England look to come into the 2018 SheBelieves Cup and achieve a better outcome than their previous third place finishes. This will also be the first time that fans of the national team get to see what Phil Neville has in his locker as he looks towards the 2019 FIFA Women's World Cup as England's new head coach.
After much turmoil that saw the end of Mark Sampson's time at the helm, and a surprise selection for the head coach position, the 'Lionesses' look forward to progressing as a soccer nation and etching their name as one of the premier teams in women's soccer.
A big step forward ends on a spur note in 2017
The calendar year of 2017 proved to be another big milestone for England as they surprised many by making it to the semi-final stage of the UEFA Women's Euro 2017, finishing top of their group beating France in the quarter-finals before losing out to eventual winners, the Netherlands. This performance came on the heels of a valiant effort at the 2015 FIFA Women's World Cup which saw England finish third overall at the tournament.
Things were beginning to pick up steam as former head coach Sampson had seemingly found a winning roster and formula to challenge the very best in the world. It all turned sideways as the year drew to a close and England began their World Cup qualifiers as Sampson was fired after allegations of racial abuse towards Chelsea L.F.C forward Eni Aluko were found to be true and further allegations appeared about his time as a club manager. It not only caused outrage to those on the outside looking in, but it also sowed seeds of discontent among those who currently play for England and Aluko. A post-goal celebration which showed the team racing towards Sampson and celebrating with him during the investigation drew ire from many quarters and seemed to indicate which side most of the team had decided to support. Many of the current players on the international team have been quick to dismiss any issues within the camp and are seemingly ready to move forward with Neville at the helm.
Looking ahead at the SheBelieves Cup
With not much to go on in terms of evidence as to how Phil Neville looks to set out his team, his roster choices for this tournament may give some insight as to how England could potentially set up. As previously stated, England have finished in third place in the last two editions of the SheBelieves Cup and provided a stern challenge in 2017 even with that positioning when all was said and done. We can expect the 'Lionesses' to be just as difficult to break down once again with Steph Houghton leading the way within the backline.
England have some quality players within their ranks that will cause any team trouble if given the space to do so. Lucy Bronze is probably one of, if not the best, right back in the women's game right now and up top, Jodie Taylor, Fran Kirby and Nikita Parris will be a constant danger for opponents. Expect all three players to start with the likes of Jill Scott and Isobel Christiansen behind them in support. If Taylor reproduces the form she showed at Euro 2017, the now Seattle Reign FC striker could push England all the way into a first place finish and set them on course for the World Cup next year.
Neville has the ability to spring some surprises during this tournament as not many will know how he will set up the team. If he can manage to keep England resolute defensively, like they were at Euro 2017, they can very likely finish as this year's champions. What England have lacked is the ability to keep their concentration for a full match and stop the very best teams from finding one moment to make the difference. It's what cost them a berth in the final at Euro 2017 and what has been their Achilles' heel at the 2016 and 2017 SheBelieves Cups. Neville will be well aware of that so it will be interesting to see just how he has addressed that when the tournament kicks off in a few days.