Monday, July 31, 2023

The Curious Case of West Ham

West Ham remains the only Premier League club yet to sign a player in this summer’s transfer window. Supposedly internal disagreement over potential targets has been sand in the gears of the Hammers’ summer process. David Moyes has a well renowned reputation for stubbornness and control, often reflected in conservative, unimaginative play from his team. It is thus less than surprising that there should be conflict with a newly hired technical director who wants to scour exciting, young talent from across Europe’s other leagues to identify transfer opportunities for the Hammers. A cautious Moyes prefers tried and true Brits with Premier League experience.

New Technical Director Tim Steidten and Moyes have thus been at purported loggerheads on how to spend the largesse received from the sale of Declan Rice to Arsenal. Rice’s departure had been known for a long time before the deal closed and one would have thought a clear strategy for reinvestment would have been developed. Not in East London, however. Whatever early plans might have been in place were apparently blown up when Steidten joined from Bayer Leverkusen effective July 1. West Ham had already made the unorthodox move of elevating club playing legend Mark Noble to the position of Sporting Director before bringing in Steidten with responsibility for “overarching player recruitment strategy.” Talks which had begun with Leicester for winger Harvey Barnes were tabled on the new technical director’s arrival. Barnes eventually moved to Newcastle to play under another British manager, Eddie Howe. Steidten’ s subsequent suggestions have since failed to gain traction while Moyes has targeted other British players such as Scott McTominay, Conor Gallagher and James Ward-Prowse to replenish the Hammers’ midfield. A bid for Manchester United defender Harry Maguire, a reported favorite of Moyes, was recently rejected by the Red Devils.

With Maguire seemingly off the table, Steidten is now pushing for the Hammers to acquire center back Jonathan Tah who the German is familiar with from his time at Bayer Leverkusen. Unclear is whether Moyes would support the Tah move. The one player with whom there seems to be little disagreement is Manchester City’s Calros Borges. The Hammers are supposedly close to making the Premier League 2 winger their first signing of the summer. While Borges seems a player with much potential, the left-wing position is currently occupied by Said Benrahma and is not necessarily among the club’s greatest needs right now.

West Ham’s confusing window follows a season of contradiction. While battling relegation all season long, the Hammers also secured their first European title in 58 years. Moyes’s hoisting of the Europa Conference League trophy probably saved his job after the club’s poor performance in the Premier League. The Hammers narrowly avoided descending to the English second tier while, at the same time, they will be playing in Europe for a third consecutive year. The club is somewhat of a head scratcher. The transfer window could get dicier as well should strikers Gianlucca Scamacca and Michail Antonio depart. Scamacca is a target of some of the Italian clubs in Serie A where Scamacca thrived before coming to London. Antonio is one of the many Premier League players being connected with Saudi Arabia this summer.

The Hammers are already enfeebled up top with no player having scored more than six league goals last season. With their best player in defensive midfielder Declan Rice now departed, West Ham’s leadership needs to quickly determine the way forward or the Hammers could fall through the relegation trap door this coming season. 

Friday, July 28, 2023

Aston Villa Window Success Now Includes Diaby

Aston Villa landed another summer signing this week as Moussa Diaby joins Unai Emery’s project at Villa Park. The former Bayer Leverkusen player and French international wasted no time in introducing himself, scoring in the club’s preseason friendly in Orlando Wednesday night. The winger is known for his direct style of play, advancing and attacking off the dribble. Diaby ranked among the top 8% of wingers in Europe’s top five leagues in take-ons leading to a goal last season and fits well with Emery’s attacking scheme. The left footed player is also quite versatile and, while principally a left winger, can play across a multitude of attacking positions, including as a second striker alongside main trigger man Ollie Watkins.

