England crashed out of the Under 21 European Championships with a game still to play after an incredibly poor performance against a well organised Norway side who may now be considered as dark horses for the trophy. Here are five quick observations…
England (4-3-3): Butland; Smith, Caulker, Dawson, Rose; Chalobah, Lowe, Henderson; Ince, Zaha, Redmond
Norway (4-5-1): Nyland; Elabdellaoui, Rogne, Berge, Strandberg; Berget, Singh, Johansen, Eikrem, Nielsen; Pedersen
England made five changes from their first match against Italy. Wilfried Zaha, Nathaniel Chalobah and Thomas Ince were amongst those brought in with the most notable absentees being Jonjo Shelvey and Connor Wickham. England’s new front three consisted of Zaha down the middle with Ince to his right and Redmond, starting his second game at this level after impressing in the last match, on the left wing. In midfield Jordan Henderson started as the most advanced player, but rather than posing a threat in behind Zaha with bursting runs, he instead often looked to come too deep to receive the ball. This often resulted in Chalobah making forward runs into areas higher up the pitch so that the midfield zone didn’t become overly congested.
Norway, as expected, were a very organised 4-5-1 and looked to play on the counter. They sat incredibly deep when England had the ball and made sure that they stayed very narrow and compact. When England’s build up play spread to the wings, the wider of the three central midfielders, Magnus Eikrem and Harmeet Singh, shuffled over to support their wide midfielder. This closed off any forward options England had and so they were forced to pass inside into congested areas of the pitch.
England lack a goal threat
The temperatures on the night were very hot and England for once did a good job of keeping possession, ending the first half with 74% of the ball, but they lacked both a cutting edge in the final third of the pitch and an out and out goal scorer to get on the end of any chances. Stuart Pearce’s sides most dangerous spell was the first 10 to 15 minutes when they had 3 or 4 half chances, but other than that they created little in the first 45 minutes. Redmond again looked lively on the left but Ince was largely isolated out wide and Zaha struggled to hold the ball up on his own without a great deal of support around him. At half-time Wickham was brought on for the ineffective Jason Lowe and gave England more of a physical presence up top but by then the game was pretty much already over.
This was largely because England were two down at half-time and conceded again shortly after the break. The first Norway goal came totally against the run of play after England failed to clear a corner and, not for the first time this tournament, goalkeeper Jack Butland can take a large portion of the blame. On 34 minutes Jo Inge Berget got the second after half-volleying past Butland thanks to yet more poor England defending. Norway extended their lead further on 51 minutes after excellent work from Marcus Pedersen, drifting into the right channel, allowed the striker to tee up Eikrem who rifled in his shot off the crossbar – again the defending was terrible. England pulled a goal back through a Craig Dawson penalty but there was no hope of a comeback with Norway happy to sit deep and defend their two-goal lead and England lacking any genuine belief.
Johansen at the base
The likes of Pedersen, Eikrem and Berget will attract most of the headlines but defensive midfielder Stefan Johansen (yellow ring) also deserves a lot of credit for his role in this victory. He sits at the base of the Norway midfield and performs his role as a shield superbly by protecting his back four. He stuck tight to Henderson in the first half, following him when he ventured deep, and in the second half could be seen organising those around him. One thing England have clearly missed is a midfield general like Marco Verratti of Italy or Asier Illarramendi of Spain, but Norway certainly have one in Johansen.
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