The first half of the European Under-21 Championships is right around the corner, with teams across the continent unveiling their squads ahead of what could be one of the most memorable tournaments in recent years.
It may be a youth tournament, but there will be some outstanding talents on show, many of whom wouldn’t be lost in the senior setup. It’s shaping up to be the kind of competition you don’t want to miss.
Here’s a closer look at how the bigger sides are shaping up…
Sandro Tonali’s struggles with AC Milan this year were made abundantly clear when he was demoted to the Under-21 setup, but Roberto Mancini’s loss is Paolo Nicolato’s gain.
Tonali is the biggest name in a squad which is full of some real talents. Attacking duo Patrick Cutrone and Andrea Pinamonti will be hoping to feast at the tournament, while Milan centre-back Matteo Gabbia can keep things tidy at the back.
A concern for Italy is perhaps the lack of depth. While everyone in the 23 is talented, there’s a real drop off in quality after the top five or six players, which might become problematic if they make it deeper in the competition.
Germany have selected quite an experienced squad, suggesting they are more bothered about winning than developing their youth, so it’s quite surprising to see that Bayern‘s Jamal Musiala and Leverkusen’s Florian Wirtz don’t make it in. Senior call-ups must be coming.
They might wish they had those two as apart from Youssoufa Moukoko, Ridle Baku, Mergim Barisha and maybe Josha Vagnoman, there isn’t a lot of star power on offer.
The Germans will likely be threats because they’re so well-organised, but if they find themselves up against another big name, they might just come up short.
The defending champions, Spain look a little weaker this time around because a lot of their star names have been drafted into the senior squad instead.
The likes of Barcelona‘s Pedri and Eibar loanee Bryan Gil have been promoted, leaving behind a team that is still capable of making a real splash, albeit perhaps not as big as it could have been.
Underestimate them at your peril, however. Barcelona duo Riqui Puig and Oscar Mingueza look set to be crucial, while Brahim Diaz has shone in moments for Milan. Meanwhile, the chance to see left-back Marc Cucurella in action should never be missed.
This is a good squad. This is a very, very good squad.
Aidy Boothroyd (whose management might actually be the weak link in the whole setup) has a team which is bursting with Premier League quality. Mason Greenwood, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Curtis Jones are among the best players in the world at this age group, so there’s good reason to be excited about the Young Lions.
Emile Smith Rowe, Eberechi Eze and Dwight McNeil have also been in fine form of late in an attack minded squad.
There’s no denying that England will look a little shaky in goal and at the back, but there should be enough quality in this squad to mount a real challenge.
This Portuguese core has been growing together for years and have so much experience alongside each other, but even if you ignore that, the sheer quality on their team sheet sets them apart from most of the competition.
An attack of Rafael Leao, Trincao and Pedro Goncalves wouldn’t go amiss in the senior setup, while a reunion of former Benfica partners-in-crime Florentino and Gedson Fernandes in midfield is genuinely exciting. This is a senior team playing youth football.
To say they didn’t even win their qualification group is wild, but that’s largely because they came up against the behemoth that is…
The Netherlands are really going for broke in this one, bringing in some bumper names who should be looking to embarrass youth football.
Lille’s Sven Botman, Ajax’s Perr Schuurs, Leipzig’s Justin Kluivert and AZ Alkmaar duo Teun Koopmeiners and Myron Boadu are all far too good to be playing at this level, and there are another five or six players in the squad about whom you could say the same thing.
It’s quite an ‘old’ squad – only six are actually under 21 – so it might be now or never for a lot of these players.
This France squad looks more like a senior squad than an Under-21 team. They’d probably give Euro 2020 a good run.
Their first-choice XI features players like Sevilla’s Jules Kounde and RB Leipzig’s Ibrahima Konate – two defenders wanted by every big team on the planet – but that’s only half the fun.
You can say the same about Houssem Aouar and Eduardo Camavinga, while in attack, Moussa Diaby is excelling with Leverkusen and Celtic’s Odsonne Edouard is among the most prolific strikers in the world these days.
What makes France so scary is that when you get into their reserves, you’ll find Wesley Fofana, Benoit Badiashile, Aurelien Tchouameni and Jonathan Ikone. It’s ridiculous.
If France don’t walk this, something has gone horribly wrong.