Ever feel like you’ve seen this one before? England’s U21’s have fallen to a damaging 1-0 defeat to Switzerland in their opening European Championship group game, which leaves their chances of qualifying for the knockout stages under serious threat and as a result, Aidy Boothroyd’s time in charge of this group of players is surely dissipating.
This was not an exact carbon copy of what we saw two years ago, but the signs were unconvincing from the first whistle. Switzerland limited this talented team of English individuals to hardly any efforts on goal while threatening throughout the game, and were fully deserving of their win in Group D.
That is perhaps where England fell short. This once again, despite familiar pairings and club teammates, looked like a group of individuals rather than a cohesive unit, especially in the final third. Boothroyd must take responsibility for what is another embarrassing opening game, showing that hardly any lessons have been learned from the mistakes that were made two years ago.
The lack of spark and creativity was frightening in a starting eleven that included Callum Hudson-Odoi, Eddie Nketiah, Dwight McNeil, Emile Smith Rowe and Oliver Skipp but the 3-4-3 formation just appeared to stifle any sort of attacking play. With Ebere Eze, Ryan Sessegnon and Curtis Jones all coming off the bench with little impact, a change of shape must be the first order of the day heading into a must-win game against Portugal on Sunday.
Todd Cantwell has to feature while Eze has shown his class for Crystal Palace this season and should be given the chance to create in a more fluid attacking formation. 4-2-3-1 would get those creative players in the right areas of the pitch, as with this current wing-back system, McNeil couldn’t impact the game and the front three were stifled out of the game by an Swiss defence which didn’t have any holes in it.
1-0 as a result was actually kind to England as Aaron Ramsdale kept them out on several occasions. Early on, the Swiss should have scored as an error from Ben Godfrey presented Andi Zeqiri with a one on one v Ramsdale but the England keeper did well to save from close range. England countered and Tom Davies whipped a shot over the bar, but that was the closest Boothroyd’s side would come in a dull first half.
In the second 45, Hudson-Odoi saw his free-kick tipped round the post as one of England’s only attempts on target while Ramsdale was needed to tip Zaqiri’s long range effort around the post. Then, the inevitable happened, even if it was slightly fortunate.
After a good move, Dan Ndoye slipped on the edge of the box and kicked the ball into his own foot, which made the ball loop into the top corner past Ramsdale who was helpless to stop it. England had 15 minutes to find an equaliser but didn’t change their shape and still didn’t create anything worthwhile.
The senior side would be wise to take some lessons from the stifling effect a 3-4-3 formation can have on your attacking midfielders and with the talents of Jack Grealish, Phil Foden, Mason Mount and James Maddison all vying for a place in the squad, it could be that system that proves to be England’s downfall.
For the U21s, Boothroyd has now proved on several occasions he is not the man to lead this side forward. With coaches like Eddie Howe on the market, this tournament, with England staring at their fifth group stage exit in six attempts, will surely mark the end of Boothroyd’s miserable tenure.
Speaking after the match, Boothroyd said, "We played a safe game today and if you are going to win you can't play safe. I felt at half time we had more from us to come. The substitutes we brought on - we had a go, but unfortunately if was not our day today.
"We focus quickly on the next game and make sure we get a good result."
England are not quite out, but boy are they down.