England U-21 v Spain U-21: Why England Will Win

Despite Spain's status as the current gods of international football from U-16 to senior level, England have some impressive results against them at this age group and the teams are very close in ability and experience...
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England U-21s

GK: Frank Fielding

Since signing pro forms with Blackburn in 2007, Fielding has had something of a nomadic loan career, with spells at Wycombe, Northampton, Leeds, Rochdale and Derby. With first Brad Friedel and latterly Paul Robinson in front of him at Blackburn, he has now signed for Derby County where he spent two successful loan periods last season. Not huge for a keeper at 6'1", but boasts athleticism, is good with his feet and not scared to roast the defence. 7

RB: Michael Mancienne

Touted as a special one by Jose Mourinho, Mancienne can count himself unlucky not to have made the grade at Chelsea. Potentially one of the best utility players in the country for his ability to play right-back, centre-back and in the Makelele role, he was impressive in periods while on loan at Wolves and has now taken the plunge with a move to Hamburg. The skipper boasts pace, a dogged work-rate, ferocious tackling and a reading of the game that, with the benefit of first-team football in Germany, could see him be a vital cog in the England senior team post Capello. 7

CB: Phil Jones

I heard someone say that Phil Jones plays like a combination of Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand, and while that is virtually impossible, no-one who has seen him play can be in doubt of his pedigree. More a combination of Rio and Jamie Carragher, he makes up for a lack of pace with his spatial awareness, tackles like a heathen, can also play right-back or central midfield and has a love for the dark arts of defending that mark him down as a potential England captain. 8

CB: Chris Smalling

The highest accolade that can be given to Smaling is, that whenever he deputised for the injured Ferdinand or was selected on merit, United didn't suffer from a lack of shape or defensive immaturity. To come from non-league football with Maidstone United to playing in The Champions league in three years speaks volumes of his talent and personality and he is the perfect partner for Jones, with his pace allowing him to sweep up behind his new Manchester United team-mate. Don't bet against him and Jones being the central defensive partnership in 2014. 7

LB: Ryan Bertrand

Similar to Mancienne in that he has had his Chelsea career stifled by Ashley Cole, Bertrand has been farmed out to Bournemouth, Oldham, Norwich, Reading and Notts Forest over the last five years. Would perhaps not be on this list if Kieran Gibbs was fit, but Bertrand is more defensively sound than the Arsenal player, is unafraid of passing the half-way line and boasts a terrific final ball. 6

CM: Jordan Henderson

Hammered after a poor debut for the senior England team but, as he was played out of position by the increasingly mental Capello, it would be churlish to judge him on one game against a very strong French team. Atheltic with a fine gallop, Henderson sparkled intermittently on the right for Sunderland when his crossing and passing from wide areas came to the fore and will probably compete with Dirk Kuyt for that role at Liverpool next season. The jury might still be out, but a good tournament here and an impressive start to life at Anfield and £20m will mean nothing. 8

CM: Fabrice Muamba

For further proof that Arsene Wenger couldn't these days spot a defensive midfielder if they tackled him from behind, Muamba used his rejection by Arsenal to maximise his ability and, with nearly 200 club appearances under his belt, is the most experienced player in the squad. While comparisons with Viera have been inevitable, he occupies a similar pivotal role to that of Frank Rijkaard and Marcel Desaiily at AC Milan, and is the rock upon which Bolton's passing game is built. If he continues his inexorable rise, he and Jack Wilshere could rekindle their classic  'one-holds one-goes' central midfield partnership for England after the European Championships. Capped at every age group from U-16. 7

CM: Jack Rodwell

Having been linked with Manchester United since his debut in 2007, Rodwell has matured into a fine all-round footballer without having yet decided on his best position. Can play centre-half and anywhere in a midfield three, has a propensity for scoring long-range screamers and combines the build of a light-heavyweight with the grace of a ballerina. Niggling injuries have seen him yet to complete a full-season with Everton, but a good tournament in Denmark will surely see United turn their overtures into an outright bid. 8

