Faced with a different type of opponent in Ukraine, Stuart Pearce opted for three central midfield players in a formation that suggested the England Under-21 team sought to express themselves as an attacking outfit. As a result, Daniel Sturridge was accommodated on the right-hand side of a front three, with Danny Rose – who had retained his place in the team – to the left of Danny Welbeck.
England’s change of system also presented the opportunity to increase Kyle Walker’s involvement. With Sturridge’s starting position more advanced than that of a traditional right midfield player, there was a greater distance for Walker to exploit as an attacking outlet. However, Walker’s inability to impose himself on the game was to become one of many frustrations for the young Lions.
With the extra man in midfield, a more considered approach was needed. For prolonged spells, England seemed on edge should a pass not present an immediate goal scoring opportunity, with the midfield players guiltiest of this. Having been returned the ball from Welbeck, Jordan Henderson uncharacteristically hurried passes back to the full-back positions rather than holding onto the ball and plotting his next move – relinquishing responsibility as well as possession. In turn, his fullbacks hurried and, for the latter stages of the first-half, England’s three-pronged attack was the subject of high balls into the channels. Behind the central trio, lay the home of precious few positives for Pearce. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones enhanced their partnership with another fine display, and having escaped an almost catastrophic incident in the second-half, Jones’s composure and physical dominance gave England a sturdy rearguard.
While England’s most encouraging moments came from Sturridge cutting in from the right, he was too far from the focal point of England’s attack to be able to make a telling contribution, particularly in the latter stages. Henri Lansbury’s introduction in the second-half saw him positioned nearer to Welbeck than any of the three previous central players and, as a result, not only left England short in midfield, but lead to Sturridge retreating into deeper positions to collect the ball. The solution may have been to position him on the shoulder of Welbeck; placing England’s gamest marksman in sight of the target.
Sturridge had taken up his best position during an England counterattack in the closing stages. As the forward angled out to the far post, Henderson found himself charging towards a crossroad, having to decide whether to poke it past the on-rushing defender into the path of Scott Sinclair, or sweep the ball right, into the space vacated by everyone bar Sturridge. Henderson’s over hit pass summed up England’s night: a performance lacking the decision-making and technical ability to decide the game.
Walker – Jones – Smalling – Bertrand
Henderson – Mancienne – Rodwell
Sturridge – Welbeck – Rose
57- Lansbury on for Rodwell
57- Sinclair on for Rose
89- Muamba on for Mancienne