Why captain Leah Williamson is England’s Paolo Maldini

The 25-year-old central defender did not have to make a tackle at Euro 2022.

By Press Association Published: 1 August 2022 - 8.31am

England’s Leah Williamson won the ball more often than any other player at Euro 2022 despite not making a single tackle, according to UEFA’s official statistics.

The Lionesses captain had 56 ball recoveries to her name and zero tackles. The next-most successful ball winner was Lucy Bronze with 51 recoveries, followed by Germany’s Marina Hegering with 46.

Williamson’s performances were reminiscent of Paolo Maldini, with the Italian great having famously said: “If I have to make a tackle then I have already made a mistake”.

Williamson led England to four clean sheets out of six – the best defensive record in the tournament – only conceding against Spain and Germany during extra-time victories in the quarter-final and the final, respectively.

(PA graphic)
(PA graphic)

Williamson ever-present

Such is the quiet competence of her work, Arsenal’s Williamson largely went under the radar at Euro 2022, with central defensive partner Millie Bright winning more of the plaudits.

Sarina Wiegman clearly has enormous faith in her captain, however, as Williamson was the only outfield player to have stayed on the pitch for every minute of England’s run.

(PA graphic)
(PA graphic)

Williamson was a vital cog in the England machine offensively as well as defensively.

The Lionesses enjoyed the second-highest share of possession behind Spain (57 per cent), with Williamson contributing to their style of play under Wiegman.

The 25-year-old – who started her career as a midfielder and only switched to central defence shortly before her England debut – completed 472 passes in six matches, over 100 more than any other player at the tournament.

Mead leads array of attacking options

Just as Williamson and Bright shone for England in defence, the likes of Beth Mead, Alessia Russo and Fran Kirby excelled in attack.

England's Alessia Russo celebrates scoring with Beth Mead
Beth Mead and Alessia Russo scored 10 goals between them at Euro 2022 (Gareth Fuller/PA)

The Lionesses were comfortably the highest scorers at the tournament with 22 goals, ahead of Germany on 14.

Nine different players got their names on the scoresheet – also a tournament high.

Among them was Golden Boot winner Mead, who had six goals from six shots on target at Euro 2022. She was tied with Germany’s Alexandra Popp, who missed the final through injury, but won the award courtesy of providing more assists (five to none).

Team-mate Alessia Russo – scorer of an audacious backheel in the semi-final against Sweden – managed four goals in six substitute appearances.

Germany’s Alexandra Popp
Alexandra Popp missed Sunday’s final through injury, having scored twice in the semi-final to go level with Mead on six goals (Nick Potts/PA)

Apart from Mead and Russo, England’s goal tally included two apiece for Kirby, Georgia Stanway and Ellen White, and one each for Chloe Kelly, Lauren Hemp, Ella Toone and Lucy Bronze.

Mead was also a creative force, providing five assists to go with her six goals. Her total of 11 goal involvements was almost twice as many as anyone else – Popp was next with six, followed by Russo and Kirby on five.

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