Gareth Southgate’s U21 side were defeated 1-0 by Portugal in their opening group game of the European Championships.
After a bright first half, the second half was a struggle for England, who found it difficult to stamp their authority at any moment in the second period.
Their were glimpses of good spells but we struggled to maintain that over the 90 minutes, so what did we learn after the defeat?
Consistency is a problem
England’s first half display was very encouraging with the likes of Redmond, Lingard, Kane all causing problems with their pace and willingness to go at the Portuguese defence. We were happy to play in tight areas in some stages, drawing the opposition in giving space for the front three to exploit and we were patient in our build up play too, trying to find gaps which was pleasing.
However the second half was a disappointment with the side unable to replicate their earlier good work, the game began to drift into the hands of the Portuguese, with William Carvalho running the show by coming deep to dictate the tempo.
If England are to progress it’s crucial they maintain good performances for the whole 90 minutes rather than just in spells otherwise you’ll get punished. One lapse in concentration at the back where we collectively defended poorly and were subsequently punished, showing the ruthlessness of international football which will certainly be a learning curve for some players.
Physically and technically the game was lost in the second half
The game started to slowly go in favour of Portugal in the second half and once they took the lead, you didn’t see England getting back into it. Their performance level once they scored went up, with Carvalho who’s been a target for several clubs in the Premier League dictating the pace of the game.
England struggled to maintain possession of the ball with the back four losing composure and panicking which is something you rarely saw from the Portuguese players. It’s hard to get a foothold in a game if you can’t maintain possession meaning you’ll be relying on scraps to pull yourself back into game.
And once you lose possession for long periods, you physically struggle too as you spend large periods chasing the game and Portugal were very clever and took advantage of that. The midfield looked overrun at some points of the second half which will be something that Gareth Southgate will have to look at and possibly change.
Chalobah has a big role if England are to progress
If selected in the next two games Nathaniel Chalobah will be an important player for the team. I must admit I wasn’t expecting much from he Chelsea man; after a successful spell at Watford in 12/13 season, he’s struggled to find the form that saw him talked about as a future star for Jose Mourinho’s team.
However he impressed me, the only player who was willing to get on the ball at every time possible. Yes he may of lost possession a few times but it’s encouraging to see an England star confident in possession wherever he may. His confidence was fantastic, had the confidence to draw players out, allowing space for the Hughes, Ward-Prowse, Lingard or Redmond to receive the ball.
He’ll be key for Southgate, having a player who’s eager and willing to make things happen and with the range of passing he has in his locker, England will be hoping that the likes of Kane and co can latch onto that.
What can be done to bounce back?
After the defeat last night I think Southgate will be forced to make one or two changes, it’s important to keep the majority of the squad together although freshening things up.
Tom Carroll was a huge disappointment last night, he was given the job of disrupting William Carvalho but struggled physically to do so, and when we had possession he found it difficult to receive the ball in good areas where he could hurt the back line. To me this England side needs power to support Kane so it could be an option with Loftus Cheek or he may be tempted to put Pritchard in after a fantastic season at Brentford.
The tempo will have to be increased after yesterday’s second half showing, it’s important that the front three are lively and energetic, looking to cause problems which is something I felt for the last half hour was lacking. Although to have a consistent tempo in our game it’s important we keep the ball for periods and let the opposition do the running.
A setback but it’s not over yet
By no means is it game over for England, the negativity shows the standard that we hoped for but the second half was tame which is the reason why we lost. If England can replicate the first half performance for 90 minutes then there is no reason why we shouldn’t leave the game against Sweden with three points.
Sweden showed against Italy that they will be no pushover, but England have the quality advantage as well as the need for a win otherwise face elimination.
This is the reason why the likes of Kane decided to come to Euros, to experience tournament football, character and resolve with certainly be tested on Sunday evening. Defeat will end England’s tournament, so it’s all still in our hands.
Written by George who can be found on Twitter @GClarke_