Jess Carter knows what happens if the Norwegian forward Caroline Graham Hansen is given too much time and space. In the 2021 Champions League final the England player was a part of the Chelsea defence that was torn to shreds by Graham Hansen’s Barcelona, who were 4-0 up inside 36 minutes.
The Lionesses host Norway in their second group game of the European Championship in Brighton on Monday night and keeping out a formidable front three of Graham Hansen, the Champions League record goalscorer, Ada Hegerberg, and the Chelsea forward Guro Reiten will be critical to England’s hopes of topping Group A.
“She’s obviously one of the best players I’ve come up against personally,” Carter said of Graham Hansen. “If I was to come up against her again, I would be more tight, more aggressive, and do my best to keep her as far wide as possible. We’ve got a lot of experience in the squad as well and we’re good enough defensively to deal with her. We’re well aware of what her strengths are.”
Carter is obviously very familiar with Reiten’s strengths, too, and those of another Chelsea teammate who will be pulling on a Norway shirt on Monday night, the defender Maren Mjelde.
“They’re both incredible players. Guro is tremendous on the ball, she’s got a wonderful left foot and she’ll be a threat going forward, but in my opinion she’s nothing that our England team can’t handle as well,” Carter said, with a grin.
“We’ve shared our top tips on her and hopefully the girls will take that into the game and defend as best they can. Same with Maren, she’s a phenomenal player, she’s obviously not long come back from injury and played that many games so for us maybe that’s a slight advantage, that she’s maybe not as up to scratch as others from an agility perspective, but she’s a top, top person and player.”
Many are billing the match with Norway as the match of the group, not least the Norway manager, Martin Sjögren, who said England were “definitely” the favourites. But Carter said: “Every game is big, it doesn’t matter what opposition you play, every game is big. We’ve got the same job, we’ve got to win all three, and ultimately we’ll just do our best to do that.”
Sjögren is hoping for some nerves from England. “There is always pressure on the home nations and especially a team like England,” he said. “Hopefully for our sake there will still be a little bit of nerves but I think we’ll see a different England than the one we saw in their first game.”
Sarina Wiegman brushed off talk of her team being under-pressure favourites. “It’s nice they are trying to put pressure on us,” the England manager said. “We’re just working on our game. We want to win the game and they want to win the game. If they want to be the underdog that’s fine. I think they have a very strong squad and so do we.”
Wiegman has only Lotte Wubben-Moy missing from her squad, with the defender having tested positive for Covid, and Carter will be an important defensive option.
Carter’s journey to a first major international tournament with England has been long in many ways, but rapid in others. Off the back of a long season at Chelsea she didn’t feel ready for the summer.
The defender described “when I first came in after the season finished” as the worst experience in an England shirt so far. “Obviously I was really disappointed that I wasn’t feeling up to scratch and maybe a part of me felt like that was going to affect my chances of going to the Euros,” she said. “I was really quite worried about that. But ultimately the way I see it is that I needed to be as honest as I could to help the team win.
“There was no point in me coming in and pushing and pushing and pushing and then getting an injury out of it. I could have been quiet and just got on with it. But I don’t think that would have benefited me nor the girls really.”
Carter instead trained separately on an individual programme before coming back into the fold. “This has probably been the first season where I’ve played consistently at such a high level and it’s also my first tournament,” she said.
“I think we just wanted to manage myself correctly, make sure I was as fresh as possible. I felt I was still struggling with dealing with the consistency of games that I’d had and I felt like the best way to be in the best position to help the team going forward is to try and recover a little bit more.