenders:

  1. Ella Toone
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    Ella Toone

    The obvious candidate to replace Kirby is the player who did so off the bench so often during the Euros last summer and who has assumed her spot in the starting XI while she's been out. That player is Ella Toone.

    Wiegman has started Toone in nine of England's 11 games since they became European champions last summer and the Manchester United star has fit in seamlessly, scoring the Lionesses' goal in the Women's Finalissima triumph in April.

    However, there have inevitably been comparisons between the impact the 23-year-old is having on games from the start and the impact she had on them from the bench. During the Euros, as a regular sub, Toone registered a goal or an assist every 80 minutes. Since that tournament, as a regular starter, she has recorded a direct goal involvement every 155 minutes.

    In truth, it seems unlikely that Wiegman reverts the midfielder back to being a sub now that Kirby is out. She contributes a lot to the team in other ways and has the ability to be decisive.

    Perhaps the bigger question is who steps in to take her place when a change is needed during the World Cup, just as she did with Kirby in the Euros.

  2. Georgia Stanway
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    Georgia Stanway

    Admittedly, it's unlikely - but one other option for Wiegman to start in the more advanced midfield role is a player who is already key to her XI: Georgia Stanway.

    The Bayern Munich maestro often shone in a No.10 role as she was coming through with England and Manchester City, her technical ability, creativity and deadly shot from range making her a stand-out playmaker.

    She's since dropped back into a more box-to-box role and assumed a great partnership with Keira Walsh in the deeper areas of the Lionesses' midfield. However, her versatility would likely mean she'd have no problem pushing further forward if desired.

    There are a few reasons this is unlikely: Stanway's good relationship with Walsh in her current position is one, with there alternatives that could be chosen without breaking that up. Plus, Wiegman would then have to choose someone to play the role she does and that feels a lot more difficult to do.

    It would be a lot of fun to see Stanway in a freer, more attacking role again, though.

  3. Jordan Nobbs

    Jordan Nobbs

    Sadly, injuries have limited Jordan Nobbs' ability to have a real impact on the England team selection in recent years but that doesn't mean her chance to do so ahead of a major tournament has passed.

    The Aston Villa midfielder remains one of the Lionesses' most naturally talented players and her form since she left Arsenal to move to the Midlands in January has backed that up.

    Capable of playing in a deep-lying role, box-to-box or in a more advanced position, Nobbs can do it all, and she brings a level of experience that none in the midfield pool can match.

    She hasn't had too many opportunities to force her way into Wiegman's thinking, but could Kirby's absence change that?

  4. Laura Coombs

    Laura Coombs

    Before her recall to the squad in February, Laura Coombs' last England cap came back in 2015. But that drought was ended when she was brought in for the Arnold Clark Cup and replaced Stanway from the bench in the 4-0 win over South Korea.

    The Manchester City star isn't really a No.10. She's more of a No.8, a player that arrives late into the box and finds the back of the net. Maybe, then, she is the type of player that Wiegman can bring into the team to push Stanway further up.

    Or, alternatively, perhaps she can utilise those qualities in a different role. Coombs has adapted at times to play a deeper position for her club. Why couldn't she play a more advanced one? She certainly has the attacking qualities.

  5. Jess Park

    Jess Park

    Jess Park can play as a winger, she can play as a centre forward and she can play as an attacking midfielder. It seems to be the latter that Wiegman prefers her as.

    That's where the Everton forward, on loan from Man City, has often played from the bench for her country since winning her first international cap back in November.

    With nimble footwork, good acceleration and a creative brain, Park suits the position to a tee while also bringing an eye for goal to the table. Indeed, she had been on the pitch for just 79 seconds when she scored on her debut last year.

    Could she be the super sub Wiegman is looking for this summer?

  6. Rachel Daly
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    Rachel Daly

    While it has been as a centre forward that Rachel Daly has made her mark this season, when Wiegman subbed off Toone during the Lionesses' defeat to Australia in April, it was the Aston Villa goal-machine that replaced her.

    Until recent months, Daly's England career was a story of being effective in an unnatural role. Despite being an out-and-out No.9 at club level, her appearances for her country often came at right-back, left-back, right wing and left wing. Indeed, she started every game at the Euros in defence.

    But Wiegman's decision to play her as a No.10 against the Matildas highlighted that lack of depth in the position. Daly, though, struggled to really impact the game.

    Perhaps it is something the coach will work on with her, if she really sees her as having the traits to influence things in that role. But, equally, perhaps it is something we won't see again.

  7. Lauren James

    Lauren James

    While (briefly) trialling Daly as a No.10 raised some eyebrows, Lauren James in that role is one experiment that many fans have been calling for.

    The Chelsea star normally operates as a wide player, but England have good depth in those areas and dropping her into the centre wouldn't be a hindrance as a result, with Chloe Kelly and Lauren Hemp the two wingers she often battles for a place in Wiegman's XI.

    James would suit the position for so many reasons, with her eye for a pass, quick feet and ability to operate in tight spaces all on that list. But, on the flip side, is she better using those qualities against an isolated defender rather than in a crowded midfield?