The Good, the Bad and the Opposition: Observations from England’s 1-0 UEFA Nations League A loss to Denmark at Wembley Stadium
England 0-1 Denmark
October 14th, 2020
Wembley Stadium, London
By Stewart Flaherty (@stewartflaherty)
England were knocked out of first place in UEFA Nations League Group 2 as they were beaten 1-0 at Wembley Stadium by a tough Denmark team. A 2-1 win for Belgium in Iceland courtesy of a Romelu Lukaku brace moved the Red Devils into first place going into the last two games of group play, with Denmark and England both two points back.
Simon Kjaer and Christian Eriksen were celebrating their 100th cap for Denmark, becoming the 9th and 10th players to achieve the landmark in Denmark history. The pair joined legends like Michael Laudrup and Peter Schmeichel, father of Kasper who played in goal for Denmark in this game on the list of players who reached a century of appearances for the Danes. Kjaer anchored a strong defensive performance that shut out England for the second time in this competition, while Eriksen capped a Man of the Match performance with a winning goal from the penalty spot in the 35th minute.
You can find a full game report on the BBC website here.
1 – RIGHT SIDE PERFORMANCE
The right flank of England’s 3-4-3 formation was the subject of much discussion before and after this fixture with Trent Alexander-Arnold benched in favour of Reece James. Chelsea star James responded with a quality performance and was England’s best player on the night.
The combination of James, playing wide in the midfield four with right winger Mason Mount in front was England’s greatest attacking threat. The pair are teammates with Chelsea at the club level, and that showed through as they read each other’s movement and worked in tandem well to provide plenty of service into the penalty area.
As the screenshot below shows, England pushed up right sided central defender Kyle Walker in possession and also sent a central midfielder wide in the form of Declan Rice of Kalvin Phillips to give England four bodies and an overload on the right side.
Unfortunately for Gareth Southgate, this successful pattern was altered 32 minutes into the game when Harry Maguire was red carded and England were forced to shift into a 4-4-1 shape with Walker at left back.
2 – RESPONSE TO RED CARD
England conceded a goal three minutes after Maguire’s dismissal and found themselves in a very tough spot going into half time a goal and a man down. Southgate’s team responded well to this scenario registering more attacks per minute (0.42) in the second half than Denmark (0.35) and producing a defensive display that saw Denmark’s xG rating drop from 0.87 in the first half to 0.45 in the second.
England carved out a golden chance to equalize in the 66th minute when Mount got on the end of a corner inside the six yard box only for Kasper Schmeichel to deny England with a spectacular save.
It was no doubt a disappointing result and performance in many aspects from England, but they did show resilience and fight in a pressure situation after going down to 10 men.
3 – REECE JAMES PERFORMANCE
England have a number of young fringe players knocking on the door all over the field, and James laid a claim to a starting role on the right flank with this display. Strong on the defensive end to dull the attacking threat of Barcelona winger Martin Braithwaite, James was also one of England’s key attacking outlets for the opening half hour in midfield, and continued to push forward while playing in the back four.
Just after the final whistle, James put a downer on his excellent display for a red card after a clash with the official, but he will be pushing hard to nail down a right flank spot upon his return from suspension all the way to the Euro finals.
1 – HARRY MAGUIRE DISMISSAL AND TEAM DISCIPLINE
It was a bad performance from Maguire who cost his team with a red card for two needlessly aggressive tackles well inside the Denmark half and far away from danger. Southgate has publicly backed Maguire over his poor form and the ongoing legal issues he has regarding an alleged assault he committed in Greece over the summer, but his faith was not repaid with this performance.
With Michael Keane (Everton) and Tyrone Mings (Aston Villa) starting the Premier League season in strong form, Maguire could find his place in the national team under serious threat when he returns from suspension.
James was also dismissed after the final whistle after a confrontation with referee Jesus Gil Manzano, and the two red cards in this game are a continuation of discipline issues on the defensive end for the Three Lions.
In the four UEFA Nations League games played so far, England have committed the following lapses;
- Defender Walker sent off in the 70th minute at Iceland with the score at 0-0.
- After Sterling gave England an injury time lead in Iceland, Joe Gomez conceded a penalty at the other end just minutes later that Iceland would miss.
- Eric Dier fouled Lukaku to concede a 16th minute penalty in England’s comeback 2-1 win over Belgium,.
- Harry Maguire sent off in the 32nd minute of this game with the score at 0-0 for two reckless fouls in the Denmark half.
- Walker conceded a penalty in this game by bringing down Thomas Delaney, allowing Eriksen to score the decisive goal from the spot.
- Reece James sent off after the final whistle here for a heated confrontation with the referee.
There have also been off the field issues in the Three Lions camp, with teenage duo Mason Greenwood and Phil Foden sent home after ignoring COVID restrictions and having girls visit their hotel room during the trip to Iceland.
2 – MARCUS RASHFORD PERFORMANCE
Flying winger Rashford has got off to a hot start to this season both on and off the field. Scoring 2 goals for United so far and also netting a penalty in England’s 2-1 win over Belgium last time out,
Rashford has also made worldwide headlines for his work off the field. The Manchester United winger led a campaign that forced a government U-turn in the summer to provide thousands of children with free meals, and is launching another petition aimed at Prime Minister Boris Johnson to extend free school meals.
With that said, Rashford did not play well in this game, turning the ball over frequently and failing to provide the final product he has displayed on so many other occasions for club and country. Rashford did not complete any successful dribbles in the game, and when he had Danish right back Daniel Wass isolated 1v1, good defense from the Valencia fullback forced Rashford into completing passes backwards to recycle possession.
