KEIRA WALSH reckons the influence of Pep Guardiola has put some pep in her step in midfield battles for England.
And the Lionesses star, 26, relishes boss Sarina Wiegman giving her more responsibility on the pitch at this year’s World Cup.
The Barcelona ace will resume pulling England’s strings in midfield when they take on Denmark in Australia on Friday.
A victory for Wiegman’s side in Sydney combined with a draw between China and Haiti would see the Lionesses claim their place in the tournament’s knockout stages.
Their duel comes six days after Walsh and her team-mates were harried by a fast-paced, counter-attacking Haiti who pushed the Lionesses all the way in their contest opener
It was a game that saw Walsh come under pressure in midfield from the Group D minnows.
On whether she feels more targeted by England’s opponents, Walsh said: “I don’t necessarily think it’s just me,
“A lot of teams are trying to stop holding midfielders in general because that’s where football is going now, a lot of teams play through midfield.
“We have a lot of other top players so if I’m marked, that’s one less player for them in and around the space.
“But I want to be playing in those tighter situations and really testing myself. I enjoy the challenge.”
On how she handles attempts to muscle her off the ball, Walsh adds: “It’s about picking up smarter spaces and dropping into different areas and maybe not staying so set in the middle.
“The game has changed as a whole, but I’ve got more influence from Spanish players in terms of how they’ve always played.
“The Pep influence has always helped me in that respect.
“In general football I think more people do try and play through the central midfielder.
“Maybe teams think I don’t like the physical game as much but from playing in Spain, they are more tactical like that and look to do that a bit more.
“The training we do in the gym is a lot more focused on holding players off when you have the ball.
“That’s something I’ve got better at and hopefully I can keep improving on.
“When I know I’ve got Lucy (Bronze), Millie (Bright), Alex (Greenwood) and Jess (Carter) behind me it helps.
“I know they are all so aggressive and powerful. That makes my life easier knowing if the ball goes over me, they will be there.”
One of Walsh’s tasks against Denmark will be nullifying their attempts to control the midfield and build their attack from there.
And the England ace, who won Champions League and LaLiga Women’s crowns in her debut term at Barcelona, is wary of seeing Pernille Harder Denmark’s biggest threat.
The 60-capped Lioness said: “Harder is a top player, very composed in and around the box and she’s the type of player you want to be playing against.
“But Denmark are a top team. Everyone talks about Harder but they have some very good players and work really hard. It will be a tough game.”
Under Wiegman Walsh’s role as one of the Lionesses most dependable players has grown.
Last summer saw her play a significant part in England’s Euros triumph, including delivering an inch perfect assist for Ella Toone’s finish in last year’s final.
And Walsh enjoys the responsibility that Wiegman has put on her and some of England’s longest-serving players.
She adds: “She encourages the more experienced players to coach a bit and put more onus on us on the pitch.
“If we feel things that she can’t then she is more than happy for us to help and find solutions.
“I’ve probably noticed that a little bit more at this tournament with her.
“It’s nice to be pushed that way and for older players to have that responsibility.”