SheBelieves Cup: Why Jordan Nobbs' return could be key for England

By Emma SandersBBC Sport in Dallas
Jordan Nobbs
Jordan Nobbs missed the 2019 World Cup after injuring her anterior cruciate ligament

England midfielder Jordan Nobbs was out for eight months with a serious knee injury but made her third start in eight games in the SheBelieves Cup victory over Japan, was named player of the match and put in an impressive display.

The 27-year-old is playing regularly for Arsenal in the Women's Super League again and against Japan provided England with the creative force they have lacked.

So just how much have England missed Nobbs? Is she back to her best and should the Lionesses "unleash" her in midfield?

How much did England miss Nobbs at the World Cup?

Disappointment, heartbreak and Lego - Jordan Nobbs on missing the World Cup

When Jodie Taylor scored her winning goal against Argentina in the group stages of last summer's World Cup, she ran over to the corner towards Nobbs, who was in Le Havre working as a pundit for the BBC.

It was a sign of the regard Nobbs, who has 62 caps, is held in by her England team-mates - and how much they missed her presence.

"I gave her a wave as well as some family. It was a special goal for them," Taylor told BBC Sport afterwards.

Phil Neville relied heavily on Manchester City duo Keira Walsh and Jill Scott at the World Cup but at times they struggled to link up with England's attacking players.

Striker Ellen White's six goals in the competition were a huge boost but against Japan in the SheBelieves Cup on Sunday, Nobbs showed what they were missing - she was England's most creative player, setting up Lauren Hemp and Bethany England with a whipped cross and a smart touch in the first half.

Former England defender Laura Bassett said on BBC Two Nobbs was "busting a gut" to join the front three and it helped the Lionesses to play more "central and direct".

"Nobbs is showing for the ball from the defence, which offers England more space to occupy, or she's running in behind and supporting the forwards. She's definitely been lively in there and making things happen," Bassett added.

Scott said the team "knew they were going to miss Nobbs" at the World Cup and did their best to "fill the space that she had left".

"I thought we did well at the World Cup but to have her back is such an added bonus and as you have seen, she is a great player," Scott told BBC Sport.

Is she back to her best?

Nobbs said in September she was facing a "long-term process" of recovery and Neville said last month England have taken "a gentle approach" with her.

After her performance as a substitute in a 2-0 defeat against the USA in their opening game of the SheBelieves Cup, Neville said he had seen her "quality" but that she has "to battle and fight for her place".

She did just that against Japan and Neville said it was a "good step" for Nobbs, who was "really frustrated and disappointed" not to start against the world champions in the opening game.

"We saw that frustration and determination in the Japan game and I want to see that again against Spain," said Neville.

"The more she gets out there and the more she plays at that level, the better she will get because she is without a doubt one of our best players."

Scott said Nobbs "will reach those highs she had before getting injured" with more games but feels like "she has never been gone".

"I know what Jordan is like and she probably puts herself under pressure but from the outside looking in, she wouldn't be starting for Arsenal or playing for England if she hadn't been putting in the performances," added Scott.

Is it time to 'unleash' Nobbs in England's midfield?

Scott says there is "healthy competition" for places in midfield between herself and Nobbs, who can "run all day".

Manchester City's Scott is a more natural box-to-box midfielder, while Nobbs showed against Japan that she thrives in a more attacking role - linking up with the forwards and moving the ball in tight spaces in and around the box.

But Tim Stillman, a local reporter covering Arsenal Women, says "England haven't given Nobbs prominence" in midfield and do not allow her the fluidity she enjoys at club level.

"I don't think we've seen the Arsenal Jordan for England as often as we ought to have," Stillman told BBC Sport.

"It's how she judges and sets the tempo of a game - everything she does is quick but never rushed and she always tries to go forward and break the lines.

"She's one of the most rounded players I've seen and she is the type of player you just have to unleash."

Neville admitted Nobbs had a "few bumps and bruises" from the win over Japan but she will hope to play a key role in England's final SheBelieves Cup match against Spain in Dallas on Wednesday.