Competition for places in the England front three is heated, and games like this one need to be few and far between in order to nail down a starting spot for next summer’s European Championship.
3 – GOALS DRYING UP
Coming into this UEFA Nations League campaign, England were firing on all cylinders on the attacking end of things. Over an 8-game qualifying campaign for Euro 2020, England scored 37 goals with red hot striker Kane netting 12 and winger Raheem Sterling adding 8.
England have shifted formation to a 3-4-3 for this campaign, and the offensive output has taken a significant nosedive. During their four UEFA Nationals League games to date, England have scored only three goals with two of them coming from the penalty spot.
It took an injury time penalty to scrape a 1-0 win in Iceland, a game that was followed by a tough 0-0 draw in Denmark. A bright 2-1 win over Belgium was then followed by being shut out by the Danes for a second time in this fixture. Leading scorer Kane is yet to get off the mark in this competition, and Chelsea winger Mount has notched the only goal from open play with Sterling not scoring since he grabbed all three points from the spot in the opener at Iceland.
There have been some tactical growing pains, such as the stalemate in Denmark when Kane dropped deep without the wingers replacing him centrally, and even in the positive right flank clips at the top of this article, it is notable that there is a lack of England numbers in the box to attack the crosses.
The success of England under Southgate has been built on a potent and high scoring front three, and that must be rekindled if England are to have a chance of glory in the summer ahead.
THE OPPOSITION – DENMARK
1 – ERIKSEN MASTERCLASS
On the occasion of his 100th cap, Inter Milan midfielder Eriksen put aside his club struggles and ran the show in the heart of midfield to produce what was a match winning performance. An unused sub in Inter’s last Serie A game at Lazio, Eriksen showed no rust and was the heartbeat of the Danish team on this night.
Able to connect passes, find space between the England lines consistently and capitalize on the extra man in central midfield for Denmark that England’s flat four allowed, the playmaker pulled strings all night going forward and was a major factor in Denmark having the upper hand in terms of possession.
Eriksen capped his performance with the winning goal to continue an astounding run of form for the national team as of late. After netting six goals in his first 60 games for Denmark, Eriksen has now scored 28 in his last 40 games. Eriksen will have hoped his performance made an impression on manager Antonio Conte back in Milan.
2 – SIMON KJAER
The second of Denmark’s hundred cap heroes on the night, AC Milan center back Kjaer wore the captain’s armband and anchored the Danish backline well as they contained World Cup Golden Boot winner Kane. Kjaer made a series of tackles, blocks and clearances while also producing a key goal line clearance to deny Coady an equalizing goal in the 90th minute.
Kjaer also displayed quality in possession for Denmark, showcasing his long range passing ability throughout the game and connecting passes well into the midfield area. It was Kjaer’s long pass forward that ended in Walker dragging down Delaney for the match deciding spot kick.
3 – DANISH MIDFIELD QUALITY
It is too easy to look at an England v Denmark game and paint a picture of an England team full of Premier League superstars against the tough and organized underdog. That picture would not paint the full reality though, when the Danish team includes so many players from the Bundesliga, Premier League, La Liga and Serie A.
Beyond that, Denmark were significantly superior to England in terms of central midfield personnel for this game. Playing as a pair, Rice and Phillips went head to head with Borussia Dortmund midfielder Delaney and Pierre Hojbjerg of Premier League high flyers Tottenham Hotspur. To add to Denmark’s advantage, Inter Milan playmaker Eriksen floated around looking for space behind the England midfield and was consistently an outlet for the Danes to break England lines.
35’ DEN Christian Eriksen PK (Thomas Delaney) 0-1
MAN OF THE MATCH
#10 CM Christian Eriksen (Denmark) – Masterful performance from the Danish playmaker in chief, keeping possession ticking over and probing for weaknesses in the England backline all night on top of netting the game winning goal.
3: RM Reece James – One of England’s biggest attacking threats in the opening half hour, before dropping into the back four and defending well after England were reduced to 10 men.
2: F Mason Mount – Worked in tandem well with James to link the attack, penetrate off the dribble and provide crosses. Denied an equalizer by a superb Schmeichel save in the second half as England pushed for an equalizer.
1: CM Kyle Walker – Somewhat unfortunate to concede the penalty, but Walker defended strongly for the second straight game and was a key part of England’s success in possession during the opening half hour before the red card. Defended well and managed to overlap on occasion when forced to play left back as England played with 10 men.
3: CM Christian Eriksen – Man of the Match.
2: CD Simon Kjaer – Strong performance from Kjaer who kept a tight watch on England striker Kane, largely subduing the World Cup Golden Boot winner. Displayed good passing range, including the ball forward that led to Delaney winning a penalty.
1: CM Thomas Delaney – Quality display from the Dortmund man, screening the back four well in tandem with Hojbjerg and contributing well in possession. Picked his runs forward well to create overloads, and was brought down by Walker for the decisive penalty.
ENG: Pickford, Walker, Coady, Maguire, Maitland-Niles (Mings), Phillips, Rice (Henderson), James, Mount (Sancho), Kane, Rashford (Calvert-Lewin).
DEN: Schmeichel, Skov (Maehle), Christensen (Jorgensen), Kjaer, Wass, Hojbjerg (Jensen), Delaney, Eriksen, Braithwaite (Vestergaard), Poulson, Dolberg (Sisto).
Full highlights of the game can be found on the England YouTube page here.