Date: June 18th, 2019
Home: England U21
Away: France U21
Competition: U21 European Championship
Youth competitions regardless of the age or location are always fun to watch. Most of the time the games are open and there aren’t that many run away favorites. Traditional power houses maybe in the tournament but once the ball kick offs it is usually a competitive game. Something about players having the comfort of playing against players their own age kind of calms some of the nerves. This game happens to include two power house teams and players who have played significant roles at their respective clubs. I am going to look at 3 players from each squad to focus on this game.
Overall it was an eventful game. A decent amount of chance for both teams but it seemed like France rightfully got the three points. England were fortunate not be down after conceding two penalties and a red card to boot. After the red card it was all France and England kind of held up but the attack proved to be too much. Most of England’s possession came just by passing along the backline while waiting to find a hole in a well organized France. Obviously that not a knock on England it just important context when looking at this game. Foden’s goal was spectacular and it looked like it would bail England out but in the end France were too much.
ENG – Phil Foden (Manchester City) – Foden has gotten a lot of hype over the past few years. Playing for Pep and City, means that his game time has been limited to say the least. When he does play however he has put in some solid performances but has also been surrounded by great players.
I would say Foden was definitely England’s best player in this game. When they weren’t passing it around the back in the dreaded U pattern, England looked to Foden and Maddison to create and Foden was definitely better at that. Clearly below he went an amazing run through pretty much every one on France to score with his left. That was an awesome goal. But for the rest of the game he was actively looking for the ball, dropping deep even when they were down a man. He was also actively pressing the whole game which is always nice to see. Overall a solid performance for Foden who looked very comfortable being the main creator.
ENG – James Maddison (Leicester City) – After killing it in the Championship for Norwich in 2017-18, Maddison earned a move to the big leagues with Leicester. This past year he was second the Premier League in chances created just behind Eden Hazard. Most were on set pieces but chances are chances. I am interested to see if he steps up and takes control of the game as one of the better players on the pitch.
As I said that Foden and Maddison where the two main creators for England and for Maddison the performance was very meh. He was awarded the assist on the Foden goal but that is the easiest assist he will earn. His set pieces were ok and his defensive work was average as well. His pass percentage was 88% which is really good for a central midfielder/attacking midfielder but his passes lack purpose. He always seemed to be making the safe play instead of going for some riskier options. He was more of a passenger this game as opposed to a driver.
ENG – Demarai Gray (Leicester City) – Gray has been getting consistent game time for the past few years with Birmingham City and now Leicester. Every time I watch him play I notice his ability in one on one situations on the wing along with his technical ability. I want to see if he can put that to good use in this game.
Gray had a really interesting game mainly because he was doing everything right but either lacked quality or was unlucky in the right moment. He was definitely the more proactive of the wingers. You can see in the passing diagram he was England’s most proactive and effective player in terms of expected goals. Two plays in particular stand out. On one play he was going to be on the end of a cross in front of an empty net pretty much but Konate just got to it. Unlucky. Then on another play Foden him did well to play him free down the left and there was an open Solanke in the middle and just lacked the quality to get him the ball. Other than that he had a solid game but its those split moments that really make the difference.
FRA – Moussa Dembele (Lyon) – After bursting onto the scene with Brendan Rogers at Celtic, Dembele moved to Lyon and in his debut season he scored 15 goals. Very impressive from a 22 year old. With a full year under his belt he should be coming into this tournament with a lot of confidence to lead the lines.
This is going to be more of an indictment on playing with one striker then it is on Dembele. But Dembele played as a lone striker and couldn’t really get into a grove. Shocking. In the time before the red card Dembele was isolated up top and was not getting much service. When France got some possession the opposing third he was unable to get any touches because he was easily being marked by two defenders at a time. Now once the red card happened France started to throw more player up field and Dembele got more into the game. He had to solid opportunities blocked but I believe if he was able to get into a grove he would have had a greater impact on the game. Also he had penalty saved which looked to have his psyche thrown off. It was a solid penalty just a great save and read from Henderson.
FRA – Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig) – Upamecano has been in the “Red Bull” pipeline since 2016. He moved from Salzburg to Leipzig in 2017 has been a main stay in their backline. 2017-18 was a great year for him while this year he faced some injury problems. But in this he will be going up against some quality attacking players from England so we will see how he fairs.
Upamecano was hands down my favorite player to watch this game. He was the best and certainly the most mature player out there. His positioning was always spot on. His anticipation made it seem like he was one step ahead. When in possession he was stepping up in midfield and being proactive with the ball. Always in control which is awesome to see. I’m also going to give him the assist on that last goal. His flick on to the back post pretty much created the opportunity so he deserves.
FRA – Houssem Aouar (Lyon) – Aouar is probably the one I am most excited to watch. He had a great follow up year to his breakout in 2017-18. He is a central midfielder who can play as a number 6 or a number 8. I expect him to dictate the play for France this game and it will be up to him to start attacks from the midfield.
Simillar to Foden, Aouar was the main guy in midfield. He was not playing as a holder so he was free to move forward and create which he did a pretty good job. In the passing diagram you can see that play focused on the left side and mainly went through him. He was certainly trying to create which did lead to some bad giveaways but you cannot create by passing the ball backwards or side ways you have to pass forward with intent. Obviously he too missed a penalty, this time his went off the post but he did bounce back. When France threw men up field to get an equalizer play was running through him and he did a good job of facilitating play.