Sarina Wiegman gambled with a new-look formation against China at the Women’s World Cup and it paid off, with the England boss lauding her squad’s adaptability as they “grow into the tournament”.
The European champions went into the Group D clash on Tuesday after two edgy 1-0 wins over Haiti and Denmark, but sparked to life in Adelaide after swapping their usual 4-3-3 formation for 3-5-2.
It unlocked more penetration and pace in a 6-1 masterclass — equalling their biggest-ever World Cup victory — to leave them top of the table and facing a last-16 showdown against Nigeria in Brisbane on Monday.
The traditionally reserved Wiegman rolled the dice to counter the loss of influential Barcelona midfielder Keira Walsh, who was stretchered off with a knee injury against Denmark.
“When we discussed that we wanted to change like this, everyone believed in it straight away and you saw that on the pitch. We were able to press high but also found a way to play the possession game well,” she said.
“What we always try to do is use the qualities of the squad as optimally as possible.
“We played with three at the back, then did things a little differently and got a higher press. The team showed we are really adaptable.”
Wiegman brought in Manchester United’s Katie Zelem to replace Walsh with Jess Carter and Lauren Hemp returning instead of the benched Chloe Kelly and Ella Toone
The five-person midfield gave them more freedom to roam, with Lucy Bronze and Rachel Daly running the wings and stretching China out of shape.
It created space for Alessia Russo and Hemp through the middle and allowed the exceptional Lauren James to drift and be directly involved in five goals, scoring two.
Russo, Hemp, Kelly and Daly also got on the scoresheet to reaffirm England’s status as one of the World Cup favourites.
“I think we are growing into this tournament,” said Wiegman, whose side have only lost once in 35 matches under the Dutch coach.
“You could see from the whole team that we were enjoying ourselves, you could tell that we were really connected, the ball is going around and we have different ways to go in attack.”
Whether she retains the same formation against Randy Waldrum’s Nigeria remains to be seen given the threat of Barcelona goal machine Asisat Oshoala and Racing Louisville dangerwoman Uchenna Kanu.
Nigeria, who finished second in Group B behind co-hosts Australia, have played at every World Cup, but have yet to win a knockout match.
England, on the other hand, finished fourth in 2019 and third in 2015.