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Harry Maguire’s ‘top performance’, Gareth Southgate too defensive and Mykhailo Mudryk struggles – things we learned from England vs Ukraine


Sep 9, 2023
Harry Maguire's 'top performance', Gareth Southgate too defensive and Mykhailo Mudryk struggles - things we learned from England vs Ukraine


England were held to a 1-1 draw by a spirited Ukraine side in their Euro 2024 qualifier.

Oleksandr Zinchenko gave Ukraine a shock lead in the first half, before Kyle Walker latched onto a wonderful Harry Kane pass to draw the game level.

Walker's goal secured a hard-fought draw for England against Ukraine


Walker’s goal secured a hard-fought draw for England against UkraineCredit: Getty

It was a result that ends the Three Lions’ winning run in qualification.

Though England still sit pretty at the top of Group C with 13 points picked up from five matches.

Here’s what talkSPORT.com learned from the match.

A pedestrian performance

England’s inability to secure a win will undoubtedly lead to critics about Southgate’s tactics for the national team.

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A 1-1 draw against Ukraine isn’t the end of the world as far as qualification for Euro 2024 is concerned, but it does show an alarming similarity to past blunt displays against some of the world’s top sides.

While England are able to cruise to victory against many nations in world football, a criticism is that they fail to seize the initiative when playing against a strong, organised outfit.

The Three Lions dominated the game, having 68 per cent possession and 11 shots on goal over the 90 minutes.

But while Ukraine’s hearty display deserves credit, England simply did not take the game to their opponents like many would want.

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Saka was England's most dangerous player in the second half


Saka was England’s most dangerous player in the second halfCredit: Getty

With Declan Rice and Jordan Henderson in midfield, Southgate named Bukayo Saka, James Maddison and Jude Bellingham in more attacking roles.

But with England chasing the game, it was Bellingham and Maddison who were replaced by Phil Foden and Marcus Rashford.

Southgate then chose to take Bukayo Saka off, replacing him with Conor Gallagher in the middle of the park.

With so many quality attacking options, England have the option to really throw caution to the wind as they look to turn a point into three.

But instead the decision to end the game with Henderson, Rice and Gallagher in a midfield three will be met with criticism by fans who want the handbrake to be released.

There’s then the question about Eddie Nketiah’s exclusion from the matchday squad, despite Southgate having goalkeepersSam Johnstone and Aaron Ramsdale on the bench.

With England holding genuine aspirations of winning a major tournament in the years to come, fans will be desperate to see England find a solution to break down some of the world’s more robust defences.

Southgate has lots to ponder as he looks to tackle a familiar problem


Southgate has lots to ponder as he looks to tackle a familiar problemCredit: Getty

Maguire justifies Southgate selection

Harry Maguire’s place in the starting line-up was met with a raised eyebrow from England supporters.

Having not started a match for Manchester United this term, the decision for him to be called up left fans baffled, but against Ukraine he showed exactly why he was included.

No one is claiming that central defence is England’s strongest position – far from it – but Maguire showed that he is certainly among the best options at Southgate’s disposal.

With John Stones and Tyrone Mings injured, options are limited for England with Maguire and Marc Guehi selected to start the clash in Poland.

While the match ended in a 1-1 draw, Maguire put in a strong, solid defensive display to keep Ukraine largely at bay.

Some fans won’t be happy at his inclusion, but according to talkSPORT host Gabby Agbonlahor, that’s merely because his positive performance doesn’t suit the ongoing narrative.

He wrote on Twitter: “A top defensive performance so far from Harry Maguire, but that doesn’t fit people’s agenda!”

Should he build on this performance, Maguire will surely win back some of those doubters.

Maguire certainly justified Southgate's selection with a solid performance


Maguire certainly justified Southgate’s selection with a solid performanceCredit: Getty

Mudryk struggles again

A player chased by the Premier League’s biggest clubs, 2023 just hasn’t worked out for Mykhailo Mudryk.

The subject of a transfer tug of war between Arsenal and Chelsea, it was the Blues who finally signed him for a fee of £88.5million, but since then things have gone badly wrong.

After just two assists in 17 games last season, many fans hoped that he would kick on this term, something that hasn’t happened with just 66 minutes of action for Chelsea off the bench this term, with no significant output.

Mudryk was given a rare opportunity from the off against England, a match where he could have reignited his form with a positive display.

Unfortunately for him, that didn’t happen with a pretty ineffective display that saw England’s defenders stop him in his tracks with relative ease.

It would be unfair to knock the quality that the 22-year-old has at his disposal, but things simply aren’t working out for Mudryk right now and for his own sake, something has to change and quickly.

Mudryk endured another tough day at the office, this time for Ukraine


Mudryk endured another tough day at the office, this time for UkraineCredit: Getty

Henderson’s divisive inclusion

The paper talk was all about Jordan Henderson going into the clash with Ukraine following his much-publicised move to Saudi Arabia in the summer.

With his move to Al Ettifaq creating quite a stir, Southgate’s decision to include him in the England squad was a big talking point, let alone the call to name him in the starting XI.

Henderson started in central midfield alongside Declan Rice, with Jude Bellingham playing in a more advanced role.

However the former Liverpool man failed to put in the sort of performance that would silence his doubters.

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Henderson has work to do to justify his inclusion following his move to Saudi Arabia


Henderson has work to do to justify his inclusion following his move to Saudi ArabiaCredit: Getty

England’s performance was lacking in dynamism and intensity, something that Henderson was part of as a somewhat pedestrian midfield failed to really take the game to Ukraine.

And based on his display in Poland, Henderson will need to up his game if he’s to convince England fans that he’s still capable of playing a central role under Southgate.

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