3 Good, 3 Bad (and 3 Opposition) points from England’s 0-0 draw at Denmark in UEFA Nations League Group A play.
Denmark 0-0 England
September 8th, 2020
By Stewart Flaherty (@stewartflaherty)
England were held to a 0-0 draw in Denmark in UEFA Nations League Group A action, with a last gasp goal line clearance by Mathias Jorgensen from Harry Kane grabbing a point for the Danes.
Denmark had chances of their own to steal all three points, with a good Jordan Pickford save denying Kasper Dolberg in the first half, and Christian Eriksen lifting a late effort over the crossbar.
You can find a full game report on the BBC website here.
1 – TACTICAL FLEXIBILITY
Gareth Southgate tried out a new shape for this game in the form of a 3-4-3, which allowed him to experiment in a competitive environment. It is one thing to go over shape in practice and teach on video, it is another level to put a new formation to the test in a competitive environment against a quality opponent.
Denmark had players on the field from FC Barcelona, Inter Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Chelsea, Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur, making them very much a live opponent to test out this system.
One notable feature of England’s game plan was the attempts to exploit the pace and crossing ability of Liverpool fullback Trent Alexander-Arnold. Deployed on the right of a midfield four here, a pattern emerged of diagonal balls forward to isolate Alexander-Arnold in 1v1 scenarios against Danish left back Robert Skov.
England did show some flashes of quality buildup play, but not consistently and the movement of the front three was not good enough to break down Denmark, which will be discussed in more detail later in this article.
2 – CONOR COADY AND MORE DEBUTS
It’s clear that Southgate made a conscious decision to use these games to blood new players and learn about uncapped players in the pressured environment of competitive games. One player that passed the test with flying colors was Wolverhampton Wanderers center back Coady.
Playing in the heart of the back three, Coady was strong defensively against the lively Dolberg and also displayed his passing ability over short and long range. As can be seen above, the long passing of Coady was integral to the plan of trying to feed Alexander-Arnold in wide positions.
There were two more debuts handed out in central midfield with Kalvin Phillips starting, and later being replaced by fellow debutant Jack Grealish. Over these two games, England were unconvincing in central midfield so it seems either of the pair have a chance to claim a spot for next summer’s European championship tournament.
It was a tough test for Phillips who partnered Declan Rice in the heart of midfield against formidable opposition in the form of Eriksen and Thomas Delaney. A matchup that saw Denmark lining up midfielders from Borussia Dortmund and Inter Milan, against English counterparts from Leeds United and West Ham United.
3 – JORDAN PICKFORD AND ANOTHER CLEAN SHEET
Some inconsistent club form last season had seen Pickford’s role as England starting goalkeeper questioned by many in recent months. The Everton shot stopper put together back to back strong displays here and showed he is still the favorite for the number 1 shirt in the eyes of Southgate.
Pickford and the defensive line produced back to back clean sheets, and the communication and leadership was visible throughout both games. The audio in the clip below is a good example of Pickford’s excellent communication, with even the TV announcers giving praise to his instruction to the defense.
1 – FRONT THREE
There are areas of the field where England are largely unproven at the top level. Central defense and central midfield are positions where there is a lack of established veteran starters. Indeed, for these two games, the absence of Harry Maguire and Jordan Henderson seemed to have a disproportionate impact on performance.
With that said, nobody can question that Southgate can call upon an array of top class attacking talent. The trio of Kane, Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho would be welcomed by almost any national team coach in the world. With that said, the trio were largely stifled by the Danish back four and came out of this contest very much second best.
In a 3-4-3, it can be dangerous when a winger cuts inside and his opposite winger comes narrow, such a movement can give the look of a 3-4-1-2 shape and give the attacking team an attacking central midfield type player between opposition lines. An example of this done well is illustrated in this clip of Chelsea left winger Christian Pulisic coming inside to start and end the move that scored Chelsea’s opening goal in the recent FA Cup Final against Arsenal. When Pulisic came inside, fellow front three members Mount and Giroud positioned themselves as a front pair occupying the Arsenal center backs.
In this game, the England wingers stayed wide and were marked comfortably by Danish fullback pair Skov and Daniel Wass. In the clip below, Kane comes deep to receive, something which was likely caused by Denmark’s ability to cut off balls to his feet high on the line. The England wingers still stay wide, making the game very easy for the Danish center backs who are allowed to effectively play sweeper with no player to mark.
