In thisMy Game In My Words series, _The Athletic _builds towards the conclusion of the Women’s World Cup by talking to leading players around the world to find out how they think about football, why they play the way they do and to reflect — through looking back at their key career moments — on their achievements so far.

“That was just carnage. Carnage, carnage, carnage,” says Mary Earps, as she watches Lina Magull’s shot crash against the woodwork.

It’s the 66th minute and England are leading Germany 1-0 in the 2022 European Championship final at Wembley.

“The game was so transitional at this point, and then she hits a really good strike,” says Earps. “I managed to save it onto the post. It came fast and then I’m just thinking, ‘Where the hell is the ball?’.”

The Euros transformed Earps’ career and her performances during that tournament earned her the 2022 FIFA Best Goalkeeper award. Hips wiggling on the press conference table, her shoulder-roll swagger, the bite of the tongue and nod of the head when she makes a big save, Earps is unapologetically herself, the words printed on her own limited T-shirt line because England women’s goalkeeper top — manufactured by Nike — is not on public sale.



Earps: You can’t buy a Nike England women’s goalkeeper shirt - ‘it’s unacceptable’

Here, England’s vice-captain for the Women’s World Cup speaks to The Athletic to analyse her own game in detail, with the focus on some of her biggest saves in the lead-up to and during the Euros.

The Netherlands rattled England in the first half of their June 2022 friendly, their penultimate game before the Euros opener on July 6.

In the 18th minute, Earps pulls off a crucial save with her shin, twisting her hips into a right-angled position but staying square onto the ball with her head and shoulders.

“When the ball is being threaded through, I’m looking to see if I’m going to engage with the ball,” says the Manchester United No 1. “I’m on my front foot to see if the attacker is going to take a touch forward.

“But (Lucy) Bronzey is blocking off one side of the goal, so I know she is going to lunge in and slide. If her touch goes right, I can engage.

“This is the hardest part because there are so many players around the ball. I’m just trying to keep my feet going…

“Then it comes through bodies. I don’t really see it. I’m just trying to make a shape and stick a leg out at the last second.” Earps quickly gets her hips into a 90-degree angle to block the shot.

“The hardest part is not engaging the ball too early. If I just came out, she could have nicked it past me and put it in an open goal. A lot of it is trying to see the ball for as long as possible. I’m crouching to see the ball through everybody’s legs, in gaps between bodies so that, if it does come through, I can make myself as big as possible. If she puts it in the top corner, the chances of me getting it from there are pretty slim because it’s so tight.”

She gets into the long barrier position quickly. “It’s trying to be comfortable in uncomfortable positions, especially around your hips,” she says. “Hip mobility is really important as a goalkeeper.”

The 30-year-old owes her flexibility to the dancing she did as a child. “I did all of it,” she says. “Ballet, tap, modern and acrobatics as well. I used to practice the splits, handstands, headstands, flips. I can’t do the splits fully anymore like I could when I was 10 but I can get pretty close. That helps me get into those uncomfortable positions.”

To keep her hips supple these days she does small but subtle movements in the gym for her pre-activation work and recovery.

“They’re really tiny things that look like nothing but over time they add up,” she says. For example, Earps does hurdle work, uses a band attached to a squat rack platform to stretch out her hips, or gets into the splits position and lifts her leg over a dumbbell and back.

“I’d probably have to demonstrate and I’m not going to demonstrate on this call!” she laughs.

‘I do my own research and I’m not going to reveal it here’

The game was finely poised 1-1 at half-time but in the 52nd minute the Netherlands were awarded a penalty and up stepped 215-time capped Sherida Spitse. She hit the post.

“I knew where she was going to go,” she says. “If it was on target, I would have had it covered. Me and (Lucy) Bronzey played a couple of mind games and perhaps contributed towards adding a bit of pressure on the taker. That was practising our process.”

Those antics were evident as Earps and England overcame Nigeria in a shootout in the World Cup round of 16 on Monday.

