England head into the European Under-21 Championship determined to go one step further than last time when they lost in the final to a Mesut Ozil-inspired Germany. The Young Lions were brushed aside 4-0 by the Germans and Stuart Pearce will be eager to make amends for what was a disappointing performance in the 2009 final and a gut-wrenching defeat in 2007’s semi-final. Four years ago, the English players lost 13-12 in an exhausting penalty shoot-out with then hosts, the Netherlands.
Several of the young squad will have the added incentive of playing well to enhance their chances of receiving a call-up into Fabio Capello’s England senior squad. And, even without the controversially withdrawn Jack Wilshere, the injured Andy Carroll and Micah Richards, England are second only to Spain with the bookmakers to claim the eventual trophy.
Pearce deploys a 4-3-3 formation frequently used by the top clubs in England and therefore familiar to many of his players. Michael Mancienne, a recent signing for German side Hamburg, marshals the defence and captains the team from the rather unfamiliar role of right-back. His adaptability has seen him forced out to full-back in the absence of Richards. In midfield, a cluster of three remains compact and covers for the rampaging full-backs who are regularly encouraged to get forward. Against Norway in a pre-tournament friendly, Fabrice Muamba and Jack Rodwell marshalled the area in front of the back four and allowed Jordan Henderson to pull the strings from the middle. The Sunderland player was able to look ahead and pick out anyone of the three Danny’s that made up the forward line. Daniel Sturridge, Danny Wellbeck and Danny Rose are all sharp and adaptable players who frequently swap positions to pose constantly changing questions of the defence. Although given the strength of the overall squad that Pearce has at his disposal, few of the starting positions for their opening game of the tournament against Spain can be really predicted even now.
Over the last two years, Stuart Pearce has rarely had his strongest squad at his disposal. Thankfully, the former Manchester City boss has almost everyone available that he could have asked for and he will be keen to mastermind England’s first European Under-21 Championship since 1984. Through a mixture of injuries and senior call-ups, Pearce used nearly 60 players in qualifying for the competition and they only reached the play-offs as one of the strongest performing second-placed teams. In the play-off, a tight 2-1 victory over Romania in the first leg gave England the slenderest of leads to defend. A superb rear-guard action followed in Botosani that frustrated the Romanians and secured England’s ticket to Denmark.
One to watch – Daniel Sturridge: Having finished the season scoring eight goals on loan at Bolton and nicking the opener against Norway in a recent U21 friendly, Sturridge will lead the line for England in Denmark. With his lightening quick pace, incredible first touch and deadly finishing, the striker’s performances will be key in any English success.
Mancienne – Smalling – Jones – Bertrand
Muamba – Rodwell – Henderson
Welbeck – Sturridge – Rose