Football

Pre-Euro 2022 Best XIs: The players we pick to dominate the tournament

It’s finally here! After weeks of preparation, months of qualifying and years of anticipation leading to this moment — including the year-long delay due to the coronavirus pandemic — we’re finally ready to kick off the 2022 Women’s Euros, which will be streaming live on ESPN and ESPN+ in the U.S. all monthlong.

– Fixtures: Daily match schedule
– Scores: Follow every match
– Tables: All the group standings

We’ve previewed the teams, the talking points, the kits, the tournament’s rich history, the toughest stars and several of the top contenders — including Norway, England, Sweden and France. But before things kick off Wednesday between England and Austria — 3 p.m. ET on ESPN+ — we’ve asked some of our writers to pick their pre-tournament Best XIs based on expected performance.

Granted, this was filed before the awful news that Spain’s Alexia Putellas, one of the world’s best players (and No.1 in the 2022 ESPN FC Women’s Rank), suffered an ACL tear that will rule her out of the tournament entirely, but still!

So, these are the players we’re tipping to have a big tournament; check back after the competition to see who rose to expectations.


Kathleen McNamee: Katoto for Golden Boot?

4-2-3-1: Sandra Panos (Spain); Magdalena Eriksson (Sweden), Millie Bright (England), Wendie Renard (France), Selma Bacha (France); Alexia Putellas (Spain), Aitana Bonmati (Spain); Beth Mead (England), Caroline Graham Hansen (Norway), Lauren Hemp (England); Marie-Antoinette Katoto (France)

Trying to pick a pre-tournament Best XI before a ball is even kicked is a daunting task and the likelihood of eating our words after July 31 is high, but we persevere!

There are several contenders for the Golden Boot, with Marie-Antoinette Katoto high on that list — especially now given the injury to Putellas. The France striker has kept Paris Saint-Germain firing on all cylinders this season, and should France go deep into the competition, she has several goals in her.

Euro 2022: Daily guide to coverage, features, fixtures, more
– Every Euros game LIVE on ESPN: Navigate the schedule

Anyone who has watched Barcelona this season would say there’s little question over the choices in midfield despite Putellas’ absence. Caroline Graham Hansen normally plays on the right wing with Barca, but No. 10 is where she slots in with Norway. Meanwhile, Man City‘s Lauren Hemp is quickly proving herself to be one of the best wingers in the world. Her speed and skill are second to none, and she is only 21, fresh off winning the 2022 PFA Young Women’s Player of the Year: the fourth time she’s won the prize!

After missing out on the England squad that went to the 2021 Olympics, Beth Mead had one of the best seasons of her career and her confidence should be high going into the tournament.

At the back, experience is key. France’s Wendie Renard is the sort of leader any team would be lucky to have. While she is a veteran, France also have the exciting Selma Bacha in their ranks, a defender who is unafraid to push higher up the wing in support of the attack. Millie Bright was key to getting Chelsea out of some sticky situations this season as they managed to win their third Women’s Super League trophy in a row. She is joined by teammate Magda Eriksson, who is great at pulling the strings of a defence and making sure everyone stays in line. When she was injured during the season with Chelsea, her vocal influence on the pitch was noticeably missing.


Sophie Lawson: Experience will be key … so too will the draw

3-4-3: Hedvig Lindahl (Sweden); Wendie Renard (France), Alex Greenwood (England), Selma Bacha (France); Aitana Bonmati (Spain), Leah Williamson (England), Pernille Harder (Denmark), Fridolina Rolfö (Sweden); Caroline Graham Hansen (Norway), Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands), Lauren Hemp (England)

A pre-tournament best XI can be a strange thing indeed, as you’re not just looking at the players currently in form or those who often play well for their country, but you’re considering how well they’re likely to perform in the coming matches — something that can depend more on their opposition than themselves.

So who do we believe will make an impact this summer?

Heading the attack, I’ve gone for Vivianne Miedema as, for all the mess within the Dutch team coming into the Euros, I can see her scoring heavily in Group B, whereas Katoto is likely to come up against defences that might prove slightly harder to unlock. On either side of the Arsenal front woman, we’ve got Hemp and Graham Hansen, who are both in sublime form and always perform for their respective national teams.

Pernille Harder sits at the tip of a diamond midfield, supplying even more attacking nous with Fridolina Rolfö on the left and Aitana Bonmatí balancing out the right side of midfield. With Spain still the wild card or unknown quantity this summer, individuals will be key for La Roja and the Barcelona woman is up to the task. At the base of the midfield sits Leah Williamson, who will likely float between midfield in the “double pivot” (with Keira Walsh) and centre-back this summer, but she’s very much one to watch for the Lionesses.

