England talking points: Lauren James impresses on full World Cup debut but Keira Walsh injury dampens Lionesses’ win

Sky Sports’ writers and reporters dissect England’s Women’s World Cup Group D meeting with Denmark, as a masterful Lauren James strike earned the Lionesses their second 1-0 win of the tournament.

Intensity improved

Lucy Bronze in action against Denmark
Lucy Bronze was all-action down England’s right wing

England made a blistering start to their second Group D game. The pace, tempo and intensity in the opening 15 minutes was better than they mustered in 90 against Haiti.

Sarina Wiegman’s directive was clear: be better. Sounds simple in theory, but in practice, not so easy at a major tournament finals, especially after allowing complacency to creep in. Wiegman was scarcely going to allow standards to drop any further.

Cue the response. England forced Denmark so deep, so early, they simply could not cope. Lauren James was electric, linking with the tireless Rachel Daly, while Georgia Stanway barely put a foot wrong after Keira Walsh’s untimely withdrawal. The passes were crisper, the movement sharper, and general performance more convincing.

Some vulnerabilities at the back were still evident, and rhythm was disrupted in the absence of Walsh, but this display included much more of England’s identity and personality, if not entirely without error.

Walsh injury clouds result

Walsh instantly signalled to the bench that she could not continue upon sustaining the injury late in the first half
Keira Walsh instantly signalled to the bench that she could not continue upon sustaining a knee injury

It looks like it is tournament over for England’s puppet master, who was stretchered off the pitch after going down in the first half. “I’ve done my knee,” Walsh mouthed to England’s medical team, who rushed to the midfielder’s aid.

A sad and all-too-familiar sight in the women’s game, where an epidemic of ACL injuries seems to be sweeping through the world’s top players.

There is no direct replacement for Walsh, in terms of the way she dictates and controls play. She commands that role better than any other deep-lying midfielder in Europe – perhaps even the world.

So, what are England’s alternatives? Well, Wiegman is famed for her meticulous planning. She operates with a plan A, B and C. During the Euros, the Lionesses sailed through the tournament with every squad member fit, which made for consistent selections. This time around they have not been so lucky.

Laura Coombs and Katie Zelem are both capable replacements – but Walsh’s loss is certainly going to be felt if indeed it is confirmed that the dreaded ACL has claimed yet another victim.

Clincal James impresses

Lauren James celebrates opening the scoring against Denmark
Lauren James celebrates opening the scoring against Denmark

Welcome to the world stage, Lauren.

Wiegman called for more ruthlessness in the lead-up to facing Denmark. Stick James in from the start and you have got your wish.

She is now England’s second-youngest scorer at a World Cup – behind Jill Scott. The technical quality of her strike, which was guided perfectly into the far corner just six minutes in, was demonstrative of the Chelsea star’s immense growth over the past 12 months.

She displayed flashes of the best version of England – full of energy and vibrancy. A real powerhouse in possession.

Daly must also be commended for the influence she had on James’ freedom to express. The Aston Villa all-rounder had full control of the left flank, liberating James from any defensive duty, and allowing the forward to do what she does best – attack.

James’ vigour faded a little in the second half but as full World Cup debuts go, it was pretty memorable.