Diaby joins Youri Tielemans and Pau Torres as Emery’s premier additions in this transfer window. The 24-year-old rejoins former Bayer Leverkusen teammate Leon Bailey and could well bump the Jamaican from the starting line-up. There should be minutes for all, however, as Villa compete in the Europa Conference League this season in addition to the Premier League and domestic cups. Emery led Aston Villa to a seventh-place league finish after the club was teetering on the brink of relegation under former Manager Steven Gerrard last season. Diaby’s previous experience in European competition adds to his attraction for Emery. The winger has scored 12 times and assisted on 8 goals in 28 Europa League appearances. Emery is also familiar with Diaby’s talents from when the Spanish manger was in charge at PSG while Diaby was proving himself as an academy player in Paris. Diaby will need to adapt to the Premier League and will be tasked to improve his off the ball performance in a much more competitive league.

Despite the goals by Diaby and 21-year-old squad hopeful Jaden Philogene, it was Youri Tielemans who received the Man of the Match in Wednesday’s 2-0 win over Fulham. The Belgian international controlled the midfield with his clever passing skills and positional awareness. The former Leicester player departed the Foxes on a free transfer this window following the Foxes relegation from the Premier League. The Villa acquisition could be one of the less publicized bargains of the summer window. At 26 years old, Tielemans is a seasoned Premier League player who spent four years with the Foxes and scored the winner in their 2021 FA Cup win over Chelsea. Emery reached out personally to Tielemans to seal Villa as his next port of call.

The manager has enormous influence in Villa’s transfer dealings and was reunited in June with Monchi, his former Sporting Director at Sevilla, who now assumes that role at Aston Villa. Just weeks after that appointment, Villa secured the signature of one of Emery’s former Villareal players. Defender Pau Torres played for Emery from 2020 until the manager’s departure for Birmingham. During that time Torres became one of the most sought-after center backs in Europe. The 26-year-old Spanish international has represented his country at both Euro 2020 and 2022 World Cup. Torres and Emery led Villareal to the Europa League championship in 2021. Villa now has a deep central defender core in Torres, Tyrone Mings, Ezri  Konsa and Diego Carlos. Balancing the talents and personalities in front of World Cup winning goalkeeper Emi Martinez will be a high-class problem for Emery as he navigates through Villa’s extended fixture list this upcoming season.

Things continue to look up at Aston Villa as Emery redeemed his Premier League reputation after a disappointing stay at Arsenal earlier in his career. Emery now takes Aston Villa to Europe where the manager has lifted four previous trophies.

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Zaha Era Ends At Crystal Palace

Crystal Palace competed for a ninth consecutive year in the Premier League last season, finishing in 11th position above London rivals such as Chelsea and West Ham. It has been an unprecedented run of success for the club from South London which is often overshadowed by much larger and storied London rivals. Three men have been principally responsible for the Eagles’ success and the individual most associated with the club and the best player in its history now departs.

Wilfried Zaha has signed a contract with Galatasaray to compete in the Turkish Super Lig next season. The 30-year-old Zaha will finally get a chance to play Champions League football after close to a decade of sometimes seemingly single handedly keeping his boyhood club in the top tier.

Zaha grew up just blocks from Selhurst Park and joined the club’s academy program at just eight years old. He would go on to make 458 appearances and score 90 goals for the Eagles. The winger established himself as one of the Premier League’s most dynamic players and became a talisman for the small London team and its legendary Selhurst Park supporters. Zaha would star in the 2012/2013 Championship division playoffs which earned Crystal Palace promotion to the Premier League as he scored twice in the semifinal versus arch-rival Brighton and drew the penalty which secured a 1-0 win over Watford in the final to clinch Premier League play for the Eagles. They have stayed up ever since with Zaha being the standout on an uneven roster reflecting the budgetary exigencies of a small club.

Chairman Steve Parish, a lifelong Crystal Place fan, is the second of the triumvirate which has led Crystal Palace to its era of success. Parish led a consortium in 2010, shortly after Zaha made his first senior appearance with the club, which saved Crystal Palace from administration. Parish would sell Zaha to Manchester United in what would be Sir Alex Feguson’s last major signing for the Red Devils. Zaha would return to the Eagles after failing to find favor with Ferguson successor David Moyes. Zaha would flourish upon his return to the Eagles and there would be irritation by the winger at Parish’s subsequent refusals to sanction transfer opportunities for Zaha with other Premier League clubs such as Arsenal. Zaha now gets his chance to play on Europe’s biggest stage, the Champions League, with the Turkish giants on a free transfer with Parish’s blessings and thanks.