The back line has the most liberties taken — as best XIs often do — with two left-backs and one centre-back. Despite being tempted to put Renard’s defensive partner, Griedge Mbock, in place of the towering CB, we opted for the “Fox in the Box” because of her knack for scoring goals. If she can bag a crucial goal, as she so often has for Les Bleues, she will likely be remembered more come the end of the month.

Next to Renard is Alex Greenwood, who has made the centre-back role all her own since club manager Gareth Taylor revived her old position, and she’s been thriving in central defence. Finally we have Bacha, probably the fullback most in-form in Europe this season; her ability to add to the attack is absolutely massive for Lyon as well as France. Here’s hoping she’s given latitude to get up and down the flank.

In goal, it has to be one of the most reliable to ever mind goal in women’s football in Europe: Sweden’s veteran No. 1 and the oldest player at the Euros, Hedvig Lindahl.


Julien Laurens: Making room for two strikers

4-4-2: Sandra Panos (Spain); Lucy Bronze (England), Wendy Renard (France), Lena Oberdorf (Germany), Magdalena Eriksson (Sweden); Caroline Graham Hansen (Norway), Sara Dabritz (Germany), Manuela Giugliano (Italy), Lauren Hemp (England); Vivienne Miedema (Netherlands), Marie-Antoinette Katoto (France)

There is so much talent up front at the moment in Europe that a formation with two strikers is a real no-brainer here for us. The hardest bit is actually to pick the two forwards, as there are easily six or seven super talented No. 9s right now!

Ultimately, though, we’re going for Katoto and Miedema. Katoto had a wonderful season individually despite a difficult context and environment at PSG. The France team is hers now, and we expect her to deliver. Miedema will play just behind her, as a “No. 9 and a half” where she can create and score. The Dutch international had another record-breaking season with Arsenal and should have little trouble continuing in that vein.

My 4-4-2 would obviously have included Putellas, the best player in the world, but her injury means that she will unfortunately not take part in the tournament. To replace her, I have chosen Sara Dabritz. The German will have to play a bit deeper, but she will bring a lot of creativity and leadership to the team. She will be the heart of my very attacking team.

Next to her in the holding role, we have been impressed this season by Italy‘s Manuela Giugliano. She works hard, she’s clever and a good passer, too. She will be perfect alongside the Ballon d’Or winner, and she will protect our back four, although it is so good and so complete that it won’t need much protection!

Renard and Lena Oberdorf are our two centre-backs: they would be the perfect mix of experience and height, youth and technique. At 20, we expect the versatile Oberdorf to be one of the stars of the tournament, not just for Germany. France’s Renard is such a threat on set pieces as well.

The two full-backs complement each other well in Lucy Bronze on the right and Eriksson on the left. We want the English international to be the most attacking of the two, while the Swede offers more balance on both sides of the ball. Finally, in goal, Spain’s Sandra Panos fits exactly what we want from our goalkeeper: be proactive, play from the back, good on the ball as well as on her line.


Tom Hamilton: Picking a Barcelona (and Spain) core

4-2-3-1: Sandra Panos (Spain); Hanna Glas (Sweden), Irene Paredes (Spain), Magda Eriksson (Norway), Selma Bacha (France); Lena Oberdorf (Germany), Aitana Bonmati (Spain); Caroline Graham Hansen (Norway), Fran Kirby (England), Lauren Hemp (England); Vivianne Miedema (Netherlands)

We’re anticipating England and Spain to go far in the tournament, but we have gone for a Barcelona backbone to the team that should be the guiding force behind the Spanish charge at Euro 2022. This team will play in a fluid 4-2-3-1, with the three attacking players largely interchangeable off the ruthless Miedema. Fran Kirby and Hemp of England should have brilliant championships, while Graham Hansen — the Norway and Barcelona star — should also dazzle.

It was a tough choice between Miedema, Ada Hegerberg and Katoto upfront, but Miedema just comes through. At the back, Bacha should be the standout left-back in the Euros, while Hanna Glas will be the guiding light in a strong field at right-back ahead of Bronze, who pushed her close to make the grade in our chosen XI. Panos is probably the second best goalkeeper in the world after Chile’s Christiane Endler, so she’s a shoe-in for that spot.

Eriksson has been immense for Chelsea this year and should translate that to the international stage, while the likes of Irene Paredes and Bonmati pick themselves in the middle of the park.

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