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Neville's Lionesses have flaws exposed by Germany in front of record-breaking Wembley crowd

7:30 PM GMT 09/11/2019
Phil Neville England vs Germany 2019
Ellen White's goal was the highlight on a very wet and cold evening in London on which England again struggled to put on a worthy performance

“This is the type of game where there are no excuses.”

That was Phil Neville’s message to the players, the media and the public ahead of England’s highly-publicised and sold-out game against Germany at Wembley.

Questions about his Lionesses team and their performances have been coming thick and fast since  the World Cup semi-final defeat to the United States , with a run of five winless games producing the team’s worst run since Hope Powell was sacked after England finished bottom of their Euro 2013 group.

Neville has defended the performances , and both he  and his players have spoken about a World Cup hangover . But, this time, he refused to use those excuses.

"We're in the best shape since we've come back from the World Cup and it's now going out and delivering on the biggest stage," he said.

What, then, can he say about the team’s performance in their 2-1 defeat to Germany?

For all the positives that have come under Neville – the development of a winning mentality and the emergence of top talent, from Georgia Stanway to Beth England, in particular – there have been several underlying issues.

Two of the most prominent of those have been giving the ball away in defence and dangerous areas, and the inability to defend crosses.

Heading into this game, England had conceded 23 goals under Neville – nine of them direct from crosses, five from crosses not cleared properly, with two of them also from centre-backs giving the ball away.

It was fitting, then, that Alex Popp’s opening goal at Wembley was a header, direct from a cross, which had come from full-back Alex Greenwood giving the ball away.

Add to that the questionable marking from Leah Williamson and Steph Houghton, and that Mary Earps could have arguably done better to save the headed effort, having got a palm to it, and it summed up the main criticisms of Neville’s team.

That such errors and more lacklustre play came on this occasion, however, was not fitting.

This was the biggest game in the history of England’s women’s team. A sell-out at Wembley against their arch-rivals, coming after another run to the semi-finals of a major tournament and amidst the feeling of the game growing faster than ever before.

Former players were rightfully honoured on the hallowed turf, while Ellen White received her Bronze Boot for her six-goal haul in France to rapturous applause.

Fans were out over an hour before kick-off in the stands, waiting in the pouring rain and typical November cold to see the Lionesses that captured the hearts of a nation over the summer.

But, as 77,768 fans filled the seats as kick-off approached, setting a new record attendance for a Lionesses game, they received only glimpses, with White’s neat finish from an even lovelier Keira Walsh cross the highlight.

The few positive spells England enjoyed threatening a weak German defence on the counter offered little consolation to a team still far from their best.

Nikita Parris’ penalty miss highlighted another issue – the Lionesses’ fourth miss in five, and Parris’ third in four – while a few shaky moments at the back had Wembley flinching.

The front three and the midfield three appeared to be on different wavelengths when it came to pressing, Beth Mead and co. often urging those behind them to push up and help restrict Germany, while another goalkeeping error almost gifted the visitors a second goal – only for the offside flag to deny Lina Magull, who pounced on the rebound as Earps spilled an effort from range.

But against a team who had scored 31 goals in their last four games, a team ranked second in the world and a team who have an incredible record against them, England stood up to the challenge and were only Klara Buhl's stoppage-time goal away from sending their fans home with a result to smile about.

As for their manager?  He wanted a performance of great quality , but he certainly didn't get it.