Lauren James: The England striker is like a ‘cheat code’ from a video game, says captain Leah Williamson

Lauren James: The England striker is like a ‘cheat code’ from a video game, says captain Leah Williamson

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Lauren James celebrates the goalLauren James scored her first goal for England on her sixth cap

What is the best way to summarize Lauren James’ influence for England? Captain Leah Williamson borrowed a phrase from the gaming world.

“I think she’s cheat code,” Williamson said. “I enjoy being on the same team as them.”

James had to wait for a chance for England – she only made her full international debut last September – but she’s grabbing it now. The 21-year-old striker has been a frequent star of Chelsea this season and cemented her claim to a place in Sarina Wiegman’s World Cup starting XI with another impressive display against South Korea on Thursday.

Her role in the 4-0 win in the opening game of England’s Arnold Clark Cup was further evidence of her growing reputation as she scored her first international goal after awarding a first-half penalty.

“The girl is amazing,” Williamson said, “so let’s give her as much support as we can.”

“Everyone’s been waiting for this superstar”

England, heavy favorites against South Korea, met a stubborn defensive block in Milton Keynes and James provided the key to overcoming them.

Her run resulted in a penalty converted by Georgia Stanway before England took charge in the second half and drove to victory, helped by James’ thunderous 78th-minute strike.

“Everyone knows LJ’s quality. Technically, she’s probably one of the best there is,” said Barcelona defender Lucy Bronze.

“It’s crazy that she’s so young because this is the player everyone’s been talking about for five years. Everyone’s been waiting for this superstar and it’s exciting to be here now.

“I’m sure she will score a lot more goals and become a lot more player of the match [awards] and win more games for England in the future.”

“It feels good and you can tell”

Lauren James celebratesLauren James joined Chelsea from Manchester United in July 2021

James’ career has been punctuated by injuries, but this has been a breakout season at Chelsea in which the former Manchester United striker has scored seven goals in 17 games.

Blues boss Emma Hayes believes there is still room for improvement – an exciting prospect for England if that is the case – and it’s clear James is enjoying her football.

“It feels good and you can tell,” Wiegman said.

“She’s obviously been a talent for a long time. She just had to be available and have that time at Chelsea. I hope she gets consistency, stays fit and keeps having fun.”

James has only capped six caps in her England career but has settled in as a full international – supported by her manager and team-mates.

She said: “[Wiegman’s] gave me freedom and it’s a credit to the team, they made me feel welcome and when you feel welcome you can be yourself and I showed that.

Against South Korea, James was heavily involved with a total of 80 touches and completed 27 of their 28 passes in the final period.

Her speed of work was also impressive. She recovered the ball ten times, created three chances and helped set up Alessia Russo’s clever goal for England’s third goal of the night.

Former England goalkeeper Karen Bardsley told InNewCL Radio 5 Live: “She was such a pleasure to watch. She looks like she’s playing with freedom and confidence and is happy to show it off.

“Perhaps in the past she was concerned about expressing that fully.”

‘Is she undoptable for England?’

But James is still reminded to stay humble. Joining the team after England’s EURO 2022 win, she knows there is stiff competition for places.

Establishing yourself will be crucial. Wiegman isn’t one to tinker with selections – the Lionesses remained unchanged at the Euro and became the first team in tournament history to field the same starting line-up for every game.

Injured Ballon d’Or runner-up Beth Mead could be back in time for the World Championships, which start in July in Australia and New Zealand, after suffering an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

Manchester City’s Lauren Hemp has been a regular since Wiegman’s arrival, while Chloe Kelly continues to impress and also scored in the 4-0 win against South Korea.

“It’s not the World Cup yet. Last season she didn’t play much and she’s still building up. This year she’s playing more and more,” said Wiegman.

“But we have more players who are really good. We have so many attacking players who are really good. We have opportunities.”

Former England striker Ian Wright told ITV4: “Without a doubt [James is stating her case to start for England regularly]. A regular start for Chelsea benefits her.

“We still have to bring Lauren Hemp back, but when James is performing like that and she’s doing what she does every week … she’s done it all in this game.”

Everton midfielder Izzy Christiansen asked: “Is it going too far to say she’s unthinkable for England?”

Based on recent performances, it’s hard to suggest otherwise.

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