With England needing a win in their final group game, they lost after leading 1-0 to the Czech Republic 2-1. But it was not just the loss on the final day that is to be looked at but the tournament on a whole. England finished the group on 2 points, drawing the first game 1-1 with Spain and a 0-0 draw against the Ukraine in the second game.
The first game against Spain:
Spain showed everybody why they are one of the favourites to win the tournament as they out passed and out played England. Both teams fielded strong teams with Spain having World Cup winning Juan Mata in the side, along with highly rated and rumoured to be Manchester United bound David De Gea. The U-21 tournament is watched to take a chance to see some of the best young players and while Spain had them in their side, some of England’s brightest were not involved for one reason or another. Jack Wilshere and Andy Carroll had both been left out of the squad and Kieran Gibbs, who was picked for the Squad, had to pull out with because of injury.
Spain showed England how it was done with their possession, and quality of play with possession but Spain took an early lead with Ander Herrera heading home, though there was a chance of handball. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones played well as did Kyle Walker. Walker was one of the more attacking players for England, always looking to get forward as soon as possible. England’s equalizing goal came through Danny Welbeck, who coolly slotted home, although the goal looked to be offside.
England seemed stagnant most of the game, where as Spain always looked to be on the move. With some of the players coming through the youth ranks at Barcelona, it really seemed to be obvious that a style of play is being bred and not it’s not just technique that is taught. The old saying of “pass and move” actually seems to mean something in Spain, where over here it just seems to be a saying not something that is put into practice.
The match against Spain did not make fans feel confident of England’s chances in the tournament, but with hoped that it was just how well Spain played and that the next game against Ukraine would be a more decisive Team effort.
The second game against Ukraine:
With England fielding a similar side with the only change, Jack Rodwell playing instead of Tom Cleverley, England again started slowly. Rodwell was playing well as was Smalling, Jones and Walker again, but England didn’t seem to be gelling as a team. The movement of the England players again felt a little stagnant, and with Sturridge playing as a winger again, with Danny Rose on the opposite flank it left Welbeck up on his own for most of the game.
The midfield three of Rodwell, Henderson and Mancienne, didn’t do enough to get the ball forward to the attacking three, and that seemed to be the same problem in the previous game. Just as in the game against Spain the introduction of Henri Lansbury seemed to perk England up, as did Scott Sinclair. It seemed strange to have an attacking player like Lansbury on the bench for so long when needing a goal, and stranger still to keep Sturridge out on the wing, especially when his pace never seemed to be fully utilized. The Ukraine defended well in the defence of England, but when Spain where able to beat them 3-0 it doesn’t seem to be an excuse England can hide behind.
The third game against the Czech Republic:
With any result less than a win dumping England out of the tournament you would have thought that Stuart Pearce would have gone all out and change the formation and personal. But the same 4-3-3 was employed with Sturridge again out on the wing, with Welbeck upfront and instead of Rose it was Sinclair on the left. With Marc Albrighton still not getting a chance so far in the tournament and Sturridge doing his best on the wing, it would have seemed to make sense to have Albrighton on the right where he has played well for Aston Villa and the England Senior team also this year.
The midfield trio was made up of Fabrice Muamba, Tom Cleverley and Jordan Henderson. Muamba replaced Mancienne in the starting line up and so Jones was Captain for the game. Jones and Smalling again had good games, with Jones showing his ability to break up play and take the ball forward but when it hit the midfield, but yet again play seemed to get stifled. You could argue that the Czech’s defended well and sat back, but if that is always going to be the argument then that will always be the argument, as if England don’t are not bale to start to find a way through stern defences then they will never advance.
Henri Lansbury was again brought on to help England become a more attacking team, which begs the question why he was not starting, but England did manage to score and it was a nice link up between Daniel Sturridge and Danny Welbeck. Sturridge crossed the ball in for Welbeck to powerfully header in from the six yard box. It was a well taken goal, which was well celebrated, Fabrice Muamba was seen on his knees with his hands pumping up at the sky as if it was a golden goal and they won the final. Stuart Pearce tried to rally his troops to keep a level head, and England did their best to run down the clock, but with the Czech’s only needing to score one goal, the game was always on a knife edge and when Jones sloppily gave the ball away, the fear of a goal was there. In the end Smalling cleared the ball out for a corner. Marc Albrighton who brought on for Tom Cleverley but was unable to be as effective as Sturridge was still on the right wing.