The mind games are, according to Earps, not on the same level as Argentina and Aston Villa goalkeeper Emi Martinez, but the England players will definitely be around the opposition.

“Bronzey was doing her thing: talking to some of them, trying to put them off, make the moment as intimidating as possible,” Earps says. “She is bold; she’ll do whatever she wants, whatever it takes to win. We’re similar in that way. We’re both not shy — if we can get an edge in any way then we’ll definitely do it.”

England have worked a lot on penalties according to Bronze and they put that practice into action in April’s Finalissima against Brazil, their first shootout under manager Sarina Wiegman. They won on that occasion, just as they did against Nigeria this week.

“I do my own research and I’m not going to reveal it here,” Earps says. “It is a free shot from 12 yards so the striker should score every single time. My job is to make it as difficult as possible and give myself the best chance to save it. We definitely prepared for penalties.”

Back to the clips. A minute later, down the other end Beth Mead scores to make it 2-1. Earps saves a long-distance shot and she goes to ground, cradles the ball, looking up. It is a familiar pose that you will often see her do.

“Things were happening in a short space of time, the momentum completely shifted in the game,” she explains. “It’s giving myself and the team a little breather to reset shape. I’m looking around seeing where my next pass is going to be, where I need to move people to and if I need to have any conversations with anyone.

“It’s a breather, not necessarily physically, but mentally to think, ‘OK, we’re 2-1 up. What’s our next move?’. A little tactical pause for everyone to regroup.”

England go on to win 5-1 against Wiegman’s former side.

‘I love diving around’

The Lionesses sailed through their final warm-up game against Switzerland, winning 4-0. However, in their opening Euros game against Austria at Old Trafford, in front of what at the time was a record crowd of 68,871 fans for the competition, it was a cagey affair. Earps needed to be alert.

England knew Austria liked to cut in and shoot from the edge of the box, as with this Barbara Dunst shot in the 78th minute. “I can see she’s winding up so I’m trying to get into a good position,” says Earps.

“I need a couple of little footwork steps first…

“Then I can push off my left into an explosive power drive. That’s my quickest way of getting there…

“It’s about getting to the ball as efficiently as possible to generate the power in the moment and afterwards. Where does the ball go after that? Sometimes people forget that. I know there’s a player at the back post so I’m trying to parry it into an area where she can’t just tap it in.”

“I love diving around,” she smiles. “I enjoy it even more when I save it, not so much when the ball ripples the back of the net after a big superwoman type thing.”

It’s an impressive action as Earps flings herself into the air but she says “goalkeeping is a lot of tiny, instant decision-making which you have split seconds to do”.

After winning the opener 1-0, Earps had little to do in the remainder of the group stages as England thrashed Norway 8-0 and Northern Ireland 5-0. But she still has to be ready at any moment. “I like to be in the game as much as anyone, but the more the ball is up the other end of the pitch, that’s the best,” she says.

“Whether it’s minute one, minute 90, whatever, it’s just about trying to do my job — especially early on; you never want to concede early.”

In the first minute against Northern Ireland Earps was called into action. “It wasn’t expected for them to create a chance like that so early in the game,” she says.

“But it’s that wake-up moment. We can’t be complacent. In that first half, we weren’t really at the top of our game. It didn’t really click until later in the game. I’m just trying to stay focused from start to finish. I just want to be as present as possible, because I could be needed at any time.”

Earps does some meditation for herself personally but not in a goalkeeping-training sense. “It’s just your concentration to apply everything you know into a 90-minute game. I’m just trying to do it week in week out and play at my highest level every single minute.”

As the Lionesses advanced into the knockout stages, England faced their toughest opposition yet: Spain.

The clip runs, showing a routine save from Earps as Mariona Caldentey tries a long-range effort early on. Unprompted, Earps immediately says: “That was one of the most tiring games I’ve ever played in my whole entire life. And I wasn’t even running!