The third member of the Crystal Palace triumvirate, Manager Roy Hodgson, now has problems. Hodgson, like Zaha and Parish, has long term affections for the club where he attended Selhurst Park matches as a youth. The esteemed manager with top tier and international credentials responded to Parish’s siren call when the club’s league status was threatened. Manager Frank De Boer was failing miserably, and relegation beckoned when Hodson took the reins in September 2017. The oldest manager in Premier League history guided the Eagles to safety as they became the first Premier League club to survive after losing its first seven matches. Hodgson would leave after the 2020/21 season but again rode to the rescue last season when the club faltered under Manager Patrick Vieira.

Hodgson now faces a new Premier League season without the club’s all-time greatest player. Worse yet, the club’s upcoming young players are at risk of being poached even before reaching their potential. Chelsea has submitted a bid for winger Michael Olise and is rumored to have an interest in Eagles center back Marc Guehi, a former Chelsea academy player. Eberechi Eze, who flourished under Hodgson last season and got his first call up for the England national team, is also a target for bigger clubs. How Parish and Hodgson navigate the remainder of this transfer window could decide whether the club stays up this season.

Friday, July 21, 2023

Manchester United Sign Onana, Striker Still Needed

Manchester United continues to retool under Manager Eric ten Hag. The club inked goalkeeper Andre Onana this week, reuniting ten Hag with his former Ajax goalkeeper. Onana is fully familiar with ten Hag’s preferred style of play and is highly proficient with the ball at his feet. Former goalkeeper David De Gea was uncomfortable coming off his line. Onana will at times seem almost too adventurous as he strays far from his net. That proclivity was supposedly at the heart of Onana’s decision to retire from international football over tactical disagreement with the national coach. The style is perfect, however, for ten Hag’s desired possession style of football and this could thus be one of the more impactful signings in the Premier League this summer.

The Cameroonian keeper is joining his new teammates in America where United will face Arsenal at a sold-out MetLife Stadium in New Jersey Saturday night. Whereas the earlier signing of midfielder Mason Mount prompted some head scratching, the signing of Onana makes perfect sense for the way ten Hag wants to see his team play. Onana’s statistics for Inter Milan last season were decisively better in terms of ball distribution versus De Gea and, interestingly, also showed an advantage in save percentage over the former United goalkeeper. The new man in town also brings Champions League pedigree, having been part of Ajax’s 2019 semifinal team and appearing between the sticks for Inter in this spring’s Champions League final versus Manchester City.

Resolving the goalkeeper situation capped a newsworthy week for the Red Devils. Marcus Rashford signed a new five-year contract with the club while Bruno Fernandes was named captain in place of Harry Maguire. The highly compensated Maguire, reduced to a reserve role by ten Hag early last season, remains with the club for the moment amid purported interest by West Ham in the England defender. One more addition will be necessary to declare this a truly successful window for Manchester United. The Red Devils desperately need a striker. The loan signing of Wout Weghorst last season was a strange one and the Dutch striker has since returned to Burnley. Playing Rashford at center forward reduces his effectiveness and Anthony Martial is more often injured than not.

Rumored interest in heavyweight names like Harry Kane and Victor Osimhen has long since cooled and the current focus seems to be on signing Danish striker Rasmus Hojlund from Atalanta. The 20-year-old scored 10 goals in 34 appearances for the Italian club last season. Other possible “fallback” targets to fill the void up front may include Eintracht Frankfurt’s Randal Kolo Muani, Juventus’ Dusan Vlahovic and Benfica’s Goncalo Ramos. Manchester United scored 10 fewer goals than any other club finishing in the top six last season and only Aston Villa and Fulham scored less goals among teams in the top half of the table. Mount can hopefully help the attack should the midfielder regain his form after a terrible final season at Chelsea. More firepower up front, however, will likely be required for the Red Devils to extend their stay in the Champions League places.  

