Match Analysis: England 1-1 CanWNT — Arnold Clark Cup

Final Score: England 1-1 Canada
Goalscorers: Bright 22′; Beckie 55′
2022 Arnold Clark Cup — Gameday #1

Match in a minute or less

The Canadian women’s national team played their first match of 2022 on Thursday, taking on hosts England at the Arnold Clark Cup. Millie Bright scored the opening goal for England at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium, but a strike from Janine Beckie in the second half earned a point for Canada.

In a match dubbed the “Commonwealth Clasico”, the home team took the lead in the 22nd minute, on a volley from the centre-back Bright. After a corner kick was punched away by Canada goalkeeper Kailen Sheridan, the Chelsea defender struck the ball from the edge of the penalty area, and into the back of the net.

It would be the only goal of the opening half, but England had several opportunities for more, and spent much of the opening 45 minutes on the front foot. Lauren Hemp in particular was causing a lot of problems for the Canadian backline, battling all evening with right back Jayde Riviere, who left the match with an injury in the second half. Canada’s best chance of the first half was a header from Kadeisha Buchanan from a corner, but her effort was cleared away by an England defender.

10 minutes after the break, Janine Beckie equalised for Canada, firing a shot into the top left corner from the edge of the box. Her strike completed a quick counter attack, Canada’s best of the match, and the Manchester City player got the better of Manchester United goalkeeper Mary Earps.

Both sides upped the pace after Beckie’s goal, but despite their best efforts, the match would finish 1-1. The Spain vs Germany match earlier in the day finished by the same scoreline, so there’s a four-way tie with two matches still to play.

Three Observations

Janine Beckie leads the press, and scores an important goal

Canada tried to use a high press to shut down a lively English attack, but at times they weren’t on the same page defensively. Beckie often pressed the defenders when England tried to play out of the back, putting a lot of pressure on her club teammate Alex Greenwood in particular. There were a lot of times when Beckie would be one of the only players pressing, and England would be let off the hook.

When they got the press right, however, Canada were able to spring forward on the counter-attack. On a couple of occasions one of the fullbacks — Bev Priestman started Ashley Lawrence at left back at Jayde Riviere on the right — would make a big tackle and charge down the wing, or play the ball in centrally to Jessie Fleming. Fleming unlocked the England defence on several occasions, including an impressive pass over the backline into the path of a charging Deanne Rose, but Millie Bright recovered well to turn away the danger.

Canada’s lone goal came as a result of a quick counter-attack. Ashley Lawrence stepped in to pick off a pass in midfield, ran into the space in front of her, before finding Jordyn Huitema, who laid the ball off for Beckie. Beckie took a couple of touches to make some space for herself, before floating a shot toward the back post and finding the top corner.

“I was actually quite disappointed with my first touch,” admitted Beckie after the match. “I wanted it on my right foot. A lot of the work we’ve been doing has been around the final third and taking opportunities when we have them. As a team we don’t shoot enough in general, so when I saw a shooting lane I went for it.”

“You always love to score goals, it’s always nice to score like that. I’m proud of myself for scoring, it’s been a long time since I scored for Canada, and that means a lot to me. I wish we could have won, I think we had chances to put the game away early on in the second half, but there’s a lot of positives to take forward.”

England win the midfield battle with new-look double pivot

Week in and week out, Leah Williamson and Keira Walsh are two of the better defensive-minded midfielders in the world at the club level. Playing for Arsenal and Manchester City, respectively, the duo are yet to really play together in midfield, but that’s what they did on Thursday night. Williamson has spent a lot of time at centre-back for club and country, but transitioned seamlessly into a still-familiar role at the base of the midfield.

For stretches of the match they were an impenetrable wall, quick to shut down Desiree Scott, Jessie Fleming and Julia Grosso in midfield and send the team on a quick counter attack the other way. In the first half in particular they seemed to be outmatching Canada but playing a similar style of football, but after Janine Beckie’s goal the teams were a bit more evenly matched as Canada grew into the game.

“That’s one of the things we want to try,” said England head coach Sarina Wiegman after the match. “We want to see how it relates with the available players we have now, and with the quality of players, I think this could be an option. Our team has played a lot with one pivot, and I want to see how we played with two pivots. Under this high pressure, sometimes we were really good, but sometimes we were finding our way a little bit.”

“We want to be tough to beat. We want teams to play against us and find it hard to play through us, and not give cheap goals away” added the goalscorer Bright, who usually plays beside Williamson for the national team, but played behind her in this match. “We felt like that’s what we needed tonight, and Kiera and Leah worked brilliantly as a pair both on and off the ball. It gives us a different dimension in our playing style.”

Jessie Fleming and Leah Williamson battle for the ball in midfield. (Photo: Canada Soccer by Daniela Porcelli)
Jessie Fleming and Leah Williamson battle for the ball in midfield. (Photo: Canada Soccer by Daniela Porcelli)

Buchanan and Gilles keep Canada in the game at times

Always reliable for club and country, centre-back Kadeisha Buchanan had another big match at the heart of the Canada defence. She blocked several shots throughout the match, including a pair of double blocks, scrambling to deny chances from Lauren Hemp, Alessia Russo and others. Alongside her, Vanessa Gilles also continued the strong start to her national team career.

Over the past 12 months Gilles has become a crucial part of the Canadian backline, and it’s hard to imagine anyone other than her and Buchanan playing together if Canada continue playing with a back four. Shelina Zadorsky is still a fantastic defender and leader, and will get her chances, but the regular starting job seems to be Gilles’ to lose at the moment. Her aerial presence and cool head under pressure are vital when playing against top opposition.

Bev Priestman has stressed the need for Canada to rely less on their defenders, and create more in attack, but that didn’t happen in this match. The defence bailed them out once again, but the offensive concerns need to be addressed if Canada are going to compete with strong the strong Germany and Spain sides over the next week, and in other matches beyond.

“In the first half we weren’t ourselves I would say, but in the second half we made some adjustments,” said Priestman. “The mindset to just play forward more, and take more risks and I thought that was a much better account of ourselves.

“It was a tough game, top opposition, a group who were fully in-season, and I think you could feel that at moments in the game. Incredibly proud of the performance and this team give everything, as they always do. I think the result was probably a fair one — we were on the ropes at times and we had chances at times, so I think it was a fair reflection.” Player of the Match

Leah Williamson, England

The England captain was strong on and off the ball, helping England control the midfield for large stretches of the match.

What’s next?

In matchday number two at the Arnold Clark Cup, Canada take on Germany — who are coming off a 1-1 draw with Spain — at Norwich’s Carrow Road. The match takes place on Sunday, February 20, at 3:15 pm ET and can be watched on TSN.