The U21 European Championship begins on Wednesday, June 17 and The Set Pieces’ new signing Phil Costa has previewed every team.
MANAGER: Gareth Southgate
FIXTURES: Portugal (June 17, 1945GMT), Sweden (June 20, 1700GMT), Italy (June 23, 1945GMT)
OUR VERDICT: After two disappointing tournaments in 2011 and 2013 where they failed to get out of the group stages, England are bringing a strong squad to the European Championships and winning the tournament would not be an unrealistic target. Despite ending up with Italy, Portugal and Sweden, another exit in the group stages would be deeply disappointing.
Calum Chambers: Calum Chambers is an excellent tackler and interceptor of the ball. He reads the game very well and is also very strong aerially, winning the majority of his defensive headers. What really impresses about the 20 year-old is his passing ability and how composed he can be in possession. Unfortunately, He does get himself booked quite regularly, and can be caught out by swifter wingers, but he should learn how to curb these flaws as he begins to feature more regularly.
Chambers’ £16m switch to Arsenal from Southampton in July last year was a surprise to everybody, but the Englishman showed glimpses of why Arsene Wenger was so eager to spend so heavily on such a young player.
After starting his Arsenal career positively, Wenger took the youngster out of the firing line due to a slight dip in form, something he has done before with other young players. Despite this setback, Chambers has shown the qualities to prove that he is capable of playing at the highest level both domestically and internationally. His future may well lie at centre back, but stints at right back and defensive midfield will have done the technical side to his game no harm. Should he start in the Czech Republic, Chambers could be a calming and positive influence in this English side.
James Ward-Prowse: James Ward-Prowse possesses qualities that are essential for a player looking to shine in the centre of midfield. He is an excellent passer, always calling for the ball and wanting to be involved in play. His passing range is accurate both short and long, and he is also one of the top key passers for players under 21. Another strength to his game is his set piece delivery. Whether it be corners or free kicks, Ward-Prowse gets the majority of his key passes and his chance creations from these types of deliveries. One good ball from Ward-Prowse can very easily result in a goal. Last season, over 80% of his set pieces connected with a Southampton head.
In order to really progress, Ward-Prowse needs to find one position to pursue for Southampton and England. This is a problem many young players encounter, with even the likes of Phil Jones and Jack Wilshere struggling to nail down a consistent role. Also, adding goals to his game would really take him to that next level. This tournament will give him an occasion to impress and to show that he has the potential to become a fantastic midfielder.
Alex Pritchard: Alex Pritchard is capable of playing all over the midfield, featuring in five different positions for Brentford over the course of the season. However, where Pritchard does his best work is normally in the centre of midfield or behind the striker. He is another very creative player, with excellent ball control who is always looking to make an incisive through ball and drive forward. Pritchard also has the ability to strike the ball well from range, as well as being a threat from set pieces.
The 22 year-old is a perfect example of how the loan system can be so successful when the move is just right for both club and player. The attacking midfielder was signed by Tottenham in 2009, and after some hit and miss loan spells at Peterborough and Swindon Town, it finally clicked for him at Brentford during the 2014/15 season. He was an integral part of The Bee’s almost-successful play-off push featuring 47 times, scoring 12 goals and getting 7 assists in the process.
After being in the shadows for a long time, freedom and responsibility at Brentford resulted in him blossoming into a very exciting player. Mauricio Pochettino has already confirmed his presence in Tottenham’s first team next season, and the 5ft 7 midfielder will be looking to make an impact with England to really give the Spurs boss and even Roy Hodgson something to think about for next season.
Harry Kane: Harry Kane was one of the surprises of the 2014/15 season, but his success was a deserved reward for his hard work. Kane is able to score such a variety of different goals. Right foot, left foot and with his head, he’s a very impressive finisher. He always finds the bottom corners and strikes the ball so hard that goalkeepers don’t even have a chance to move before it’s past them. The 21 year-old is an extremely hard worker, always willing to run into the channels and constantly hassle defenders. He can be caught offside a lot which he will need to improve on, but it’s incredible what some faith and confidence can do to a player who is willing to improve.
After being promoted to the Tottenham first team squad in 2009, he was sent on loan after loan where he did little to suggest that he could score so freely in the top flight. However, after being blooded by Tim Sherwood and given more first team opportunities by Pochettino, Kane thrived and became a prolific goalscorer for Spurs scoring 31 goals in 51 games in all competitions.
What Kane needs to do now is prove that his excellent season wasn’t just a purple patch, or a one off. There is no doubt that he is a very effective striker, and nobody can argue with his goalscoring record both domestically and in Europe. Despite all of the media attention, he is still eager to play for the U-21 side. That tells you all you need to know about his desire. gety
You can follow Phil Costa on Twitter (@Costafc_)