Tuesday, July 18, 2023

Arsenal Upgrades

Arsenal fell short last season after exceeding expectations for much of the Premier League season. A young squad took large developmental strides under Manager Mikel Arteta, entertaining with their stylish play while accumulating an impressive points haul. Unfortunately, fatigue, inexperience and the behemoth that is Manchester City proved too much to overcome for Arteta’s squad which flagged badly down the stretch.

Undeterred, the club has brought in reinforcements this transfer window to prepare for another run at the Premier League title. Leading the shopping list was West Ham midfielder and English international Declan Rice. After a lengthy process, the Rice deal was closed just in time for the Gunners’ US tour. The purchase price was a club record for Arsenal as they sprinted ahead of others rumored to be interested in the young midfielder. Rice was once a Chelsea academy player, but the retooling Blues never seemed very interested in a reunion. Manchester United was once a rumored destination but their hearts were captured, for better or worse, by another Chelsea academy midfielder, Mason Mount. Manchester City sniffed at a deal late in the process but thought the price too high. Liverpool, of course, was never going to jump in on a purchase which even the profligate Citizens thought too pricey. With add-ons captured, the Rice price will exceed City’s purchase of Jack Grealish as the most expensive for a British player. So West Ham has a pile of money and Arsenal has a dynamic 24-year-old defensive midfielder who captained the Hammers to a European trophy last year and has anchored England’s midfield on 43 occasions.

Arsenal began overhauling its midfield earlier this window by plucking Kai Havertz from Chelsea. An exciting Bundesliga box to box midfielder was made into an underperforming target man at Chelsea where he failed to perform. The 24-year-old Havertz could embarrass Chelsea should he recapture his magic in the midfield of their London rival. Havertz will most likely line up with yet another 24-year-old, Martin Odegaard, in front of Rice in a revamped Arsenal midfield. Granit Xhaka has gone to Bayer Leverkusen. Thomas Partey is supposedly also nearing the door which would potentially present a problem when Arsenal needs to employ a double pivot in front of the back line against more challenging opponents. Former Chelsea man Jorginho is far more adept as a deep lying playmaker than for his defensive attributes. The back line, though, has also been upgraded with the acquisition of Jurrien Timber from Ajax. A natural center back, Timber is expected to displace Ben White at right back from the start.

Just as important, however, is the fact that Arsenal will not be devastated should injury strike their center backs next season. The stretch run of the last Premier League season for Arsenal was made more difficult when William Saliba went down to injury and substitute Rob Holding proved himself unfit to task. Timber provides protection against injury should either Saliba or partner Gabriel Magalhaes be sidelined.

Arsenal is a deeper team which will be necessary as supporters will now expect a better effort in cup competitions. Arsenal de-prioritized those contests with its thinner roster of last season. Fielding a weaker team in Europa League is a tad more acceptable than tanking in the Champions League where the Gunners will compete this season. Gabriel Martinelli, Gabriel Jesus and Bukayo Saka should be the preferred front line backed by Eddie Nketiah, Leandro Trossard and Reiss Nelson. Trossard was an impactful January pickup with the Belgian international notching more assists than anyone but Keven D Bruyne in the Premier League last season. The versatile Emile Smith Rowe, a promising young player whose season was marred by injury last season, provides additional depth up front or as an attacking midfielder. Bolstered by this summer’s restocking, the Gunners have their supporters justifiably excited for the upcoming season where Arsenal seems poised to take another run at Manchester City while vying for other domestic and European trophies.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Liverpool’s Evolving Midfield

The Summer of Saudi could soon be making Liverpool sweat. The move to Saudi Arabia  by forward Bobby Firmino was a gentlemanly departure of a much-revered player whose role was diminished in a crowded front line. Now, however, a larger disruption could be in store. Saudi clubs are rumored to be forming offers for Jordan Hendersen, Fabinho and Thiago. Whether these whispers are just silly season attention grabbers or a real risk for the Reds is to be determined.

The Hendersen move has extra interest for Liverpool supporters as the current Liverpool captain would reunite with former midfield teammate Steven Gerrard. Liverpool legend Gerrard, himself a former captain of the Reds, will now manage in the Saudi League as he picks up the pieces following his unsuccessful and relatively short run as a Premier League manager with Aston Villa. The potential loss of three midfielders to Saudi Arabia could undercut recent improvements to the Liverpool midfield and necessitate further transfer moves.

