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Unpacking Phil Neville’s comments after the USA loss

Since becoming England manager, there has been a strong trend with Phil Neville of giving nonsensical answers to the press, particularly in a post-match setting. Talking to Sky Sports after England’s flat loss to the USA at the first match of the She Believes Cup, the 43-year-old once again fell back on providing answers that seemed to contradict the actual match. Here we’ll attempt to point out these inaccuracies (all quotes are taken from this article).

What Neville said: “The semi-final was six months ago, and in terms of the gap, it hasn’t widened that’s for sure.”

What we think: The US league (NWSL) finished in October, since then the players have had a couple of international camps, most recently last month for Olympic qualifiers, but the team is also getting used to a new coach (Vlatko Andonovski) and was largely untested over their recent matches. The players are still adapting to the new style and lack crucial match sharpness (bar Lynn Williams who spent part of the NWSL offseason in the Australian W-League), compared with England who haven’t been in camp since November but are all playing regularly in the WSL.

With this is mind, we can safely say that the USA weren’t at top gear during the match – making a number of errors throughout – nor did they have the gloss of a team all on the same page and yet they dominated with ease during the first half. The Lionesses had no where to turn before the break and arguably should have been a goal or two down before half-time.

Unlike the World Cup semi-final that was a tighter affair, clearly edged by the USA, last night the Americans were nothing but superior, out-shooting England 23 to 8 (quite a departure from the 10:6 in France). It would be very hard to argue that the gap hasn’t increased.

What Neville said: “Our team is different, there’s a lot of young players in there, we are building something new.”

What we think: With the likes of Grace Fisk (*22/0), Chloe Kelly (22/1), Sandy MacIver (21/0), Alessia Russo (21/0), Beth England (25/5) and Ellie Roebuck (20/4) on the bench, there is no denying Neville is keen on bringing young players into the squad but his starting XI was a long way from inexperienced. In fact, the only person in the 11 who doesn’t have major [senior] tournament experience was Lauren Hemp (19/4) but was comfortably one of the best players for England, and one of the few who seemed unperturbed by the might of the hosts.

Furthermore, of the 11 he started last night, only three had no involvement in the semi-final in France: Leah Williamson (25/15) and Alex Greenwood who were both on the bench that day and Hemp who wasn’t called up.

Simply put, the argument that the squad is a young one doesn’t wash and provides no answers for why a team that was largely unchanged since the last encounter suddenly looked just so off the pace.

What Neville said: “The biggest obstacle is always the final bit, the last one or two per cent and going above them to try and beat them.

What we think: Neville has often talked about the last one or two percent, the idea of the fine margins that decide a football match but what we saw last night wasn’t two teams on the same level, split but a hair but two considerably far apart.

What Neville said: “We’ve got to overcome that, add that ruthlessness that we saw [from the USA], who had two chances and two goals.”

What we think: The USA managed 23 total shots with just six on target. Whilst the argument that Carli Lloyd isn’t the best option at centre forward is an argument for another day, the 37-year-old wasted countless chances before finding the back of the net, this was a US team that lacked a clinical edge but still scythed through England’s defence time and again with ease.

What Neville said: “I don’t feel pressure at all. I think what we do want to do is we want to keep competing against the best teams in the world and keep raising our performance levels.”

What we think: Again, this is a line we’ve heard before and it’s hard to ascertain if it’s something the manager actively believes or just something safe to say to the media in front of him. Since the World Cup, England have been in a downward slide and we’re beyond being able to call it a hangover, the levels aren’t on the rise, quite the opposite. Whilst you can point out they were playing the world champions, it’s hard to find an excuse for their poor performances against teams like Belgium [FIFA ranking #17], Czech Republic [FIFA ranking #28] and Portugal [FIFA ranking #31].

What Neville said: “They look like they enjoyed the occasion. They didn’t look like they had any fear in them.

What we think: Between Steph Houghton and Millie Bright constantly running back to their own goal, Stanway looking overcooked or Ellen White seeing nothing of the ball, the team were clearly out of their element and whilst they might have not been cowering, the match still fell into the category of women against girls.

*age/caps

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