England U21 beat Kosovo last night with relative ease as their journey to the U21 Euros began at Stadium MK.
Goals in the first half from Sheffield United’s Rhian Brewster and then Man City’s star on the rise, Cole Palmer, had Kosovo down and out. It was a seemingly routine win for the Young Lions in what was new boss Lee Carsley’s first game in charge.
England kicked off their belated first game of qualifying in front of a 5,781 strong crowd at Stadium MK and looked in control from the very beginning.
Carsley’s side broke the deadlock just 10 minutes in courtesy of Rhian Brewster. After a darting run into the box, the ex-Liverpool forward was brought down, but brushed himself off to convert the penalty coolly.
Kosovo couldn’t really find a way to respond from this early blow. England looked totally competent and comfortable on the ball. At times it felt like every player was to get a touch before approaching the visitor’s box.
The away side relied on breaking up play and utilising the counter attack with pacey wingers Kreshnik Krasniqi and Florian Hoxha. The chances they created seemed to just miss that final pass. Stoke man Josef Bursik was forced into action on a few occasions to make routine stops.
The quality Kosovo lacked in the final third was more than present for the home team. After swathes of pressure and resolute Kosovan defending, England managed to double their lead with a stunning Cole Palmer goal.
A ball across the box just evaded the head of Conor Gallagher. Palmer kept it alive on the right wing. Stood up by Hoxha, Palmer pulled out an immaculate Cruyff turn to leave the left wing back scrambling. The winger sprang down the by-line before curling home past the helpless Leo Besson to make it two on the 26 minute mark.
The second half had the potential for more England goals. However, what played out was a scrappier 45 minutes of football.
To their credit, Kosovo defended well yet offered no real threat going forward. A lot of their play was at times thoroughly based on the counter attack and highly reactive to England’s advances. When the ball was moved through the visiting midfield, the anchors of Skipp and Garner were there to snuff the danger out before it developed.
The second period was more about game management for the Young Lions. Substitutions saw a nod at the depth at Carsley’s disposal. Balogun came on for goalscorer Brewster and in the final 15 minutes Tyreece John-Jules replaced Man of the Match (and debutant) Cole Palmer. The final changes saw solid performers Oliver Skipp and Noni Madueke make way for Tino Livramento and Thomas Doyle.
The game finished 2-0 in a comfortable win for the home side and England managed Kosovo expertly in the second half.
From the stands, some top talent was noticeable and its safe to say that England’s future looks bright. PSV star Noni Madueke impressed throughout the game but really found his feet in the second half. He started on the right side and looked to feed off of the give and go with the likes of Conor Gallagher and Brewster dropping in. Either that or he would readily cut back on his left foot.
This didn’t really work for the 19-year-old, but when he began to switch wings with Palmer – he could drive on his seemingly stronger side with his pace being simply too much for the visiting defence.
Another player who made a solid impression was Tottenham man Oliver Skipp. He looked the consummate midfielder. His positioning was effective and passing decisions were instant. From the 4-3-3 formation Carsley set up, it could be seen that both him and James Garner were the work horses sat just behind the more creative Gallagher. Skipp really dominated the midfield range and tempo before his withdrawal in the second half.
Lastly, Cole Palmer was obviously a big player in last night’s fixture. His play was similar to Madueke in just how positive he was driving at the wingbacks. For a young man making his debut, he looked very comfortable in an England shirt and deservedly picked up Man of the Match. Clearly seen with his goal, his skill and commitment were just too potent and even with a tight angle he finished superbly.
The U21s face Slovenia next in Euro qualifying in October. With a group containing the likes of the Czech Republic and Albania, the Young Lions could face some challenges but especially from this performance, should be favoured in topping the group.