England U-21 1-3 Norway U-21
Saturday 8th June, Match Two, Group A, UEFA Under-21 Championship, HaMoshava Stadium
Having impressed as a substitute against Italy, Nathaniel Chalobah was brought into the starting line up for England’s second Group A match, against Norway.
Chalobah was positioned almost behind the strikers against Italy, but started here in his preferred deeper midfield role. Jordan Henderson was further forward, with Jason Lowe as the holding midfielder. For the second half, with Lowe replaced by Connor Wickham, Chalobah became the deepest of the midfield three.
In the first half, with Lowe sitting and Henderson pushing forward, Chalobah acted as a balance between the two. Out of possession, he sat deep alongside Lowe, but with freedom to break forward when England had the ball. Norway’s midfield trio was more rigid. Stefan Johansen sat, with Harmeet Singh and Magnus Eikrem either side not particularly adventurous. Chalobah’s biggest concern defensively was Håvard Nielsen, Norway’s left-sided midfielder. The Norwegians looked to get high up the pitch by using long balls forward into Nielsen, who could hold it up and bring others into play. He had a clear aerial advantage over Adam Smith, England’s right full-back. To counter this, Chalobah would pull wide to close Nielsen and limit his ability to come inside. On one occasion, he was out-muscled by the 19 year-old, but was largely able to stifle him. Chalobah made four interceptions, more than any other England player, and committed just one foul. By pulling wide he also allowed Thomas Ince to stay higher up the pitch when Norway had possession and prevent Stefan Strandberg from playing out of defence.
On the ball
Norway sat deep, preferring to counter and play direct up to Marcus Pedersen and Nielsen. This allowed England to dominate possession. In the first half, they used the ball reasonably well. Lowe’s distribution was simple. He got the more creative players – Chalobah and Henderson, in possession. Chalobah was usually Lowe’s first option. He would then look wide to Smith or Ince, unless Henderson dropped deep in front of Johansen. Norway didn’t press high up, allowing Chalobah space to pass in front of them. They were compact in the centre and this forced England to attack down the wings, with full-backs Smith and Danny Rose pushing high up. While England tried to build from the back, they also used longer balls directly out wide, usually to Rose and Nathan Redmond on the left. Chalobah did this well, completing three long passes in the first half, switching play from the right.
A lot of Chalobah’s contribution in the first period came off the ball. In the second, he saw more possession. With the introduction of Wickham, the distribution from deep was at times more direct, but England still looked to build attacks, with Norway remaining compact in their own half. This gave Chalobah more responsibility on the ball. Now positioned to the left, he combined with Ince and brought Henderson, sitting deeper, into the contest. Some of his distribution was a little wayward, however. As the half progressed, England became increasingly direct, with Chalobah seeing less of the ball, as he pushed forward.
Chalobah’s starting position was just slightly more advanced than Lowe’s, but he showed a willingness to get forward. With Norway so deep, he could do so without having to be too concerned about the space he was leaving in behind. Occasionally, in the first half, he would alternate with Henderson, who would drop deep, creating space for Chalobah to run beyond Johansen. While this swap of positions happened quite frequently, the ball was never played into Chalobah, despite the space he was finding between the Norwegian defence and Johansen. This highlighted a weaknesses England had throughout the tournament, compared to other nations – the lack of a deep-lying play-maker and an inability to make incisive passes in the final third.
With England two goals down and struggling to create clear openings, Coach Stuart Pearce introduced Wickham at half-time, replacing Lowe. This meant Chalobah would become the deepest England midfielder and switched from an inside-right position to the inside-left. Henderson then dropped in alongside him, but with licence to push forward, as Chalobah had in the first half. Redmond was initially positioned behind Wickham, before being replaced by Jonjo Shelvey. He would roam quite freely and sometimes interchange with Chalobah.
Up against Eikrem
Chalobah’s direct opponent on the pitch for 55 minutes of the contest was Eikrem. The two rarely came into contact, but they were assigned to mark each other. In the first half, Chalobah did most of the pressing, with Eikrem holding his position. Often when Chalobah broke in behind, Eikrem’s tracking was poor and he allowed the England midfielder to take up some promising positions. In the second half, Eikrem pushed forward more frequently, as Norway increasingly threatened on the counter-attack, especially in the opening exchanges. It would be the 22 year-old who put Norway 3-0 ahead, with a well placed finish after running on to Pedersen’s cut-back. Chalobah, perhaps caught out by a rare forward run from Eikrem, was slow to respond, allowing the Molde midfielder to run onto the ball unchallenged. That sort of movement may well have been cut-out by Lowe in the first half.
Pushing high up
As mentioned above, Chalobah was forced to be more restrained for the first 20 minutes, or so, of the second half. But as England became increasingly desperate for a goal, he started getting higher up the pitch. For the final ten minutes, he moved to play behind Wickham, with Craig Dawson also pushing forward from centre-back. As England went direct, Chalobah won a couple of aerial challenges, but they didn’t lead to any openings.