“Why?” The Athletic asks. “The way Spain play and manipulate the ball,” replies Earps. “You’re constantly moving to get in position — their rotation is second to none, so organising and communicating amongst the noise is really difficult. On top of the fact that it’s a quarter-final so everything’s on the line.”

Communication is one of Earps’ strengths and a huge part of her game. “It’s to make the game easier for my team-mates,” she says. “Whether that be adjusting someone’s position or letting them know there’s someone running off their shoulder. That information can massively help someone track the run earlier, save someone some seconds or prevent goals. All I’m trying to do is help the team. If I can give them some information from my vantage point, then I’ll absolutely do that.

“If you ask my team-mates, that is constant — it never stops.”

‘It looks like one big mosh pit’

Without a focal point up front, Spain were struggling to score and opted to cross the ball more often. In a crowded box, the goalkeeper has to choose: do I stay on my line or come out and engage. How does Earps decide?

“It depends how many bodies are around me and the pace on the ball,” she says. “There are seven bodies in and around me within a couple of yards.

“When I punch the ball, it looks like I’m competing with my centre-halves and one attacker. Before that, they’re all running to the ball at the same time. It looks like one big mosh pit. Anything can happen in those split seconds — the ball could drop earlier than anticipated or it could go longer. You have to be prepared to adapt. You don’t have any other choice but to get a good hand to it.”

‘You see goalkeepers being beaten week in, week out like that’

England overcame their biggest mental and physical challenge yet, beating Spain 2-1 after extra time. Next up was Sweden, who had a chance just 20 seconds in.

“The first minutes into this game, we definitely didn’t have control,” Earps recalls. “They had a few attacks really early on where they broke our back line.”

Earps is very narrow with her leg position as the attacker approaches… “I’m trying to narrow the angle without engaging,” she explains.

“If I’m wide she’ll probably just toepoke it through. It’s impossible to change your whole body weight in a split second. You see goalkeepers being beaten week in, week out like that.

“If I go tearing out and run at her, she might be able to pick a gap. I’m trying to hold my position. If I dive, I could end up going over the ball because it’s so close and I haven’t got a lot of reaction time. I’m waiting for her to take the shot rather than running down the line of the ball, knowing that she’s in control of it.”

Earps makes a crucial save with an outstretched left foot. “Why did you save with your feet?” The Athletic asks. “Because it’s quite close to me,” she says.

In the opening minutes, Sweden peppered the box with corners. Earps puts her arms up to make sure the attacker next to her doesn’t grab them and at least gives her a chance to catch or punch the ball.

“Sweden are a really tall team,” she says. “It’s tough to take crosses because they put a lot of bodies around you, so you don’t have a lot of space to move or get momentum. They make it really tough from set pieces.”

Despite a tense start, England’s Mead finds the opener before Bronze doubles their lead shortly after the break. But Sweden had their chances and when Arsenal’s Stina Blackstenius sends a looping shot over Earps, she pulls off one of the saves of the tournament.

“It happens quite quickly,” says Earps. “I don’t know if it comes off her foot or knee. She just sort of swung a leg at it. I’m just trying to move my feet back and stop it from looping over me.” Earps manages to get a finger to it, tipping it over the bar.

“One of my favourite parts about this is Rachel (Daly) and Millie (Bright) come over to me and really shove my head down,” smiles Earps. “They pile on top of me and I’m just sort of like, ‘Oh, OK’. I just enjoyed it. When your team-mates enjoy it, recognise its importance, get around you and give you that buzz, it just makes you want to work even harder.”

It may have been a different story had that goal gone in to make it 2-1, but England romped home instead, beating the Olympic silver medallists 4-0.

‘Carnage, carnage, carnage’

An expectant crowd of 87,192 fans filled Wembley in the sunshine for the England vs Germany showdown.

Both teams were at each other, going in for hard challenges, tensions were high and there was good reason for that because, in the 25th minute, Germany came close to scoring from a goalmouth scramble.

“I don’t know what exactly happened; who touched it where,” says Earps. “But it was carnage. It was just ricocheting off so many England and Germany players, just limbs everywhere.”

