The dust has just about settled on England Under-21s resounding 3-1 win over their Scottish counterparts on Friday night, but what can we learn from the match?
Youth of Today
England’s youth sides are having a golden time of it at the moment, and whilst the Under 21’s lost on penalties in the summer, they’ve now “inherited” a set of World Cup winners who have stepped up from the Under 20’s age group. These players are playing with a confidence that should be encouraged, so even though for example Lewis Cook can’t hold down a permanent place in the Bournemouth team right now, he didn’t miss a beat in Friday’s win. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is seeing a lot of first team action for Everton and his performance was awarded man of the match – personally I found it hard to pick one out as the man of the match, as there was inconsistent end product all night. I guess you can expect that at Under 21 level but for example Demarai Gray caused his marker no end of problems but was rarely able to serve up a chance for one of his colleagues. It will come in time I’m sure.
I mentioned in the live text that Scotland barely pressed the ball all night, obviously terrified of England’s speedy attack breaking that press and running wild. Craig pointed out that Scot Gemmill can be very pleased with how disciplined his side were, as they barely broke shape for 90 minutes. The Scotland formation was designed to soak up pressure but all it did was invite England to dominate the game, spreading the ball to the wide men at every opportunity. At times it felt like Scotland were barely making a tackle, whereas England gave away a number of fouls about 40 yards from goal proactively trying to win the ball back. With England feeding Gray & Calvert-Lewin with the full backs overlapping wherever possible, Scotland’s shape was tested and as evidenced by the first goal, they weren’t always able to cope.
In the post match press conference, Boothroyd was asked if any of the current group could break into the England squad for next summer. The answer was “never say never” as you’d expect. The Under 21 cycle is at a point where it’s only a few months old, so whereas the likes of James Ward-Prowse broke into the England team towards the end of his time in the youth setup, a lot of this group are 18 months away from that. Of course to stand any chance of making the squad you’d have to be playing regular, top level football and doing well at it – if Tammy Abraham can go on a scoring spree in time for the friendlies next March, he’d certainly put himself in the window. Sadly it is central midfield where England’s senior side are lacking in my view and with Onomah on loan in the Championship, he’ll need to regularly score goals like he did on Friday to catch Southgate’s attention. Solanke, playing the 10 role, didn’t really play the creative game you normally see from a 10, I’ll be surprised if he is used there as his career progresses. Joe Gomez captained the side again and I suppose you’d have to say if he stays in the Liverpool team his versatility of being able to play all across the back four could land him a squad place if there are injuries, but I think that is quite far fetched.
In the Flesh
This was my first press box experience and it was outstanding. I can’t praise the setup at Middlesbrough enough, even though I have nothing to compare it to. The staff were on point and made sure everything ran as smoothly as possible – and even all the technology worked. Wonders never cease. The crowd did well to embrace the occasion as well, over 20,000 turning out to see the Under 21s seems like a good number in my book and those who came made a racket and had a good time. A success all round.
England, now top of the group, travel to Andorra on Tuesday for what should be a fairly straightforward affair. Scotland are at home to Latvia which should also represent a good chance to pick up 3 points. Boothroyd said that he saw Scotland as a threat to top the group, especially after the Netherlands result (where Scotland won 2-0) but on this showing they need to have more conviction in their play against the alleged top sides. Still, England are the seeded team in this group so there’s no reason Scotland can’t go on to finish second or even win the group, but on this showing it is England’s to lose.