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Published 13 February 2024 4 min read
England Women's Senior Team

Wiegman: 'It's really nice to have Leah back'

Written by:

Frank Smith

Sarina Wiegman discusses her England Women squad for February's matches against Austria and Italy

Sarina Wiegman is relishing the chance to work with Leah Williamson again after recalling the defender for the first time since the serious knee injury which ruled her out of the World Cup.

England Women’s senior and Under-23 team will be heading to Algeciras for a joint training camp this month, with both teams having fixtures out in Spain.

Williamson returns to the England squad for the first time since the Lionesses won the inaugural Women’s Finalissima in April after she suffered an anterior cruciate knee ligament injury later that month.

The centre-back returned for Arsenal on January 24 and has been building up her game time over the last three weeks, leading to an international recall on Tuesday morning.

Wiegman said: “It is really nice that she is back, especially for her. She is gaining minutes at Arsenal and is doing well. It will be really good to see her next week.”

Wiegman continued: “Of course it is really nice to have her back because she is a very good player, and we've seen that too [since her return from injury]. Even though she has been out for months, she is coming back now and her decision-making is really good and she's still building.

“I think the team picked up over the last year very well and I think players stepped up, but it's really nice to have her back.”

The Lionesses will play two matches at Estadio Nuevo Mirador in Algeciras this month, taking on Austria on Friday 23 February (7.45pm GMT) and then Italy four days later on Tuesday 27 February (5pm GMT).

They will be the final games before England begin their UEFA Women’s EURO title defence, with the qualification draw taking place on Tuesday 5 March and matches taking place between April and July.

The end goal is to become one of 15 teams to qualify for UEFA Women’s EURO 2025 alongside hosts Switzerland and then retain the trophy Wiegman has won at the last two editions, first with her native Netherlands and then with England.

Wiegman said: “We play two games and it is abroad, of course, so hopefully the weather is nice and the circumstances are good so we can train well and play well.

“The Under-23s are also around so we can have a closer look at them and we can experiment.

“This is the beginning of our preparation for the EURO qualifiers and then hopefully for the EURO so we can try things out. We can see many players to see where they're at so I'm very excited to start again next week.”

Millie Bright has been ruled out due to injury
Millie Bright has been ruled out due to injury

Whilst Williamson is part of the 23-player senior squad, it has come too soon for her centre-back partner Millie Bright, who has been ruled out by injury.

“Millie is in rehab,” Wiegman explained. “She's in a good place, but she needs more time. Of course, I hope she'll be back for April but I think they're taking it step by step. So let's see how that goes.”

One of the main talking points among supporters following the squad announcement on Tuesday morning was the omission of Nikita Parris.

The 29-year-old, who was part of Wiegman’s EURO-winning squad, has scored successive braces in the Barclays Women’s Super League to make it eight league goals this term.

Wiegman was asked about Parris’ absence several times in her squad announcement press conference and the head coach revealed she had called the forward on Monday to discuss the situation.

She said: “I had a couple of conversations with her in the autumn, which was a different situation, and then I had a short conversation with her yesterday so I could explain it a little bit.

“I think we're in a luxurious position in that we have many players up front, not only in the number nine position but also on the wing. It is so competitive that I have to make hard choices and some players that are doing really well, I need to keep out.

“So she's available and she knows we're watching her very closely.”

The WU23s will be in camp with the senior squad out in Spain
The WU23s will be in camp with the senior squad out in Spain

With the Lionesses not having qualifiers or Nations League matches this month, it provides the coaching staff with the opportunity for the England Women’s senior team and the Under-23s to be in camp together.

The Under-23s are due to have two matches out in Spain; a friendly against the hosts on Thursday 22 February (11am GMT) and a European League fixture versus the Netherlands on Monday 26 February (12pm GMT).

But this is also a chance for the Young Lionesses players to impress Wiegman and her staff first-hand.

When asked why she didn’t name a larger senior squad, instead opting for 23 players, Wiegman replied: “We will have two very competitive games, which I think is really good because you need to see where we're at and where the players are at.

“But I didn't want to have more than 23 players in the senior squad because we will also have the Under-23s with us so we can, if necessary, bring players from the 23s to the senior team.”

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