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Fran Kirby shows her maverick brilliance will be key to England’s Euro 2022 | Karen Carney

The Guardian
The Guardian
 2022-07-07

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I would always want my former teammate Fran Kirby in my England team. Who wouldn’t? It did not look like it would be a possibility in the months leading up to the Euros because of fatigue problems but in the 63 minutes Kirby played of the opening-game victory over Austria she showed how important she is to this England side.

It might not have been the 5-0 or 6-0 victory the 68,871 inside Old Trafford wanted but it is the perfect platform to build on, especially after all the pressure on the hosts coming into the Euros. Tournament football is all about momentum and three points against Austria puts England in a good position going into their second match, against Norway on Monday. I have had my concerns about England’s goalscoring and this was shown at Old Trafford but when it mattered Kirby made the difference.

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Kirby is England’s most creative player in the No 10 role and showed her qualities to make the goal for Beth Mead. Few people in the women’s game would have been able to pick out the pass which allowed Mead to lob the goalkeeper. Mead did incredibly well to control the ball and finish but it was a piece of brilliance by Kirby to find her in a small amount of space.

Kirby is unique and was at the heart of everything England did well going forward while she was on the pitch. She has the ability to break the lines with her running and passing but she also worked hard to win the ball back to put Austria on the back foot. Kirby showed her ability off the ball by making a clever run to help create a chance for Lauren Hemp in the first half.

A No 10 is the team’s maverick. They need to be given the ball as much as possible to express themselves and do the things others cannot. I think Kirby’s teammates need to get the ball to her quicker because she is the one who can create magic moments to win games.

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Considering Kirby missed months of the season with Chelsea because of fatigue, it was fantastic to see her out there. The one thing you can certainly say about her is she is very resilient. I thought she might only be able to be an impact player off the bench but she is proving everyone wrong and hopefully she will be able to play longer as the tournament progresses. When you have someone coming back from injury or illness, the key is to build them up, not break them down. Pushing a player too much before they are ready can be detrimental and Sarina Wiegman has the right idea to get the best out of her playmaker.

All one has to do is look at Kirby’s contribution last season for Chelsea, where she was the leading goal creator with 11 assists despite her long absence. She was joint fourth in the league, too, which is no small feat. She played only 25 matches but was a creative force and scored 11 goals to go with her assists.

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Beth Mead dinks the ball over Manuela Zinsberger to score the only goal of the game at Old Trafford. Photograph: Marc Atkins/Getty Images

The focus for Kirby, when I have spoken to her this past season, has always been to get healthy. As long as she is fit, she is a star player in any side. She is not going to lose her qualities because of a few months out but she needs to rebuild her match fitness to maximise what she can offer. In the friendlies before the tournament she looked sharp and she showed that again on Wednesday. Hopefully she can build momentum and confidence and recreate the form she has shown for Chelsea down the years.

Kirby also brings a wealth of tournament experience. She has 58 caps and appeared at the 2017 Euros and the 2015 and 2019 World Cups, so she knows what is required, which can only help her and her teammates.

England created 10 chances on Wednesday but only five efforts were on target. They will need to be more ruthless because they cannot not win every game with a single goal. They have shown in recent months the strength in depth available to Wiegman and the manager will not be afraid to use it to get the best results. Nikita Parris and Beth England spent the night on the bench and they would get into the majority of sides in this tournament.

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England showed they are defensively strong, something Wiegman has ensured since taking over. The back four coped extremely well with late pressure from Austria, although there was also a key Mary Earps save from Barbara Dunst’s shot. To win major tournaments a robust defensive foundation is a must, especially when you are not creating too many chances. It will give confidence to the attack-minded players, knowing what they have behind them. It should liberate them to take more chances and be more progressive in possession.

The win against Austria will have helped to alleviate the pressure and grow the confidence of the England team, and the glimpses of their creative leader doing what she does best will be a much‑needed boost before Monday’s crucial match.

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