The midfield has been a problem for the Reds dating to the loss of Gini Wijnaldum two years ago. Wijnaldum was a natural fit for Klopp’s gegenpressing style and the Dutch international was a key part of Liverpool’s Champions League and Premier League winners before his 2021 signing with PSG. The much-heralded acquisition of Naby Keita from RB Leipzig has turned out to be a monumental flop. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was never able to overcome the injury woes which followed him from Arsenal. The versatile James Milner helped somewhat to patch over holes in the midfield, but the 37-year-old is now off to Brighton. Keita and Oxlade-Chamberlain have also left the club while midfielder Fabio Carvalho is on loan to RB Leipzig.

Liverpool upgraded the midfield this offseason with the acquisitions of Alexis Mac Allister and Dominik Szoboszlai. World cup winner Mac Allister moves over from Brighton where the 24-year-old enjoyed a breakout season last year. The Argentine scored 12 goals as the Seagulls secured a European place for the first time. Szoboszlai arrives from RB Leipzig as the second signing by new Liverpool Sporting Director Jorg Schmadtke. The 22-year-old Hungarian international helped his German squad to two German Cup titles while recording 20 goals and 22 assists in 91 appearances for the club. The young midfielder also captains his national team.

Twenty-two year-old Curtis Jones, 20-year-old Harvey Elliot and 18-year-old Stefan Bajcetic are already on the Liverpool roster and could make bigger contributions next season. Jones recently starred for the England U21 Euro champions.

The wildcard in the midfield for Liverpool is Trent Alexander-Arnold. Technically a left back, Alexander-Arnold would advance into a midfield role last season when Liverpool was on the attack, a strategy employed similarly at Manchester City with John Stones. The problem for Liverpool is that only the inexperienced Bajcetic is a true defensive midfielder and thus the loss of both Hendersen and Fabinho would likely mean going to market for a player to help protect Liverpool’s back line. Real Madrid’s Aurelien Tchouameni has been connected with a potential Anfield move in past windows and the 23-year-old defensive midfielder would be a nice solution if he could be pried free from the Spanish super club.  

Monday, July 10, 2023

England's U21 Champions

England kept its run of tournament clean sheets intact in the most dramatic of fashions in winning the U21 European Championship on Saturday. So dominant was the England defense that goalkeeper James Trafford hadn’t needed to make a single save as England and Spain entered stoppage time with England clinging to a 1-0 advantage. Shockingly in the seventh minute of stoppage, Chelsea defender Levi Colwill was assessed for marginal contact in the box. Spain’s Abel Ruiz, the tournament’s joint highest scorer, was the victim of Colwill’s contact and the striker stepped up for what could have meant a tying goal, extra time and a possible shootout to determine a winner.

A well-rested Trafford, however, would have none of it. The Manchester City goalkeeper, who has never played a minute for the Citizens and is rumored to be headed for newly promoted Burnley, stepped up with not one but two crucial saves. Stopping Ruiz on the initial shot, Trafford quickly reoriented himself to stop the rebound chance from Spain. A third put back attempt by Spain then sailed over the bar. England thus captured the title for the first time since 1984 and became the first side to not allow a single goal throughout the tournament. England were fortunate on the winning goal which occurred in stoppage time of a first half which seemed destined for a goalless conclusion.

Manchester City’s Sergio Gomez then committed a needless foul in a dangerous position on fellow Manchester City youngster, Cole Palmer. Palmer’s subsequent free kick blasted into the wall and deflected at high velocity off the shoulder of Liverpool’s Curtis Jones. The providentially blessed trajectory of the ball found an upper corner of the Spanish net and Jones was accredited the fateful goal without really knowing much about it. Gomez’s foul, which contrasted with his dangerous attacking play in the final, reinforced the dual nature of a player who is dangerous going forward but too often on his heels in defense. A Gomez cross would later create Spain’s best chance for an equalizer from open play but the snakebit Ruiz muffed his header in front of the English net.

