Leah Williamson returns to England squad as Sarina Wiegman reveals plan for Lionesses friendlies

Leah Williamson is back in the England squad for the first time since April last year as Sarina Wiegman said she plans to “experiment” with her team in upcoming friendlies against Austria and Italy later this month.

Arsenal defender Williamson led the Lionesses to Euro 2022 glory as captain but missed last summer’s World Cup after rupturing her anterior cruciate ligament nine months ago.

Williamson replaces the injured Millie Bright in one of only two changes from December’s 23-player squad, with Manchester City midfielder Jess Park also coming in for Manchester United’s Katie Zelem.

The Lionesses missed out on the Nations League finals in December so will instead begin their preparations for the start of Euro 2025 qualifying with a trip to the south of Spain and a pair of friendlies against Austria and Italy.

Williamson is expected to return as captain but Wiegman said she will only make a decision after discussing it with her squad - goalkeeper Mary Earps captained the side when both Williamson and Bright were unavailable at the end of last year.

However, the Lionesses manager was delighted to include the 26-year-old in her squad and said: “It’s really nice, especially for her. She’s back, she’s gaining minutes at Arsenal and doing well. They are happy with where she is and it will be nice to see her back next week in camp next week.

“She’s a very good player, we’ve seen that too. Even though she’s been out for months, her decision making is really good even as she is still building. The team stepped up [without her] but it’s good to have her back.”

Leah Williamson is back in the England squad (John Walton/PA) (PA Wire)
Leah Williamson is back in the England squad (John Walton/PA) (PA Wire)

Bright has been out since November with a knee injury but Wiegman said she was hopeful the Chelsea centre-back would be available for the start of Euro 2025 qualifying in April.

The Lionesses have not played a non-competition match since before the World Cup and Wiegman said she was looking forward to the opportunity “try new things” as England build towards Euro 2025.

The World Cup runners-ups finished last year with the blow of missing out on qualification for the Nations League finals and the Olympic Games, despite their victories over the Netherlands and Scotland.

“We’ll play two friendlies in warm weather, good conditions,” Wiegman said ahead of the trip to Spain. “What we can do is experiment.

“It was devastating in December. We played two incredible games and we played really well, but you can’t control what the opposition do

“We were disappointed. Now, we have the opportunity to play friendlies. We have to stay on the front foot and keep developing.”

There was no room in the squad for in-form Manchester United forward Nikita Parris, who has been overlooked despite scoring 15 goals in the last 16 matches for her club.

“The competition up front is really high, in the autumn she didn’t play much,” Wiegman said. “Since the new year she has played in the nine position and has done really well, of course we have noticed that too.

“We have had a little chat and I hope she shows consistency because we are talking about her again but I made some other choices now for this camp.

“With the players we have, they have done well so it was a hard decision.

“I had conversations with her in the autumn, that was a different situation. I had a short conversation with her yesterday and I explained a little bit and that is now just the way it is.

“We have many players up front, it is so competitive that I have to make choices and some players who are doing really well will be kept out. She is available and she knows we are watching her closely.”

England squad for February friendlies against Austria and Italy

Goalkeepers: Mary Earps (Manchester United), Hannah Hampton (Chelsea), Khiara Keating (Manchester City)

Defenders: Lucy Bronze (Barcelona), Jess Carter (Chelsea), Niamh Charles (Chelsea), Alex Greenwood (Manchester City), Maya Le Tissier (Manchester United), Esme Morgan (Manchester City), Leah Williamson (Arsenal), Lotte Wubben-Moy (Arsenal)

Midfielders: Grace Clinton (Tottenham Hotspur, loan from Manchester United), Fran Kirby (Chelsea), Jess Park (Manchester City), Georgia Stanway (Bayern Munich), Ella Toone (Manchester United), Keira Walsh (Barcelona)

Forwards: Rachel Daly (Aston Villa), Lauren Hemp (Manchester City), Lauren James (Chelsea), Chloe Kelly (Manchester City), Beth Mead (Arsenal), Alessia Russo (Arsenal)