At the Tarczynski Arena, where world heavyweight champion Oleksandr Usyk beat Daniel Dubois a fortnight ago, there was no Ukrainian knockout blow against English opposition this time – but a truly heroic effort.
Having opened Group C with four wins from as many matches, it has long looked a case of when rather than if Euro 2020 runners-up England seal their place at next summer’s tournament in Germany.
The Three Lions had won 21 of their previous 22 Euros qualifiers but had to make do with a point on Saturday evening having failed to build on Walker brilliantly cancelling out Oleksandr Zinchenko’s opener.
Sky Sports takes a look at the key talking points from Wroclaw…
Maddison doesn’t hide on England hard launch
Make no mistake, this was James Maddison’s true arrival at international level. His senior debut back in March against Ukraine before his second cap in the 4-0 trouncing of Malta back in June represented something of a soft launch while still a Leicester player.
It is now three games in four matches that Southgate has opted for Maddison, Bukayo Saka and Harry Kane as his front three – but this was different.
Maddison was the marquee buy for Tottenham over the summer and his early-season form left Gareth Southgate with little choice but to start him in Poland. Like in his previous two appearances under the England manager, he was provisionally played off the left wing in a slightly higher position to the one used by Spurs boss Ange Postecoglou.
England’s front three combinations since September 2022
|Sep 2022: Italy (A) L 1-0||Sterling||Kane||Saka|
|Sep 2022: Germany (H) D 3-3||Foden||Kane||Sterling|
|Nov 2022: Iran (N) W 6-2||Sterling||Kane||Saka|
|Nov 2022: USA (N) D 0-0||Sterling||Kane||Saka|
|Nov 2022: Wales (N) W 3-0||Foden||Kane||Saka|
|Dec 2022: Senegal (N) W 3-0||Foden||Kane||Saka|
|Dec 2022: France (N) L 2-1||Foden||Kane||Saka|
|Mar 2023: Italy (A) W 2-1||Grealish||Kane||Saka|
|Mar 2023: Ukraine (H) W 2-0||Maddison||Kane||Saka|
|Jun 2023: Malta (A) W 4-0||Maddison||Kane||Saka|
|Jun 2023: N Macedonia (H) W 7-0||Rashford||Kane||Saka|
|Sep 2023: Ukraine (A) D 1-1||Maddison||Kane||Saka|
It was only when he dropped deeper, with Jude Bellingham asked to push on, that he grew in influence. England struggled to click, as Southgate admitted, but Maddison was busy and showed courage to go hunting for possession even after a few heavy touches and loose passes.
Always wanting the ball, too much on one occasion as an over-zealous challenge brought a booking before he was withdrawn on 66 minutes, Maddison looks comfortable at this level within this squad. It remains to be seen if he becomes Southgate’s go-to man from the off next summer.
Foden misses chance to stake starting spot claim
The stage was set for Phil Foden.
Bukayo Saka was putting in a flat performance and, given some flashes of brilliance for Manchester City in the first weeks of the season, this was the midfielder’s chance to stake a claim for an England starting spot.
Granted, he was only given 24 minutes against Ukraine in an England side that was misfiring from all angles. But when is the 23-year-old going to step up to the ‘generational talent’ tag that has followed him over his career?
In his substitute appearance on Saturday, Foden made just one pass in the final third, lost four duels and didn’t even complete a dribble.
Barring a brief flicker of form during the World Cup, Southgate has barely trusted Foden with any major responsibility in an England shirt. He has started just a third of England’s matches since the beginning of 2022 and has lasted the full 90 minutes just twice in England’s last 18 games.
After cameos like that, that situation will not be changing.
Walker gets off the mark
Southgate revealed England would play a fluid system, and the Three Lions boss was true to his word. Maddison and Bellingham dove-tailed; Marc Guehi and Maguire took turns driving forward, and it was seen in their equaliser.
Kane, starved of service for 41 minutes, dropped deep and used the run of Jordan Henderson as a decoy to pick out the marauding Walker for his first international goal on his 77th cap.
It was the touch and finish of a veteran centre-forward but a timely boost for England with Ukraine in the ascendancy on the stroke of half-time.
Southgate said: “He covered a very quick winger, he use the ball well and showed great composure for the goal. He is a very important player for our group.”
Was Walker’s maiden goal imminent? The Manchester City defender, fresh from signing a new contract at the Etihad, scored a stunning goal in training just a few days ago which left his team-mates speechless.
Shared on England’s Instagram account, the 33-year-old shifted the ball to his right then unleashed a finish into the top corner past Aaron Ramsdale. Clearly, Walker arrived in Poland with an appetite to score. He got the monkey off his back, and was England’s best player.
Mudryk can’t catch a break
Mykhailo Mudryk has played just 67 minutes for Chelsea so far this season under new manager Mauricio Pochettino, but when it comes to the national team, he is indispensable and carries the hopes of Ukraine.
The September international break offered him an opportunity to rediscover his form in front of his adoring supporters on familiar territory.
Mudryk played Champions League games with Shakhtar Donetsk in Warsaw last season, at Legia Stadium, and it was during these matches which the 22-year-old underlined his huge potential, ultimately leading to his £88.5m move to Chelsea in January.
Playing off the left flank up against Walker, there was always a sense of expectation whenever he got onto the ball. But he struggled to have an impact and was a distant second in his contest with the England right-back.
On one occasion, shortly before he was substituted, Ukraine had a fine counter-attack opportunity. But Mudryk appeared to panic when realising that Walker was closing on him and subsequently fell on the ball, appearing to injure himself in the process.
Sheepishly, he exited. Here was further evidence of a young man with plenty of promise struggling with the weight of expectation.
Henderson deals with pre-match pressure, but issues will remain
A busy week for Jordan Henderson culminated in his first England appearance since his controversial move to Saudi Arabia in the summer.
On Tuesday, a lengthy interview was published by The Athletic as he discussed the transfer for the first time and the issues that surrounded it, including the hurt felt by the LGBTQ+ community. Some questioned too how long his career with England would continue following his move to Al Ettifaq.
But if Saturday’s game is anything to go by, Henderson has a few years left yet for the Three Lions. Southgate said he would not let outside noise stop him starting the midfielder, despite vocal opposition from England’s LGBTQ+ supporters group Three Lions Pride.
And it appeared that little of the off-field scrutiny affected Henderson’s performance. After Ukraine opened the scoring, the 33-year-old looked the most likely to create an opening for England. Within 10 minutes of the second half, he sent two dangerous crosses into the area too.
However, it was not a perfect performance. He was one of many England players at fault for Ukraine’s goal, not tracking his runners well enough. Overall though, it was a good performance despite many waiting for him to fail.
While Henderson looks to be part of Southgate’s midfield plans for the foreseeable future, it is the new reality that each time he is selected, the same criticism will be aimed at him.
On this occasion, he did not let the pre-match pressure affect him. But those areas of England’s fan base who feel let down by the former Liverpool captain will not be letting him off easy, no matter how well he performs on the pitch.
England now take on Scotland in a friendly at Hampden Park on Tuesday – kick-off 7.45pm.
Southgate’s side then return to action in October for the next international break when they face Australia at Wembley in a friendly on October 13. That is followed by a crunch Euro qualifier against Italy four days later on October 17 at the same venue.
Ukraine’s next game is a Euro 2024 Qualifier against Italy at San Siro on Tuesday – kick-off 7.45pm.