England’s goal and Trafford’s heroics were unfortunately both followed by some heated encounters between players and coaches. Palmer stared down the Spanish bench after the England goal, triggering a melee which saw England assistant and former Arsenal and Chelsea player Ashley Cole evicted from the proceedings along with Spanish fitness coach Carlos Rivera. Later tomfoolery saw England’s Morgan Gibbs-White and Spain’s Antonio Blanco ushered to premature exits shortly after Trafford’s heroics.

The tension of a final was exacerbated throughout the match by England’s physical play and Spanish diving. The English champions were little bothered by resentful comments from Spain after the match as the victory continued the upward trend of England’s youth program. The English have captured gold in U17, U19, U20 and now U-21 international tournaments in the last six years. Anthony Gordon was named the player of this tournament by UEFA after he scored twice and assisted on another goal in England’s march to the championship. His performance hopefully marks a pivot point for the youngster who was essentially a flop at Newcastle after scoring just once in 16 matches last season for the Magpies after the transfer from his boyhood club Everton. The natural midfielder played up top in a forward role for the U21 champions and that type of versatility is sure to have caught the eye of Newcastle Manager Eddie Howe.

Curtis Jones was yet another player whose versatility was on display in this tournament. The Liverpool youngster played in a more deep lying position than that he’s been tasked with for Jurgen Klopp’s Reds. Jones performance in a more defensive role was critical to England’s airtight defense in a tournament where the English outscored their opponents 11-0 over six matches. Ironically, that 11th goal, the tournament winner, was also credited to Jones.

Friday, July 7, 2023

England and Spain Advance To U21 Euro Final

Pre-tournament favorites England and Spain will face off in the U21 Euro final on Saturday after both clubs encountered little difficulty in advancing past their semifinal opponents.

England remains unscored upon for the tournament after a 3-0 defeat of Israel. Morgan Gibbs-White atoned for an early missed penalty by finding the net for England’s first goal. The Nottingham Forest player headed in a perfectly placed cross from Manchester City’s Cole Palmer. Palmer would then score himself early in the second half, finding himself in perfect position to cash in on a well-placed ball across the goalmouth from Arsenal’s Emile Smith Rowe. Palmer would again be central to England’s third goal as his assist led to the final tally by Aston Villa’s Cameron Archer. Archer finished last season on loan at Middlesbrough and is likely headed for another loan stint this upcoming season. His England impact could modify that thinking, however, after Archer’s second goal of this tournament and fifth goal in nine appearances at the U21 level for the Young Lions. Palmer’s performance might also give Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola something to think about. The 21-year-old had just one goal and one assist in 14 Premier League matches last season for Manchester City and was thought to be a potential transfer or loan candidate this summer.

Guardiola is often faced with tough decisions at the bottom of his roster as the Premier League champions have a wealth of young rising talent. England U21 goalkeeper James Trafford now has five clean sheets in the tournament but appears headed to Burnley on a permanent transfer from Manchester City after earlier rumored interest from Leeds and Leicester. Trafford could find himself playing once again with current U21 teammate Taylor Harwood-Bellis. The center back, who is also a Manchester City property, helped Burnley and Manager Vincent Kompany earn promotion to the Premier League while on loan last season. Kompany, a former Manchester City center back, would like to continue having Harwood-Bellis under his command.

Spain will represent England’s most difficult challenge to date in the tournament. The Spaniards have won three of the last six U21 Euro tournaments and are a highly technical squad continually in attack mode. Liverpool midfielder Curtis Jones will have a key role on Saturday in trying to contain the Spanish attack. Despite Cole Palmer’s fireworks against Israel, it was Jones who was awarded Man of the Match against Israel by UEFA.

Playing a deeper role than he does for his Premier League club, Jones has been outstanding in controlling games for England. Spain demolished Ukraine 5-1 to advance to Saturday’s final. The fireworks were somewhat unexpected after the two clubs had drawn their group stage match and Ukraine scored the opening goal of the semifinal pairing. Spain, however, went on to shred Ukraine’s defense with the type of passing that will present a real threat to England on Saturday. Manchester City’s Sergio Gomez scored the final goal against Ukraine to put himself in a three-way tie with Spain teammate Abel Ruiz and Ukraine’s Georgiy Sudakov for the tournament’s Golden Boot. Having now reached the finals for the first time since 2009, England will now have to slow down the high-flying Spain attack if the Young Lions are to capture the tournament title for the first time since 1984.

