Danny Lewis has a look at the players that stood out during the U21 Euros group game that finished England 3-0 Poland.
England navigated their way through what could have been a very difficult tie against the host nation with relative ease. In a packed out Kolporter Arena, it could have been expected that a vocal home crowd could have been used to the advantage of the Polish, but that wasn’t to be the case. England were dominant from the first whistle and goals from Demarai Gray, Jacob Murphy and Lewis Baker handed England a 3-0 win which earned them their ticket to the Under 21 Euros semi finals.
England’s tactics were changed for the third time in three games for this match, although this seemed to be a variant of the 4-1-2-1-2 that was deployed in the 2-1 win over Slovakia. Where in that game Nathan Redmond played as a striker alongside Tammy Abraham, in this one Redmond, who was replaced by Murphy at half time played alongside Demarai Gray with the pair acting more as high wingers than out and out strikers. This left John Swift to sit at the tip of the midfield diamond and break into forward positions when England had the ball while the high wingers took up a position between the opposition’s full back and centre half.
Poland on the other hand played a more rigid 4-4-2, as they looked to use the two banks of four to keep England at bay. They would always have one midfielder sitting back to try to give the other a bit more freedom to get up the pitch and support the two strikers. Here are the players who were at the centre of their team’s tactics:
The Leicester man had not started a game at the Under 21 Euros before this one and the winger certainly made his presence felt. Gray managed to get a goal and assist in a way that epitomised England’s direct attacking play. For his goal he picked up a pass from his club team mate Ben Chilwell before cutting inside and unleashing a strike which took a slight deflection on its way into the top corner. For his assist he led an English counter attack, being released down the left hand side. He made his way into the Polish box at speed and used his awareness to lay the ball across to Jacob Murphy for the Norwich man to tap it in at the back post.
However, due to the system used, his role was not solely about attacking. There were times when he would be defending almost alongside the full back in order to help his team keep a clean sheet. This is where his stamina, energy and pace were important as this allowed Gray to get up and down the line while still maintaining the threat that he posed to Poland’s defence.
As has been mentioned Poland’s central midfield pairing would have one man sitting and one roaming forward with a bit more freedom. It was Radosław Murawski who would sit back while Karol Linetty would push forward to try to create chances for Poland. Linetty didn’t have as much of an impact on the game as he would have liked, but Murawski played his position very well. He was incredibly disciplined in his approach to the game and would keep things as simple as possible.
He would always look to cover any spaces that could be exploited by England and would often be found near an English midfielder if they were breaking forward. Murawsk didn’t have too much possession of the ball, but when he did have it he retained the ball well, often getting it out wide, to his midfield partner or up to the Polish attackers. It was a tough day for him as he was under constant pressure, but if it wasn’t for Murawski’s performance, Poland would have been even worse off come the final whistle.
At the beginning of the match James Ward-Prowse and Lewis Baker had the same role as in the previous two games. This was to play slightly ahead of Nathaniel Chalobah and get the team moving up the pitch, as well as helping Chalobah and the back four out defensively. However, when Chalobah was brought off injured in the first half and replaced by Will Hughes the pair were forced to sit a little bit deeper to form more of a 4-3-1-2 and come together to chip in with extra defensive work.
Despite this, Baker was still expected to be the main creative spark in the middle of the park and he executed this role well. He would often play quick one-twos with his team mates to move the Polish players around and create space for himself and anyone else who may get a goal scoring opportunity. Baker was forced to have a little bit more balance in his game than he would have if he had been in the role ahead of the midfield three which Swift occupied, but he dealt with that well. His performance was topped off with a goal as he took and scored the penalty that had been won by Tammy Abraham.
It was a tough day for Poland’s defence as they conceded three goals, but their captain defended resolutely at right back, especially considering that he was up against Demarai Gray on top form. Kędziora and left back Paweł Jarozyński didn’t really attack much throughout the game, as their main focus was to help the centre backs keep England out.
As a defensive unit they struggled all game, but things got even worse for them when Jan Bednarek was sent off for a second yellow when he brought down Tammy Abraham for the penalty that led to England’s third goal. By this stage the game was all but over and Kędziora was forced to fill in as a central defender while also directing Przemysław Frankowski as the right winger attempted to cover the whole of the right side. Poland looked very disjointed at this stage, but it was Kędziora’s positioning and leadership skills which allowed Poland to prevent England getting more goals, which could have led to the score line looking a lot worse for the host nation.
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