England U21 disappointed and the much vaunted Chelsea trio largely underwhelmed in their opening match of the U21 Euro tournament in Poland on Friday, barely hanging on to a 0-0 draw against Sweden and making their remaining two group games must-win affairs.
The first of those was against Slovakia on Monday, and for the first 45 minutes, the script looked to be repeating itself — except with a goal down this time as Slovakia went ahead halfway through the first-half — a surprise given just how well-oiled and unstoppable many of these players looked last summer at the Toulon Tournament.
The Toulon group looked flexible, creative, confident, used the full reach of the squad, and deservedly reaped their rewards.— Chelsea Youth (@chelseayouth) June 19, 2017
Now, somehow, a midfield comprised of the talents of Baker, Swift, Ward-Prowse, Chalobah, and Redmond looked slow and weak and ponderous and bereft of ideas, and while Tammy Abraham worked hard up top, he was often isolated against the graduates from the Martin Škrtel School of Defending. To his credit, the 19-year-old held his own despite not featuring directly any of the goals — though England’s winner did come from a tussle he won against Milan Škriniar, who’s a regular in Serie A for Sampdoria.
Tammy Abraham looks to have bulked up since the last time I saw him. Not the same skinny baby giraffe. Promising for the lone striker role— Sébastien Chapuis (@SebC__) June 19, 2017
That’s not to say that England were great by any means, but they did score the crucial goals at the crucial times and held on strong during the final 30 minutes to see out the result. Slovakia showed a fair dose of naïveté and nerves throughout the match, and especially the second half, all of which played into England’s hands.
With the 2-1 win and the 2-2 draw between Sweden and Poland in the second game of the day, England are top of the group and control their own destiny. A win against Poland on Thursday would guarantee a spot in the semifinals.