England also did a poor job of getting numbers in the box for crosses. As illustrated earlier in the article, balls out to Alexander-Arnold were clearly a part of the game plan, but the example below shows a cross whipped into the penalty area from this situation with Kane alone against 5 Danish defenders.
The lack of a number 10 type role within a 3-4-3 system puts an emphasis on good movement from the front three, placing a need on players to come deep between the lines while the two attackers in front make dangerous runs into more central positions. This is something England did not do well, and a major factor in the Danes keeping a well deserved clean sheet.
2 – LACK OF END PRODUCT
In the Iceland game days earlier, England dominated possession but often showed a lack of ability and even intent to penetrate their opponent. In this game, England showed a better, more progressive mindset and it was often a case of the final ball not being up to standard to create chances.
England even tried to go direct at some points in the game, something they should have no trouble implementing with the pace of Sterling, Sancho and Alexander-Arnold. But again the final ball was not quite up to scratch. In many ways, this was actually a better performance than the Iceland win despite the end result, with England showing more urgency to create chances, even if the execution was not there. Indeed, it will need a much better performance than this to get a result in their next UEFA Nations League game against group leaders Belgium.
3 – NEGATIVE REACTION
If this was a club team playing these two games, many fans would say Iceland parked the bus but England got the win, and England then picked up a point in the road despite not playing well without two key figures in Maguire and Henderson. That is not the reality of how fans perceive England, and being 2 points back from group leaders Belgium has already seen a certain level of anxiety rise within the fan base.
As with every manager before, Southgate must do a good job of managing the morale and mindset of the players to optimize performance. It is worth noting, that when you listen to Southgate and watch him interact with his players, they do seem to consistently rise above any tension and negative energy that surrounds them.
1 – STAR LIVES UP TO BILLING
Former Spurs star Eriksen’s stock seems to have fallen since his move to Inter Milan, but he showed in this game he is still a force to be reckoned with at the highest level. Playing in an attacking midfield role, he helped Denmark keep the ball well and linked well with striker Dolberg to drive Denmark’s attack. Played in Dolberg to force a good first half save from Pickford, and had two late chances to steal all three points for his team.
2 – A STRIKER SHORT
Denmark probably has more talent than given credit for across the board. Goalkeeper Kasper Scheichel is a former Premier League winner with Leicester City, while center back Andreas Christensen in front of him is a Chelsea starter. Eriksen and Delaney compete at the top European level, while wingers Braithwaite and Yussuf Poulsen reached the latter stages of the UEFA Champions League with FC Barcelona and RB Liepzig respectively.
While Nice striker Dolberg showed energy, you do get the feeling that Denmark are a center forward away from consistently winning games against elite level opposition. They do have a lot of pieces already in place and a goal threat will make them a force to be reckoned with. In fact, a striker the level of Danny Ings, who was on the England bench would likely have seen them win this game.
3 – STRONG CENTER BACK SHOWING
The pairing of Christensen and Jorgensen did an excellent job subduing FIFA World Cup Golden Boot winner Kane holding him to 2 successful dribbles and 1 shot on target which was cleared off the goalline by Jorgensen to preserve the clean sheet.
MAN OF THE MATCH
#13 CD Mathias Jorgensen (Denmark) – Strong defensive performance from Jorgensen who secured the result and capped an excellent display with his last ditch clearance.
3: CD Mathias Jorgensen – Man of the Match.
2: CM Christian Eriksen – Excellent performance keeping possession and driving the Danish attack forward. Found space between the English lines well and consistently played passes forward to the front three.
1: CF Kasper Dolberg – Hard working performance from the forward who ran in behind well and forced a good first half save from Pickford.
3: CD Conor Coady – Excellent debut for Coady who defended well and showed a good range of passing throughout.
2: RM Trent Alexander-Arnold – Used his pace well and was a consistent attacking threat for England down the right flank.
1: GK Jordan Pickford – A second clean sheet and second strong performance from Pickford, showed outstanding communication and leadership.
DEN: Schmeichel, Skov, Christensen, Jorgensen, Wass, Delaney, Eriksen, Norgaard (Hojbjerg), Braithwaite (Kjaer), Dolberg (Falk), Poulsen.
ENG: Pickford, Trippier, Coady, Gomez, Alexander-Arnold (Maitland-Niles), Philips (Grealish), Dier, Rice, Sterling, Kane, Sancho (Mount).
Highlights of the game can be found on the England YouTube page here.