The build up to this summer’s UEFA European Under-21 Championship has suffered its usual treatment…a distinct lack of coverage or hype. In reality, at least for me, it is something to get excited about, especially considering the lack of other football around at the moment.
More than that, it represents a chance for England to show that the future of the national game is bright. No doubt you have heard endless pundits and journalists bang on that this tournament is a prelude to potential success in future senior competitions, but this is a tournament that should stand on its own two-feet as a spectacle. When you look at the nations involved, and the quality of their squads, you should get excited about it.
The tournament kicks-off tonight for England as they take on a useful Italy side. If the teams line up as expected there will be plenty of Premier League and Serie A talent on show that will make for a good game. We have decided to take a look at six players to watch out for:
Despite his young age, Steven Caulker has a wealth of experience and Stuart Pearce will be relying on the Spurs centre-back to be the rock in the middle of his defence during the tournament.
Caulker benefited immensely from his time on loan at Swansea in the 2011/12 season; his ability to bring the ball out of defence and make incisive passes was improved during his time in Wales and this season, despite being a bit-part player for Tottenham, he has continued to show his quality with one of the highest pass completion rates for any defender at 89.7%. The other area that Caulker will be a huge danger for England is on set-pieces, opposition defenders will have a tough time keeping him off the end of crosses if the delivery is good enough.
With two Premier League seasons and an Olympic games under his belt, Caulker could be set to star for England Under-21s this summer, starting tonight with Italy.
Nathaniel Chalobah – Chelsea
They say in international tournament football managers like to pick players who are versatile…well footballers don’t come much more versatile than Chelsea youngster Nathaniel Chalobah. The reason for his versatility is not just down to his athletism, but because he is an extremely talented footballer and this talent gives him the ability to play anywhere.
Chalobah excelled playing as a deep-lying, ball winning, centre midfielder for Watford last season who likes to get up and down the pitch. He tends to drop deep and collect the ball from the defence and is not afraid to knock it around with his impressive range of passing. Chalobah’s goal during the Watford vs Leicester league game last season was nothing short of magical and demonstrated that he can chip in with the odd goal – he scored 5 in total for Watford last season.
The quality that Chalobah possesses will mean he will be noticed during the tournament, forget England’s other midfielders, Chalobah could be the catalyst for England success this summer.
*Disclaimer: His football talent is much better than his amateur film making skills…
If ever there was a young English talent that has been hyped up by the media, it is Wilfried Zaha or ‘Wilf’ as he is known to teammates and Palace fans. Having completed the season as Crystal Palace’s outstanding player, many will expect him to play a big part in England’s success this summer before heading to Manchester United to begin his Premier League career.
Zaha is already in the history books as ‘Sir Alex Ferguson’s last signing’, but he will hope it is his ability that writes his own chapter, starting this summer. Having almost single-handedly take Palace to the Premier League, Zaha will hope his impressive form can continue for the England under-21s. His pace, dribbling ability and flair are enough to cause even the most experienced of defenders a problem, so under-21 teams need to watch out.
A lot is expected of Zaha, lets see how he fairs tonight against Italy.
Having represented his country at all youth levels, the Italian was always considered likely to have a bright future. A commanding figure at 6ft 2, Italy U21′s captain has been described as a younger Alessandro Nesta due to his excellent sense of position and tackling abilities.
The 21-year-old, who is co-owned by Inter and Cesena and has spent the last two seasons on loan at second division Brescia, was an ever present figure throughout Italy’s qualifying campaign and a one of the cornerstones of Devis Mangia’s team.
Inter Milan are a club in transition and Caldirola will be eager to deliver in Israel this summer, in the hope of securing his chance at club level.
The Golden Boy of Italian football shocked many in his home country when he accepted PSG’s advances – and some wealthy retribution – and moved to Ligue 1, only a couple of months after inspiring his hometown club Pescara to their first Serie A season in 20 years.
At 5ft 5ins, Verratti makes up for a lack of physical presence with a silky touch and great vision, which have seen him compared to midfield maestro, beard lover and Chuck Norris lookalike Andrea Pirlo.
The 20-year-olds first season under the Eiffel Tower was a mixed bag for, while PSG won the title, Verratti only produced four assists in 39 games for the Parisian club and was rumoured to be considering a move back to Italy.
Expect the £10m man to be one of the most observed players at this year’s tournament and his performances could have a big say in his future.
A product of the Napoli youth system, the pint-sized forward made waves during loan spells with Foggia and Pescara in the Italian third and second division, before returning to Napoli last term. Under Zdenek Zeman’s tutelage, Insigne scored 37 league goals in two seasons, driving Pescara to their first Serie A campaign in two decades and earning himself a return to the San Paolo Stadium.
In his first season with Napoli, the 21-year-old netted five goals and assisted seven in 37 appearances, as manager Walter Mazzarri deployed Insigne in the role previously occupied by Ezequiel Lavezzi, who had since joined PSG.
Considered one of Italian football’s brightest talents, £10m-rated Insigne has already won his first full Italy cap and, rather precipitously, been labeled as the “Italian Messi”.
You can watch England u21 vs Italy u21 live on SkySports 2 or if you don’t have SkySports via an internet stream – Kick-off is 7.30pm. Don’t forget to follow us on Twitter or check out our Facebook page to keep on top of what is going on in the football world.