Liverpool: Martin Kelly Would Have Saved England's European U-21 Championships
England's Under-21 team have suffered successive defeats in their two European Championship group stage matches so far, meaning they will exit at this juncture and return home defeated.
It hasn't been a good display from the young English men, who have scored only a single penalty in their two matches and conceded four goals, with manager Stuart Pearce and former football manager-now-turned-pundit David Pleat of the BBC amongst those to criticise the failure.
Pearce has been without a number of his preferred players in the squad for the championships because of injury or other unavailability, but perhaps Martin Kelly, above others, might have been the man the boss wished he had available, the player who could have made the difference.
Kelly's Role for Club and Country
Though he usually plays at right-back for Liverpool, Martin Kelly came through the youth system for club and country as a central defender. Tall and imposing, physical and fast, Kelly is a very powerful performer when fit; but he has missed most of this season after injuring his cruciate ligament in September.
For England's Under-21 side under Pearce, Kelly had been playing as a centre-back before his enforced absence, and there is every chance he might have gotten a run there for the Reds, too, at some point, given that the defence changed significantly from the start of the season to the end.
Kelly has played eight times for the under-21s, scoring three times, and has also been capped at full senior level.
England's Issues in-Tournament
England were extremely poor with performances taken as a whole, but the ease with which they gave up opportunities on goal was an area of particular concern.
Both Italy in the first game and Norway in the second managed 16 shots apiece against England, who failed to control the flow of games and the positions taken up by the opposition's attacking midfielders and forwards.
There was a lack of real leadership in defensive areas. Some of those on the pitch looked as though they had rarely played alongside each other, and, being brutally honest, there was a gap in quality between some of the players, too.
What Kelly Brings That England Missed
First and foremost, Martin Kelly is a very good defender.
He spots danger early and is an aggressive and confident player when it comes to cutting it out, whether it be by making a tackle or just holding play up. Though he is tall and well-built, Kelly holds himself low to the ground and has good acceleration, meaning he's difficult to beat in a one-on-one situation.
Kelly is strong and combative in the air and, though he is not a week-in, week-out regular in the centre of defence, has had good experience in the role in youth age groups and with the under-21s.
In addition, he is a vocal player on the pitch—not a screamer and shouter, but he's certainly one who can dictate where his teammates should be positioned and organise defensive set pieces.
Playing the ball out of defence into midfield might not have been high on the team's list of priorities, but it would certainly have helped with ball retention in the first game and perhaps with direction and having a clearer idea of how to construct phases of play in the second, when the team did dominate possession.
Finally, Kelly brings more top-level experience than Craig Dawson, who played in central defence alongside of Steven Caulker. Dawson, of West Brom, is 23 years old but has made less than a dozen Premier League appearances, with much of his career spent in League One and Two. Kelly has played more than 50 times for Liverpool, some of which have been in the Europa and Champions League, as well as his appearance for England's senior side.
Would Kelly have solved England's goalscoring problems? Likely not, even though he has a good record in finding the net at this level.
But even if England had another top forward to call upon, conceding three times against Norway means they would have had an awful lot more work to do. And despite the 1-0 scoreline against Italy, in reality, it could have been a lot worse.
Starting at the back is where Pearce needed to get it right, and having Martin Kelly available to help him do so would have been a big step in the right direction.
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