Tuesday, July 4, 2023

U21 Euro Semifinals Set

The U21 Euro Semifinals are set for this Wednesday with no shortage of Premier League connected storylines. England reached the final four with a 1-0 victory over Portugal as Anthony Gordon continued to shine in an unaccustomed role. Newcastle’s Gordon and Nottingham Forest’s Morgan Gibbs-White have lined up as dual strikers this tournament for Manager Lee Carsley. Neither player is a striker for their Premier League sides, but Carsley’s gamble has paid off so far. Gibbs-White assisted on Gordon’s winner as the Young Lions now look forward to a rematch with Israel. A 2-0 England win over Israel in the group stage also featured a Gordon goal assisted by Gibbs-White. All three of England’s group stage games ended with the same 2-0 scoreline as Sunday’s 1-0 victory marked a fourth consecutive clean sheet in this tournament for the young Englishmen.

Center back Levi Colwell continues to make his case for regular minutes with Chelsea this upcoming season. The young defender performed so well at Brighton last season that the Seagulls are keen to purchase the 20-year-old. Chelsea, however, have so far indicated that Colwill is untouchable. Colwill himself has reserved comment pending discussions with new Chelsea Manager Mauricio Pochettino which will occur following the U21 Euro tournament conclusion. The center back knows that regular minutes in league play are the only path to a place in England’s senior squad.

A couple of Manchester City youngsters have also featured in the stout English defense this tournament. Taylor Harwood-Bellis has paired with Colwill at center back in front of England goalkeeper and fellow Manchester City property James Trafford. Harwood-Bellis is back with Manchester City after his most recent loan stint helped Burnley secure  promotion to the Premier League. Prior loan postings for the 21-year-old Harwood-Bellis have included English Championship tier sides Blackburn and Stoke City as well as a run at Belgian top tier club Anderlecht. Harwood-Bellis could see a permanent move with just one year left on his Manchester City contract. The youngster is unfortunately well down the current center back pecking order for the defending champions who are reportedly in negotiations to acquire another young center back, Josko Gvardiol from RB Leipzig. Like Colwill, Harwood-Bellis needs regular club minutes to compete for a place on England’s senior team.

Goalkeeper Trafford, meanwhile, has been connected with rumored moves to recently relegated sides Leicester and Leeds. The 20-year-old has not played above the League One level in England, having previously played on loan for Accrington Stanley and Bolton. A move for regular playing time in the Championship would thus be a step up following his breakout tournament performance.

Wednesday’s other semifinal will feature Spain against Ukraine. Spain advanced past Switzerland 2-1 with yet another Manchester City player scoring for the Spaniards. Sergio Gomez endured a painful first season with the Citizens after last summer’s  transfer from Anderlecht. A natural winger who played as an attacking midfielder at Anderlecht, Gomez struggled as Manchester City Manager Pep Guardiola tried to mold him into a left back. His defensive deficiencies in the new position resulted in a struggle for minutes and some poor performances when on the pitch. Gomez could thus leverage tournament success into a move to a situation where his talents could be better utilized.

Meanwhile, Ukraine’s Mykhailo Mudryk is trying to impress the new manager of his current club. Mudryk saw his first action of the tournament in Ukraine’s 3-1 win over France. Returning from a calf injury, Mudryk was electric with his passing expertise, most notably on his long-range assist on Ukraine’s second goal by teammate Heorhii Sudakov. The speedy winger also drew the penalty which Sudakov converted on Ukraine’s first goal. Mudryk took the opportunity to drop down from Ukraine’s senior squad for the U21 tournament as a chance to spotlight his skills for incoming Chelsea Manager Mauricio Pochettino. Mudryk had trouble finding minutes for Chelsea last season and is hoping for a bigger role under Pochettino.