The UEFA under 21’s european championship 2011 campaign kicked off for both teams tonight as two controversial goals a piece in each half sealed a point for England and Spain. For spain, eyes were firmly fixed on Thiago with Wigan manager Roberto Martinez saying before the match “If Thiago doesn’t play well, then Spain do not play well”. For England, eyes were surely on Jordan Henderson and Phil Jones because of all the press attention they have been receiving due to transfers to different clubs respectively.
Spain were very good on the ball tonight. Their passes were quick and accurate with the spanish players getting into positions with lots of space for them to run or to pass the ball into. They lined up with a 4-4-2 formation and this allowed them to have the correct balance needed between defence and attack. The left hand side of midfield is where the emphasis seemed to be though as Juan Mata of Valencia was played on the wing, creating a partnership with the left centre midfielder, Thiago (of whom big things are expected). They linked up all over the pitch, more noticeably while on the attack, naturally. Thiago made runs inside of Mata and got behind the England right back a few times (this couldn’t be helped by Kyle Walker) but wasn’t supported well enough in the six yard box. They played at a high tempo and tried to attack in numbers, they played the English midfield off the park but even with the fast, accurate passing, they were unable to get past the English defence, who were absolutely first class tonight. The best defence in the tournament in my opinion. Spain’s goal came from a corner – Javi Martinez lost his man (Manciennce. He was blocked off by a spanish player so he wasn’t able to track Martinez) and got his head on the ball. The header from Martinez was going wide but Herrera got onto it at the far post and squeezed it in with a header of his own past Cleverly who was on the back post. (i think it was cleverly) The reason this goal is controversial is because if you watch the video at the bottom of this report you will see that it suggests that the ball went in off of Herrara’s arm. No england player protested though, to many people’s surprise.Throughout this match though, Spain were often found guilty of trying to walk the ball into the back of the net, with players taking one pass too many on several occasions when they were perhaps in a better position to shoot. Spain were very comfortable in possession but mainly only in the second third. When they did lose the ball, and England were actually capable of stringing a few passes together and put spain under pressure, they did look very uncomfortable and it was clear that if England were able to put Spain under more pressure then mistakes were going to be made on Spain’s behalf and eventually England would have had a chance.
England lined up in a 4231 formation. England were dominated for a lot of this match, although, for little spells throughout the match, they were the ones on top. This never lasted though and Spain always managed to regroup and settle back into the game. England stood off Spain far too much tonight and allowed them to have time and space on the ball, this is dangerous because a lot of the spanish players are technically very good. However, i could see why Pearce had told them to stand off because when Spain had long shots, they never tested Frankie Fielding, the England goalkeeper. I thought England lacked creativity in the centre of the midfield in this match. Henderson didn’t play in a way many people thought he would, and Jack Rodwell was on the bench so England didn’t really have a ball winning midfielder on the pitch. Mancienne who is naturally a centre back played in the centre of midfield, often dropping off to play as a sweeper. I, along with a lot of other people do not understand why Stuart Pearce chose him in this role. Surely if you’re going to choose a centre back to play in midfield, you’d pick Phil Jones who has played half a season in that position at club level. Kyle Walker, the right wing back was clearly the best player for England who often surged down the wing and created lots of problems for the spanish defence. He was probably Englands most creative player in the match as well. On several occasions he made runs using skill to go past opposing players. It was Walker who set up England’s equaliser in the 88th minute after making a run down the right wing, cutting inside before playing the ball to a Danny Welback who turned, and neatly placed the ball into the bottom left corner, past incoming Manchester United goalkeeper David De Gea. Controversial? Yes – because when Kyle Walker played the ball to him, replays suggested that him as well as a couple more england attackers were offside. The flag stayed down though and the goal was rewarded. Perhaps justice to the opening goal.
For England, the key man during this match was without any shadow of a doubt; Kyle Walker, with his fast runs down the wing and his skill he was able to cause the spanish problems when he was on the ball. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones were both very solid and they are definitely the future of English football.
For Spain, the key men were David De Gea because of an absolutely outstanding save he made after a flick from one of his own players nearly went into the goal, Mata, and Thiago because of their creativity and partnership on the left hand side of the midfield.