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What can England’s Senior Team learn from the U21s?

26 Jun | BY Betway | MIN READ TIME |
What can England’s Senior Team learn from the U21s?

100% win rate so far. Six games played, six games won. Scored 18, conceded just three. But are England just papering over the cracks?

What can England’s Senior Team learn from the U21s?

According to one-time England international (and part-time philosopher) Joey Barton: “The culture [of English football] is rotten from top to bottom.”

Maybe he’s right. Or maybe, like the rest of the country, he’s just overcome with disappointment that another England team – despite all the hype and confidence prior to the tournament – fell at the first hurdle of an international competition once again.

And there’s no reason he shouldn’t be. England’s U21s were one of the favourites. They had a stellar qualifying record. 35 goals scored in 12 games with only four goals conceded – the best defensive record on the continent – and a near flawless streak with 11 wins from 12 competitive games (drawing one).

If you couldn’t get excited about that in the build-up, then what can you get excited about?

But, just like the senior team did at the last two major tournaments, the Young Lions exited at the first stage, rock-bottom of their group.

So, with Euro 2016 just a year away, can the England Senior team learn from the disappointment of the U21s?

Firstly, the Seniors’ qualifying record is actually better; they have a 100% win rate so far. Six games played, six games won. Scored 18, conceded just three. They’ll probably continue that stellar form throughout the rest of qualifying, and we’ll get all excited once again – ‘this’ll be the tournament’.

But qualifying means nothing anymore.

It’s merely a formality. Does beating the likes of Slovenia, Estonia, San Marino, Lithuania, and their only serious contender in Group E, Switzerland, entitle you to thinking you can beat Germany, France, Italy and other European powerhouses when it really matters? The answer is no.

England need to become tournament ready. By the time it all kicks off in France, the Lions need to be prepared to play serious opposition. And that means never underestimating the importance of defence.

Just like the U21s, their defensive record is flattering, but not realistic.

Gareth Southgate’s men conceded more goals in their three group games then they did in the 12 to qualify. The England senior team should heed this warning. Their back four will come under more pressure against bigger teams and they cannot expect to outscore a higher pedigree of opponent like they have been doing in qualifiers.

On the plus side, Roy Hodgson has been building from the back. He’s been getting criticism for it, but he’s laying the foundations of a passing team that looks to begin attacks from defence. Having confident ball-playing defenders is a necessity of the modern game, and particularly vital against the very best sides.

The senior team need to be the blueprint for all age groups below.

It’s no use teaching every level lower than the senior team a different way of playing football, as even if they make it to the senior team they won’t fit the template.

Integrating the U21s into the senior squad should be seamless. There’s no doubt that the U21s have talent. The likes of Harry Kane, John Stones and James Ward-Prowse – if they build on excellent domestic and international showings – will surely be in Hodgson’s thoughts come next summer. But are they ready to deal with the pressure and slot straight into the first team? It’s not a chance we should be taking. Kane should be just as confident in front of goal for England as he is for Tottenham, and that only comes with games.

England are a team with potential. But at some point potential just isn’t enough anymore. And with Euro 2016 less than a year away, maybe it’s time England learnt a lesson from its Young Lions and the countless disappointing competitions before, if they want any hope of delivering a major trophy.


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