When the England team to face China in their final group match of the 2023 Women's World Cup was announced on Tuesday, to say it raised a few eyebrows would be an understatement. The Lionesses have always played 4-3-3 under head coach Sarina Wiegman and the personnel has not changed much, either. But not only did the 11 names on this team sheet contain a few surprises, they also didn’t fit into the system that everyone is so used to seeing England deploy.
For the first time in this job, Wiegman went to three at the back, playing a 3-5-2 system that saw Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly act as wing-backs, Lauren James operate in the No.10 role and Alessia Russo and Lauren Hemp pair up to lead the line. No one saw that coming.
But despite it being a total curveball and never previously executed publicly, it worked to a tee as the Lionesses thrashed the Asian champions 6-1.
The three centre-backs helped bring more defensive solidity after a shaky start, and the double pivot of Georgia Stanway and Katie Zelem - making her first England start and World Cup debut - helped to make up for Keira Walsh’s injury absence.
Going forward, Bronze and Daly got into the box a lot, which particularly suited the strengths of the latter considering she scored 22 goals in 22 league games for Aston Villa this past season. James ran the show, picking up pockets of space and then carving open the China defence in them.
But one of the most significant ways this formation maximised the team was in the impact it had on Russo, who netted just her second goal for her country since September to break the deadlock. Has Wiegman figured out how to get the best out of her starting centre-forward?