Chelsea star unrewarded as Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe struggles in England U21’s shock defeat

This was not in the script for the latest talented England Under-21 squad at a major tournament.

Two years ago Aidy Boothroyd’s team, featuring Mason Mount, Tammy Abraham and Phil Foden among other senior caps, crashed out in the group stages of the European Championship.

It was a dismal performance that put the head coach’s position in considerable doubt at the time. But he remained, ready to give it another shot.

Already it looks like his latest team face an uphill task to emerge from their group following a desperately flat 1-0 defeat to Switzerland, the supposed weakest team of a pool also containing Portugal and Croatia.

There was an element of fortune about Dan Ndoye’s goal, as he contrived to deflect a shot off of his other leg before sending it looping over goalkeeper Aaaron Ramsdale. But the result was far from undeserved as England struggled in attack and looked sloppy when trying to play the ball out from defence.

The starting XI contained five players belonging to London clubs – Marc Guehi, Callum Hudson-Odoi of Chelsea; Eddie Nketiah and Emile Smith Rowe of Arsenal; and Tottenham’s Oliver Skipp – with Crystal Palace’s Ebere Eze and Spurs’ Ryan Sessegnon coming off the bench.

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Here are the most notable aspects from a difficult outing for the capital-based players.

Hudson-Odoi the standout

The Chelsea player, who has been used in four positions for his club since Thomas Tuchel became head coach at Stamford Bridge in January, was asked to name his favourite position on TV before kick off. It was a toss up between two, he said: the left wing or as a No10.

“I feel more comfortable there and confident and I know I can produce goals and assists from those positions as well so I’d say those two,” he remarked on Sky Sports.

Yet this afternoon he operated mostly on the right, with some freedom to drift centrally, and he was the best of a bad bunch. In an uneventful opening 45 minutes he looked the most likely to create something with an array of tricks and runs. Hudson-Odoi also had England’s first only attempt in the 64th minute with a free kick that was well saved by Anthony Racioppi.

He has clear designs on being part of the senior squad for this summer’s European Championship on home soil, which begins a week after the knockout stages of this competition. Not that it will matter should the Under-21 team perform like this against Portugal on Sunday.

Smith Rowe’s tough debut and Nketiah’s slow burn

Emile Smith Rowe struggled. (Photo by Marcio Machado/Getty Images)
Emile Smith Rowe struggled. (Photo by Marcio Machado/Getty Images)

There were only 75 seconds on the watch when Emile Smith Rowe had his first run at the Swiss defence, cutting in from the left at pace, but Arsenal’s breakout star struggled as the left-sided attacking midfielder before being substituted midway through the second period.

Smith Rowe unquestionably tried hard but the overall make up of the side was disjointed and the creativity that has lifted significant pressure off Arsenal head coach Mikel Arteta since late December was absent.

Similar could be said about clubmate Eddie Nketiah, the captain who has not even made the bench in Arsenal’s past eight league games. The striker’s first sniff of goal arrived early in the second period when he tried to get on the end of a delivery from the left but he failed to make a clean connection.

It would be a stretch to say Nketiah looked rusty – it was more a case of him not getting sufficient service – but he did well to win a promising free kick by getting in front of Jan Bamert, who was booked for tripping, and the resulting set piece was England’s only attempt on target.

Nketiah did look slightly more involved as the game progressed until he was replaced by Rhian Brewster with 15 minutes to go but much more will be required in three days’ time.

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