As the game neared full time the Czech Rep. grabbed the equalizer with about 30 seconds of the 90 minutes left. A deflected cross was converted by substitute Jan Chramosta who had come on 7 minutes prior. With that goal, England were out, but they pushed forward to try and get a goal to regain there lead but to no avail and soon the Czech Republic had scored again, this time taking advantage of the space and lack of numbers at the back and scored into an open net, with Tomas Pekhart scoring
The England players showed their worth. Some showed they have some and some showed they don’t have as much as people think. For me Smalling and Jones formed a very good partnership, one I can see being a future centre pairing for the England Senior team as they develop at Manchester United, and I can see them playing and doing very well during the beginning of the F.A Cup run and through the Carling Cup run. Kyle Walker has also showed Tottenham that they should keep him at the club this season and give him the chance at White Hart Lane for the games that Harry will want to attack from the back.
Mancienne was deployed as a defensive midfielder though he is usually a centre back, and honestly he didn’t do a bad job, and if you need a defensive midfielder to help break up play then he can do you a good job, but when you are looking to push forward he is more a defender than a midfielder. Something new club Hamburg should be made aware of. Cleverley also did okay this tournament, but even at this level, okay is not really good enough. If Jack Wilshere had been in the squad, he more than likely would have played much better than okay, and that is why he is going to play Senior football for England and Cleverley probably won’t, and why he will be sold on by Manchester United in a season or two. And for me on the performances I saw I was not overly impressed with Henderson either.
I was dubious over the transfer fees paid for Jones and Henderson, and during this tournament I have seen that Jones transfer to United seemed to be one that is going to pay dividends where as Henderson could turn out to be a flop. Henderson did reasonably well, but I saw many miss placed passes and not getting into much space or helpful positions. When Lansbury came on I felt England seemed more dangerous and he is probably going to be put out on loan again, but maybe to a Premiership side this season, and not fight for a first team spot at Arsenal. So is that £16 million well spent by Liverpool on Henderson, I don’t think it is, but I may be proven wrong in seasons to come.
Danny Rose, for me, didn’t do enough for Harry Redknapp to keep him at the club and not put him out on loan again unlike Kyle Walker did. He did well in the last game when he was brought on, but in the first two games, there wasn’t enough to say he is ready for the Premiership. Danny Welbeck will probably be back on loan and Sunderland are interested in having him again, and he looks like he could become a good striker, but I don’t think he will become a striker of United’s standards. He will probably follow Cleverley next season on loan and then the season after that out of Old Trafford with a transfer to another club.
Sturridge on the other hand before the tournament had ended the season well, but for England was playing as a winger, which I just didn’t understand. Marc Albrighton is a winger, and if you want to have a winger play a winger, but don’t play a striker who has pace. If you can’t choose between Welbeck and Sturridge as your main striker, then alternate. Connor Wickham didn’t even get a chance to show what he could do in the tournament so there isn’t much I can say regarding him, or Nathan Delfouneso. Sturridge while on loan at Bolton showed that if you play him up front he will score you goals, and will use his pace to do so, but having him out wide is not making the most of him. Yes he did set up Welbeck, but that does not mean he was a success as a winger.
In the end for me, the buck ends with the manager. He at the end of it all decides who will play and where, and if he is to say that his team was a “little naive” then he needs to look in the mirror, as in this tournament when he needed to be pro-active he was still being re-active. With a descent squad, even without Wilshere, Gibbs and Carroll, having only scored two goals, one being a header and the other offside, there is not much to write home about and be back proud of, where as certain individuals who played well can, but football is a team game, and that isn’t just the 11 people on the pitch but the squad, the manager and coaching staff, and in Denmark during this U-21’s European Championship, they failed.