Danny Lewis has a look at the players that stood out during the U21 Euros group game that finished Sweden 0-0 England
This match was a very cagey affair, with both teams clearly showing their knowledge that a loss could all but end their time at the Under 21 Euros before it had really got started. There was a lot of good defensive work from both sides, with flashes of near brilliance from the attacking talent on show. England’s youngsters almost suffered defeat after Ben Chilwell conceded a penalty, however Jordan Pickford was on hand to save Linus Wahlqvist’s effort. They had chances of their own with Tammy Abraham nearly getting himself on the score sheet and a free kick by James Ward-Prowse forcing a brilliant save from the Sweden goalkeeper, Anton Cajtoft.
This match may have ended as a 0-0 draw but there were still some brilliant performances and a lot to pick through from the game. Here are four players who were vital to how their teams operated:
There were no thrills with him but Melker Hallberg’s performance embodied discipline and control. The 21-year-old midfielder who is on loan at Kalmar FF from Udinese was always ready to receive the ball from team mates and would often be the one to get his side into their tempo.
However, his main contribution for Sweden was through his defensive work. Whenever his side didn’t have the ball he would slot in between the two centre backs, essentially making it five at the back for the Swedes. This meant that Tammy Abraham was often crowded out and Lewis Baker was suffocated whenever he broke forward. His midfield partner Kristoffer Olsson would then stay slightly ahead of his midfield partner to put pressure on Nathaniel Chalobah and James Ward-Prowse with the Swedish wingers who would tuck in slightly.
He also won the ball back regularly for his side, whether it was on the floor or in the air. It was a very frustrating evening for the English and the organisation which centred around Hallberg’s positioning was arguably the main reason for that.
The Everton defender wasn’t necessarily the most impressive player for England in this game, but he was very important to the way that his side played. First and foremost, he is a defender and the slide tackle that he made to prevent a Sweden counter attack when it seemed that Carlos Strandberg was through on goal was tremendous. He was also on hand to help out his new team mate Jordan Pickford when the goalkeeper spilled a cross. Holgate did very well defensively in this game and tucked in alongside Calum Chambers when needed, but also made sure that he wasn’t beaten down the wing.
In terms of the attacking side of the game, Mason Holgate was an important component of England’s moves forward. His deliveries into the box varied in quality, but Holgate was always someone that the opposition full back had to consider, which helped to get space for Jacob Murphy and Demarai Gray depending who was on the pitch at the time. He also put in some brilliant crosses, which could have easily led to a goal if a bit more luck had been on their side.
One thing that Sweden really seemed to struggle to deal with was Holgate’s long throws ins. Alfie Mawson did a good job of making a nuisance of himself in Sweden’s box and if this game was anything to go by, we could definitely see an England goal from a long throw during this tournament. One of the throws even managed to reach Tammy Abraham at the back post, however the England striker wasn’t quite able to get his acrobatic effort on target.
Having played for Malmö in the Champions League Paweł Cibicki has experience of taking part in big games. This came to the fore as he showed the composure and skill that Sweden required to ensure their 90 minutes didn’t simply turn into a defensive slog.
The 23 year old attacker came very close to scoring twice. The first chance came after he produced a sublime piece of skill that took Ben Chilwell and Nathan Redmond completely out of the game, played a one-two with Gustav Engvall before picking up the ball and firing off a shot that went just over the bar. His second try was even closer, as an effort from outside of the box crashed off the bar to safety. It is safe to say Cibicki can feel hard done by that he didn’t managed to get a goal for his side.
However, he was a massive help for his side as he helped to relieve some of the pressure on his defence and place it upon that of England. He did this with some direct running which forced the opposition into action, however, he showed intelligence with his work and would often keep hold of the ball before offloading it to a team mate. He also helped his side while they didn’t have possession, as he filled in to help out the midfield, which in part allowed Melker Hallberg to do the aforementioned work of filling into defence which such effectiveness.
England looked to play this match built on the foundation of a passing game and Chalobah would often be the point of reference for this tactic. His accurate one touch passing helped to inject pace into a team who were guilty of playing at a pedestrian pace at times. England looked at their most dangerous when they were popping the ball around quickly and moving the Sweden defence around in the process. Chalobah would often be one of the main men involved whenever this happened.
The Chelsea midfielder was also important for England defensively. He sat back the most out of the midfield three, allowing Lewis Baker and James Ward-Prowse the freedom to move forward with the ball whenever the opportunity arose. He was also very efficient when it came to winning the ball back, if there was a 50/50 challenge where the ball was up for grabs, Chalobah would be there to gain control of the ball more often than not. His height, strength and power was vitally important in ensuring the midfield three that is otherwise relatively short was able to fulfill the full scope of its defensive duties.
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