The U21 European Championship begins on Wednesday, June 17 and The Set Pieces’ new signing Phil Costa has previewed every team.
MANAGER: Jess Thorup
FIXTURES: Czech Republic (June 17, 1700GMT), Germany (June 20, 1945GMT), Serbia (June 23, 1945GMT)
OUR VERDICT: After failing to qualify for the 2013 tournament, Denmark will be keen to show that they are not just here to make up the numbers. For a side with their ability, getting out out of the group stages should be a minimum target as they are more than capable of going toe to toe with the big boys.
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg: Highly rated by his club manager Pep Guardiola, Højbjerg understandably spent most of his time stuck on the Bayern Munich bench for the first half of the season, but having gained an opportunity to show what he could do on loan with an surprisingly good Augsburg side in January – he really impressed. The talented Dane made 16 appearances for Markus Weinzierl’s side, helping them to an incredible 5th place finish to gain Europa League football for next season.
Højbjerg is an all action box-to-box midfielder who really has everything in his locker. He is physically strong, he’s 6ft and he has a stocky frame, but he is also technically accomplished and smart, especially for a player who is only 19 years of age. He is an excellent passer of the ball with good vision, but despite his height and build he is also a very graceful dribbler when driving from deep. He also is a tireless runner in the centre of the park, always looking to tackle and win the ball back whenever he can. Despite not showing it often, he is very composed in front of goal and can strike the ball well from distance.
Højbjerg will be one of the more experienced players in a seriously talented Denmark side and he will lead by example. If he’s on form, he will able to control games by himself. After his successful six month loan spell last season, Guardiola has made it clear that he will be fighting for a first team spot at Bayern next season. This competition is a huge chance for the midfielder to shine again.
Pione Sisto: Originally born in Uganda to Southern Sudanese parents in February 1995, Sisto’s family moved to Denmark when he was just two months old and he now holds Danish citizenship. He is 20 years old, and plays as either a right or left midfielder for current Danish champions FC Midtjylland, a club well known for their recent embrace of statistics to aid in the running of their club.
After the skilful winger’s significant impact this season, it was rumoured that Barcelona and Arsenal were scouting the player, and a £5m price mark has been set. That looks like a bargain. Sisto is, with all due respect, too good for the Danish Superliga. He is only 5ft 6in tall, but he’s a tigerish and tenacious character always fighting or tracking back for the ball should he lose it. He is comfortable on both feet, but he is more dangerous on the left wing cutting inside onto his
preferred right side. Able to shoot very well from range, he scored three goals from over 20 yards during the 2014/15 season. He also scored two free kicks. The 20 year-old is a very tricky and creative player, who just looks to love running and playing with the ball at his feet.
A move away from Denmark and FC Midtjylland seems likely this summer, but the real question for Sisto will be whether he is capable of making the step up. These championships will give him the chance to prove himself against some of the best young talents in Europe and he could be a really exciting player to keep an eye on throughout, as the Danes could be dark horses in the Czech Republic.
Yussuf Poulsen: Blessed with everything you want from a modern striker, Poulsen is a real threat. Despite being 6ft 3in, the Leipzig man is lightning quick and he can run in behind defenders or he can lead counter attacks quickly after transitions in play. He is a tireless worker, always pressing effectively from the front to pounce on mistakes. With 11 goals and 5 assists in an awkward season for the German second flight side, this is a more than healthy return, especially as he is frequently selected out on both wings as well as in the centre.
Leipzig spent €600k on Poulsen in 2013, a record signing for the club. Only 19 at the time, he rejected better offers from Bundesliga clubs, claiming that regular first team football was his motivation. Mind you, Leipzig’s ability to pay more than teams equal to or above them may just have made his decision that little bit easier.
Poulsen is an exciting prospect – both for club and country. Despite his age, he is already a key player for Alexander Zorniger’s team. He is an amazing athlete and understands his role and the game. Of course, with every young player his technical level and consistency can be improved upon.
The only question mark behind his future remains that so far, he has only played in lower leagues. While he has all the assets to make it at the very highest level, he can only be judged when he has arrived there. If he performs well over the next few weeks, perhaps we’ll see some Bundesliga clubs moving in for him.
Viktor Fischer: Viktor Fischer is another huge talent from the Ajax conveyor belt, but one who was injured for 13 months from February 2014, missing over a season. However, upon his return to the first team, he scored three goals in three appearances playing as a number nine rather than on the left wing where he was usually stationed. He also scored an 86th minute penalty for the Danish senior side recently against Montenegro to win the game.
Fischer is a forward who suits Ajax and their fluid 4-3-3 to a tee. He is able to float around, constantly linking and interchanging with his teammates which is perfect for his technically cute playing style. He is a fantastic and direct dribbler, always looking to take defenders on when he has the chance before blitzing past them with speed. He is also very composed in front of goal. His movement is very intelligent as he can not only make space for himself, but for late runners into the box who can pick up the scraps on the edge of the box.
After that lengthy lay-off, Fischer returned with a bang for Ajax and he’ll be looking to continue this trend for the U21 side. When you are out for a long time, people start to forget about you and the Dane will be eager to remind everybody of why he was so highly rated before his spell on the sidelines. For all the talent in the other sides, Denmark have a really exciting attack and Fischer could certainly be the man leading from the front.
You can follow Phil Costa on Twitter (@costafc_)