The U21 European Championship begins on Wednesday, June 17 and The Set Pieces’ new signing Phil Costa has previewed every team.
MANAGER: Mladen Dodic
FIXTURES: Germany (June 17, 1945GMT), Czech Republic (June 20, 1945GMT), Denmark (June 23, 1945GMT)
OUR VERDICT: Serbia have an array of exciting attacking talent, but concerns remain at the back where a mixture of youth and inexperience could let them down. Like the Czechs, Serbia will be reliant on their star players for an injection of quality to give them the best chance of progression.
Uros Spajic: Spajic is a defender who enjoys playing on the front foot. At just under 6ft, he is slightly smaller and slightly slimmer than most centre backs, but he has a bit of pace about him. He is very aggressive, and always looking to be into the challenges (both aerially and on the ground) very quickly. The 22 year-old excels at intercepting the ball as well as keeping high concentration levels throughout the 90 minutes of a game. This assertive style can lead to quite a few yellow cards, but that’s the risk he takes.
Spajić spent the earlier years of his career at Red Star Belgrade, and made his professional debut for them on October the 27th 2010 in a Serbian Cup match against Borac Čačak. He was subsequently loaned to Sopot in the Serbian third tier, where Red Star send a lot of their youth players to develop, for the 2011–12 season. In his final season at Red Star, he featured only 16 times but was recognised as a player of quality. Not only was he impressing in Serbia, he was impressong abroad as well and in May, 2013 French side Toulouse FC agreed a fee of around €1.5 million for the young defender’s services.
Despite a poor 17th placed finish Spajic has settled well at Toulouse and has established a solid partnership with Cameroonian defender Jean-Armel Kanya-Biyik. Defenders who read the game well are very valuable in the frantically paced modern game, and Spajic could be an astute purchase for teams who are playing Europa League football. He certainly has a lot of potential to build on.
Milos Jojic: Jojic is primarily a central midfielder, but with his technical skills, he has the capability to play elsewhere should he need to. He is a very good passer and he releases the ball quickly. He always has his head up looking for options, especially short passes and nippy one-twos with other midfielders or forwards around him. He also strikes the ball well from range, and has a knack of arriving into the box at the right time. However, his tackling ability is surprisingly poor for a midfielder and he is bypassed quite frequently – picking up a few yellow cards in the process.
Jojic spent the majority of his youth career with Partizan Belgrade, joining them in 2003 when he was 11 years of age. After two successful seasons on loan at Serbian third tier side Teleoptik, Jojić signed his first professional contract with Partizan on a four-year deal in January 2012. He is now at Borussia Dortmund, having joined in 2014.
The 23 year-old has a few points to prove. After rarely featuring for Dortmund, despite their poor season, Jojic is still a talented player and would be an asset to many clubs. This tournament could either be an opportunity to prove himself to new manager Thomas Tuchel, or it could be a way of putting himself in the shop window for any potential suitors. Either way, both provide enough reason to do well and hopefully we see the best of Milos throughout the competition.
Filip Djuricic: A very contemporary attacking midfielder, Djuricic is capable of playing out wide and behind the striker due to his array of qualities. He is a superb dribbler with excellent close control and his agility makes itreally difficult to pinch the ball off of him.
The 23 year-old is not the quickest over the long distance, but he is capable of beating players over five or ten yards with sharp bursts and swift body movements. He is also a very intelligent and creative player in the final third, capable of unlocking defences and even scoring goals himself after mazy runs or interchanges with teammates. Despite all of that ability, Djuricic can go missing occasionally as well as having a tendency to be bullied.
Despite his relative youth, Djuricic is another well travelled player. He began playing football in Red Star Belgrade’s youth program until 2007 and then he spent a year in Greece with Olympiacos. After Olympiacos, he returned to Red Star Belgrade before joining Dutch side SC Heerenveen in January 2010. In the summer of 2013, he was signed by Benfica for an undisclosed fee with a £30m release clause added to his contract. Due to lack of playing time, he was loaned to Mainz for the 2013/14 season before then joining Southampton in January 2015 until the end of the season.
After an average loan spell at Southampton, Benfica are likely to be open to offers for the midfielder this summer. Nonetheless, he proved himself capable of performing on a consistent basis at Heerenveen. He will be one of the older players in this squad and this responsibility could spur him on. With a point to prove, perhaps he can get back to his confident best.
Ed’s note: We also had a lovely little bit of bio of Filip Kostic, a fine player who would certainly be one to watch were it not for the fact that VFB Stuttgart have told him that he can’t go to the tournament. Sorry about that.