Neville on spy mission

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Spotted in the Kingsmeadow stand during Chelsea Women’s pre-season friendly against Juventus… the England manager Phil Neville on a reconnaissance mission.

“I’m not working,” he assured Blues fans who greeted him as he took his seat, although he was certainly absorbed in conversation with Hannah Blundell.

For as well as assessing potential Lionesses ahead of England’s Women’s World Cup qualifier against Wales in Newport on August 31, he was also checking the form of Chelsea’s new signing from Liverpool, the defender/midfielder Sophie Ingle.

Ingle rejoined the Blues in the summer, although it was a case of friends reunited as she’d played 22 games for the Blues back in the 2012-13 season.

Then, under former Blues manager Matt Beard, she played in a central defensive role. The current Chelsea manager, Emma Hayes, seems to prefer her in a slightly more advanced role ahead of the back three (or four).

Neville was keen to watch Ingle in action as she is the Welsh captain, and will play a pivotal role in the qualifier.

He has opted for experience for the final two matches of the 2019 Women’s World Cup qualifying campaign, knowing that the Lionesses must avoid defeat away at Group 1 leaders Wales to keep alive their hopes of automatic qualification.

A victory for either side in Newport would take the winners through to the finals, while a draw would mean England, a point behind Wales but with a game in hand, could still top the group with a victory in Kazakhstan on Tuesday September 4.

Chelsea players in the England squad are: goalkeeper Carly Telford, defender Millie Bright and striker Fran Kirby.

“We are looking forward to the Wales game and know we have to be ready for the challenge. They will be determined to make the most of home advantage and their crowd will be expecting a victory,” said Neville. “Wales are top of the group and deserve total respect. We will have to be at our very best to get the result we need and no one in our squad is looking beyond this match. I know my players are up for it and will be fully focused on the job they have to do.”

Only Gabby George in the 23-player squad is yet to receive a senior cap, while Neville has been able to welcome back Manchester United defender Alex Greenwood after suspension ruled her out of the trip to Russia in June. That fixture saw Jill Scott score twice after an early goal from Nikita Parris and both have retained their place in the selection.

The fixtures will also be the first for Neville’s new-look backroom staff with the appointment earlier this month of Bev Priestman as assistant coach. The highly-regarded Priestman returned to the FA as Neville’s number two after a successful spell with Canada and will take her place on the bench alongside assistant coach Geraint Twose and goalkeeping coach Mark Mason.

With both Wales and England guaranteed at least second place in Group 1, there is still a potential route to the finals for whoever does not top the section once all matches are concluded. The best four runners-up from all seven groups will go into a play-off competition for the one remaining European place at next summer’s finals in France.