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England U21s: What's gone wrong for Aidy Boothroyd's talented group of young players?
England U21s knocked out of European Championships
Last Updated: 22/06/19 1:18pm
England's U21 squad is packed with highly-rated talent - but after two matches and two defeats they are already out of the European Championships. What's gone wrong for Aidy Boothroyd's side?
After success in 2017 at U17, U19 and U20 level, this generation seemingly had the potential to be crowned the top U21 side in Europe but instead find themselves eliminated with one group game still to play after losses against France and Romania.
You look at our squad. You see the talent, you see the quality of players… it's very disappointing. I was hoping this year, with the players we had, we could go all the way and win it
Here, we pick out the decisive factors which have held the side back in Italy - and ask what it means for these players in terms of their development…
Frustratingly for boss Boothroyd, his England side have been in positive positions in both of their two games at the European Championships before glaring individual mistakes have led to defeat.
Hamza Choudhury's reckless red card against France came with England 1-0 up and was compounded by Aaron Wan-Bissaka's own goal, while Romania took the lead against England on three occasions thanks to mistakes, with Jonjoe Kenny giving away a penalty, Fikayo Tomori miscuing a clearance and Dean Henderson allowing a tame shot through his hands.
"The individual mistakes - you can't afford to make them at this level if you want to go through to a semi-final at a European Championships," former England U21 Liam Rosenior told Sky Sports.
Boothroyd, meanwhile, bemoaned his side giving away penalties in both of their group games. "I think it's just decision-making," he said. "You have to stay on your feet no matter how fatigued you are or how hot it is.
"Unfortunately we lunged in - and we had people looking for the penalties as well, which happens. But if we're not disciplined enough to stay on our feet, that's going to happen."
"I think Romania were more clinical than us," striker Tammy Abraham said after the final whistle. "We created a lot of chances we didn't take." The stats back him up: England recorded 24 attempts at goal to their opponents' 15, as well as dominating possession (64 per cent vs 36 per cent).
The Chelsea striker found the net himself after coming off the bench in the second half but also hit the woodwork and shot straight at the goalkeeper when well placed, while fellow frontman Dominic Calvert-Lewin sent a couple of headers over the bar and defender Jake Clarke-Salter saw his own aerial effort diverted onto the post as England pressed for victory.
The margins were fine but, after England squandered several openings in the first 45 minutes against France, missed opportunities has become one of the themes of their tournament.
However, Sky Sports pundit Rosenior argues the root of that problem is down to Boothroyd's team selections…
There were certainly eyebrows raised before the game when it was announced Phil Foden - scorer of a sublime individual goal against France - was being rested. That decision looked even more odd when Foden came on and put England on the front foot.
"It's a bit strange to me," former England defender Joleon Lescott said. "[Boothroyd] talks about game management [and giving Foden recovery time] when James Maddison, who started, has played more minutes than anyone else in the team."
Boothroyd's call to replace Dominic Solanke - who misfired against France - with Dominic Calvert-Lewin was also criticised by the Sky Sports pundits, with Rosenior insisting Abraham's clever positioning skills suited the demands of the fixture better than the hard-working Everton forward.
Rosenior argued that by not starting his best attackers, in Foden and Abraham, Boothroyd put England in a position which led to their pivotal mistakes.
"The first goal in every game is so important - and to get the first goal you need your best players on the pitch," said Rosenior. "For me, England's best attacking players weren't on.
"You see the difference Phil Foden makes when he comes on. The difference Tammy Abraham makes, and the chances he gets.
"It's no accident Abraham gets the chances, he gets the goal, he hits the bar, he makes the keeper make a save because he's the best striker in terms of clever movement and getting in between defenders to get those chances.
"I thought we were the better team in terms of possession but we didn't have the quality in the final third to get the first goal - and then we get punished with individual errors at the other end.
"Calvert-Lewin is a fantastic player but his game is tailored to a more direct game, where he's chasing onto things and he doesn't have to be clever and bright in his movement to receive the ball.
"All of Abraham's chances come from clever movement. That wasn't happening [until he came on]. I didn't see Solanke do that in the first game or Calvert-Lewin do it in this game.
"Aidy had a very good squad of players. It's very difficult when you have Abraham, Solanke, Calvert-Lewin, to try to find the right blend. For me, the first two thirds of our play in this tournament has been really good. What we've lacked is taking those opportunities.
"In those final moments you need your game winners - your Fodens, your Abrahams, who are going to take those chances. That's what we lacked in the last two games."
Boothroyd's cause wasn't helped with his change at right-back, either. He opted to drop Wan-Bissaka, following his own-goal error against France and amid the mounting focus on the Crystal Palace full-back and Manchester United's big-money bids for him.
However, Kenny, who came in, made a bad error of his own, giving away a penalty to hand Romania the opening goal.
Choudhury's replacement, Kieran Dowell, struggled to take charge of the game in the centre of the park, too, while Harvey Barnes, who took Ryan Sessegnon's place, was substituted at the break after an underwhelming 45 minutes.
So what next?
Despite the painful results, Boothroyd was eager to put a positive spin on the past week.
"In order to get through this, we have to take the positives out of the way we've played the game," said the manager.
"In my opinion, and in the opinion of a lot of other people who know the game, we're on the right track in terms of the way we're playing the game.
"All we have to do now is iron out these undisciplined situations and take our chances. It's as simple as that."
Whether those "simple" improvements will lead to success for England U21s in the future remains to be seen as, for a number of these players, this will be their final U21 European Championship. Henderson, Kenny, Maddison, Calvert-Lewin and Gray are among the men who will be too old next time around. The next generation will have to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.
So what lessons will the current crop take forward into their senior careers? And, crucially, are they on the right path?
Overall we've got some really, really good players coming through in this country and I'm sure being knocked out early won't hinder their progress moving forward
Sky Sports pundit Liam Rosenior
"This group of players and the quality they have, if they fulfil their potential they win these two games," said Rosenior. "They didn't fulfil their potential.
"At the end of the day, these players want to play for their country at World Cups and European Championships. To do that, you need to be at your top level throughout. And they weren't at that level because of the mistakes they made and they weren't clinical at the other end.
"But there are a lot of positives in the way they've approached the last two games, and they've come down to individual errors, a few tactical details which I'm sure Aidy will look back on - such as going down to 10 men against France.
"But overall we've got some really, really good players coming through in this country and I'm sure being knocked out early won't hinder their progress moving forward."
All the ways to watch the tournament...
England face Croatia on Monday at 8pm in their final Group C clash, and every game during the UEFA European Under-21 Championship will be shown live on Sky Sports.
Sky Sports subscribers will also be able to stream the games via the Sky Sports app or the Sky Go app.
Non-subscribers can watch all the action through NOW TV. A Sky Sportsday pass is available for £8.99, a week pass for £14.99 or a month pass for £33.99. NOW TV can be streamed through a computer or apps.