Somehow England survived. “When I see an opportunity to dive on the ball, I just take it,” says Earps.

The next clip shows a routine take for Earps from a Germany cross, two minutes into the second half. But the tall stature of her own team-mate Bright is her biggest threat.

“That happens quite a lot,” says Earps. “The defenders are trying to defend as well as the attacker trying to attack. You’re often competing against your own players because, unless it’s a really early call or looping ball, there’s not enough time to tell Millie (Bright) or Leah (Williamson) to get out of the way.

“I just have to be there and take it before they do because otherwise there’s confusion. Having relationships with your centre-halves so you know each other’s style of play really works in your favour.

“We had played together a lot leading up to the Euros and we had a really good momentum in the Euros. We had a really good relationship and good rhythm in our defensive play.”

No goals conceded but Earps is not happy. She barks out a series of orders to her team…

“It might be that someone needs to get out to the ball faster or track their runner better,” she says. “Making sure we’re staying switched on and following our really high standards. Those are the details that make a big difference in finals of major championships.”

England are now leading 1-0 thanks to Keira Walsh’s assist and Ella Toone’s sublime finish, but Germany are pushing hard for the equaliser.

Magull unleashes a bullet shot which crashes against the post. “That was just carnage,” says Earps. “Carnage, carnage, carnage. The game was so transitional at this point, and then she hits a really good strike. I managed to save it onto the post. It came fast.”

Earps has to react quickly. She’s on the floor. “I’m just thinking, ‘Where the hell is the ball?’.” The rebound has fallen into a dangerous position. “I’m getting up as quickly as possible. ‘Right, a German player has got it’. I’m thinking I’m going to have to dive into the space between me and Bronzey…

“She hits it straight at me. So I’m like, ‘Right, just pick it up’. It sounds really stupid but when you’re up and moving it could just easily go through your legs or bounce awkwardly and bobble through you. Sometimes those ones are really complicated but they look really simple. If that had bobbled through me someone would have said, ‘That’s so rubbish’. But it’s really hard when your body is already moving to adjust to where the ball is going.

“We were all just so relieved. We were just like, ‘Thank God for that’. I remember looking at Millie (Bright) and she looked at me to say, ‘Yes, thank God’. I just bite my tongue. The emotions sort of get the better of you in that moment. You’re so happy to still be in the game.”

Magull strikes again though and makes it 1-1. “There’s nothing you can do to change it,” says Earps when asked about conceding. “Just try and reset. You can’t dwell on it. It’s obviously sometimes difficult, especially if it’s individual and I could have done better or if it’s something that the team have prepared for and we’ve just lacked concentration as a unit. I hate conceding but you’ve got no choice but to fight. The show must go on.”

And it does. Chloe Kelly’s toe-poke finish in the 110th minute sends Wembley into raptures. With 114 minutes on the clock, Earps makes a comfortable save from a header.

“This is probably one of the last things I did,” she says. “The girls did really well to manage the game and keep the ball in the corner for an unbelievable amount of time. It wasn’t seconds, it was minutes. I just thought, ‘Ref blow the whistle, please blow’.

“Both teams were so tired. You could really feel it on the pitch. It was really hot inside Wembley. It felt like the game had been going on for an eternity. Germany had a lot of set pieces, throwing bodies into the box, trying to chase the game and win. It was really difficult.

“I remember trying to do the maths of how many minutes were left and getting it wrong so many times. When Chloe scored I thought we had only two minutes left. Then I realised we had 10.

(Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

“You’re just trying to get to the end of the game. The limbs, the body language — everyone was desperate to win but just exhausted.

“I don’t know how we had the energy to run around and celebrate afterwards. After we got our medals, me, (Ella) Tooney and Alessia (Russo) just sat down on the mat where they did the presentation, having a drink of our Seven Ups or Pepsis or whatever was in the changing room and were just like, ‘We’ve done it’.”

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( Top photo: Getty Images; design: John Bradford )