England: Have Phil Neville's team gone backwards since Women's World Cup?

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Highlights: Norway 2-1 England

Should England fans and players "thank their lucky stars" Phil Neville is in charge?

The Lionesses manager's claim was apparently said in jest, but after a draw in Belgium and defeat by Norway in their first friendlies since the World Cup, his stock has hardly risen.

Despite record TV audiences for England's World Cup games and fourth-placed finish in France, questions remain about their tactics and whether these players can implement them.

The long road to hosting Euro 2021 allows plenty of time to improve.

Neville has also said he wants to take risks and move players out of their comfort zones during England's upcoming friendlies.

But are we any closer to learning more about Neville and his team after those Belgium and Norway results?

Is Neville confidence misplaced?

Neville occasionally says the wrong thing, like at the World Cup when he called the third-place defeat by Sweden a "nonsense" game.

Before the 3-3 draw with Belgium last week he said he regretted using that word, but argued it summed up his disappointment after losing to the United States days earlier.

In Norway, Neville said he had "a vision and bravery that no other coach has, so thank your lucky stars. I'm here to stay".

If it was intended to ruffle feathers, it worked, and it chimed with his aim to make things uncomfortable.

He says it's all part of his long-term plan to take the Lionesses to the next level before hosting the European Championship in two years' time.

Former England captain Casey Stoney said she had no issue with Neville's words, adding: "It's a British mentality where you have to be humble, negative and sometimes reserved and I don't think there's anything wrong with saying you're good sometimes."

True enough, yet if England are to take a similar attitude to World Cup winners United States, they have to back it up with results.

Despite winning the SheBelieves Cup last March, Neville is yet to deliver on that front. At least by his own standards.

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'My focus is England' - Phil Neville dismisses USA rumour

England's defensive frailties continue

In blunt terms, Neville took England backwards at the World Cup, having missed out on a bronze medal achieved under Mark Sampson in Canada four years ago.

Neville would argue that it will take time to instil a new style where he wants his team to play out from the back.

The draw against Belgium, ranked 14 places below England, and defeat by Norway, who they beat 3-0 at the World Cup, also came before the start of the Women's Super League, meaning players are still working back to full fitness.

But in Belgium, Neville did not accept that as an excuse, even if he was critical of his team's mistakes, having worked on defensive shape all week prior to the game.

The biggest worries are England's vulnerability from wide areas and their distribution from the back.

In their last four games Neville's side have conceded six goals from crosses and two from corners.

Defenders Steph Houghton and Millie Bright also gave the ball away in dangerous positions, leading to goals against Belgium and Norway.

Regardless of their desire to play expansive football, England need to improve that part of the game before it becomes a target for the opposition.

Keira Walsh and Lucy Bronze
Right-back Lucy Bronze (right) played well against Norway and Belgium, but England missed her presence on the flanks

Bronze experiment leaves holes

Moving right-back Lucy Bronze into midfield has been a subtext to Neville's experimentation with England, but it has also been over-played.

Bronze adds drive and desire to England's midfield, but she is also back-up to the likes of regular midfielders Jill Scott, Jordan Nobbs and Izzy Christiansen, who are recovering from injury or being rested.

In that role she is well-suited, but moving from right-back also leaves a hole on England's flanks, where they have proven dangerous.

"Against Norway there was a lack of clarity in how England wanted to play," said former England goalkeeper Rachel Brown-Finnis. "Overlapping full-backs were England's identity at the World Cup and I don't think we had a DNA against Norway."

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‘What an unbelievable finish’ – Stanway stunner gives England lead

Stanway proving she has 'world-class' potential

Positives from the two friendlies were limited, but the shining light among the team was midfielder Georgia Stanway, whose goal lit up the first half against Norway.

Never one to shy away from shooting, the Manchester City player fired first-time into the top corner to give England the lead.

She also set up Jodie Taylor for the opening goal against Belgium with a carefully weighted pass after a swift counter-attack.

Stanway made her World Cup debut in France, but did not look out of place, particularly against Japan, and was unlucky not to feature more than the underwhelming Fran Kirby.

With the Chelsea midfielder injured for this latest trip, Stanway may have just given Neville a nudge that she might deserve to hold on to her place when England take on Brazil on 5 October at Middlesbrough's Riverside Stadium.

The 20-year-old has backed up Neville's judgement when he spoke of her "world-class potential" at the World Cup.

Now he needs to prove he has similar attributes before his words begin to sound hollow.

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