Analysis

The two sides to Phil Foden – and 4 other things we learned from the England U21s against France

FourFourTwo was in Cesena to watch England’s disappointing 2-1 defeat to France unfold…

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Tactical tweaks could be required

England started with Leicester’s Hamza Choudhury sitting deep in front of the defence and sweeping up any attacking forays from the French, with Manchester City’s Phil Foden and James Maddison (also at Leicester) operating in more advanced roles either side of him in a 4-1-2-3 shape.

In the early stages of the game you could see the potential of the system as the technically gifted duo sent England’s flying wingers in behind the defence with pinpoint passes and Choudhury set about his business effectively.

However, Foden and Maddison were soon crowded out as France suffocated the space with a high defensive line and packed midfield. After Choudhury’s red card, a tiring England side set up in a fluid 4-3-2 system struggled to keep possession and invited Les Bleus pressure for the late, ill-fated onslaught.

Boothroyd’s midfield balance is a tricky puzzle to solve with so much talent available but no apparently obvious way of blending it all together. With Choudhury set to miss Friday’s clash with Romania through suspension, a change will now be enforced – and the boss will have to get it right.  

Errors prove costly

The game was riddled with lapses of concentration from England. A high arm from skipper Jake Clarke-Salter inside the box handed France an early penalty for handball, before Choudhury’s horrific lunge saw them concede another spot kick in the second half.

France couldn’t capitalise on either, Dean Henderson superbly saving the first before the second crashed off the post, but England’s pattern of self-destruction didn’t end there as Aaron Wan-Bissaka battered the ball into his own net for the stoppage-time winner.

The Crystal Palace man had a forgettable night, with a slack pass sending France clear through on goal in the first half, only for Henderson to come to the rescue again.

At the other end, Dominic Solanke and Demerai Gray were among the culprits when it came to passing up good opportunities. The fact that Foden’s goal was England’s only shot on target says it all about the cutting edge on display and this sloppiness must be addressed quickly if they are to haul their way back into contention.

Frustrating and fabulous Foden

Foden’s dazzling run and finish to put England in front was a reminder of the star quality he possesses, but overall the City player struggled to influence the game in the way he would’ve liked.

The French pressing game had some say in that, but England need him to take control of games rather than flit in and out of them as he did in Cesena.

At times he was mesmerising, but too often he was invisible. England have a world-beater of a player there, but Boothroyd and his team need to find the best system to plunder rewards from that undoubted ability.

Who’s getting the goals?

Solanke had a poor game leading the line for England and often cut an isolated figure up front.

Tammy Abraham and Dominic Calvert-Lewin were brought on towards the end with England down to 10 men and while they couldn’t make the difference, both players should be considered for a starting spot against Romania on Friday.

Solanke’s record at this level is not to be sniffed at, but Everton striker Calvert-Lewin matched his four-goal haul during qualifying, Abraham is coming off a superb season in the Championship with Aston Villa and Reiss Nelson bagged an impressive seven strikes in the Bundesliga for Hoffenheim in 2018/19.

Deciding which man is the best fit to spearhead the attack is another head-scratcher for Boothroyd.

Hats off to Henderson

Without doubt, Foden’s magical goal will generate the biggest buzz on social media, but Manchester United’s Dean Henderson is the reason this game was still a contest in stoppage time.

Fresh off featuring in every game of Sheffield United’s promotion campaign in the Championship, the goalkeeper flew to deny Moussa Dembele from the penalty spot in the first half before coming to the rescue throughout the remainder of the match with several instinctive reflex stops.

The 22-year-old showed why some of the Old Trafford faithful are backing him to become a No.1 for the Premier League giants and there were few players you felt for more when Wan-Bissaka’s botched clearance hit the roof of the net in stoppage time.

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