RF: Danny Welbeck

Flourished last season on loan at Sunderland before a pair of back-to-back injuries curtailed his development. Pacy, unpredictable and with a knack of scoring in big games, he can operate wide right, as an inside-forward or central striker and, if first team opportunities are going to be few and far between at Old Trafford, will surely seek a move. Needs two seasons of continual football to improve his consistency and goal return. 7

CF: Daniel Sturridge

After years waiting for his chance at both Manchester City and Chelsea, Sturridge was one of the stars of the second half of the season at Bolton. Eight goals in 12 games are impressive stats, but his game is about more than just scoring. Added a new dimension to the Bolton attack with his pace and trickery while his movement allowed Kevin Davies to drop slightly deeper and the pair dovetailed wonderfully. Another player who will surely seek out a move if the new Chelsea manager doesn't see him as a partner for Fernando Torres. 8

LF: Danny Rose

Connor Wickham may get the nod against Spain, allowing Sturridge and Welbeck to interchange around the Ipswich striker but, as Rose showed with his solo-effort against Norway last week, he is a vital part of Pearce's increasingly fluent 4-3-3. Despite starring for Spurs at left-back towards the end of the season, Rose is a winger with pace, power and an indefatigable approach to the game. 6

Manager: Stuart Pearce

The Sex Pistols loving, ex-electrician turned demonic left-back turned coach is often maligned for not coming across as the most intelligent, and lost something of his Psycho aura when Fabio Capello was shown verbally battering him on the England bench. Yet he boasts a win rate of 56% with the England Under-21s and they have only lost five games during his tenure. After successive third and second place finishes in this competition, he will be rightly lionised if he goes one better. 7

Total: 86

Martínez says that the player he admires the most is Steven Gerrard and this can be seen in his bustling, box-to-box play

Spain Under 21s

GK: David Gea

If the Atlético Madrid - and supposedly soon to be Manchester United - goalkeeper was English then he’d almost certainly be the country’s number one at full international level. But as the Madridileño is in the queue behind Iker Casillas, Pepe Reina and Víctor Valdés, De Gea is with the U-21s after another solid, unflappable season behind Atlético’s very non-solid and constantly flapping back four. 7

RB: César Azpilicueta

The Marseille right-back is looking for a happy end to what has been a tough year since a move to the French league last summer. The almost unpronounceable full back had a cruciate ligament knee knack in November which saw him on the sidelines for six months. As a born and bred Osasuna fullback who was in Vicente Del Bosque’s World Cup long list, Azpilicueta is solid and in full possession of the instincts of his former club to kick people, too. 5

CB: Alvaro Domínguez

Another player who has struggled for form with his club, as all Atlético defenders tend to do, having played across the back line and with a variety of different partners this season. But without the Atlético distraction, Domínguez is very much in the Gerard Pique mould - tall, strong and with a bit of pace about him too. 6

CB: Mikel San José

Liverpool, the club that this Basque defender joined in 2007, may not have been willing to give the centre-back much of a chance in a two year spell there, but Athletic Bilbao did, the club where Mikel San José was brought up. The defender is a regular in one of the most physical back lines in Spain, so if England go for the crossing and hoofing option on Sunday, than Mikel San José will send everything right back where it came from and then some. 6

LB: José Angel

Like De Gea, Bojan and Juan Mata, the Sporting fullback is another footballer who may have transfer fees on his mind rather than football. The Asturian’s pace and fine technique on the left have attracted Barcelona no less, who had a bid turned down for the promising youngster. 6

LM: Juan Mata

The first of two World Cup winners in Spain’s starting line-up who have refused to bleat about tiredness and who have volunteered to drop down a level to help their country both win the U-21s or at least grab a spot in next year’s Olympic Games. There’s not too much else to be said about the Valencia forward except to point out that Mata is international class, has bags of experience and can play across the front line, but will probably squeeze himself into an Andrés Iniesta style position in the tournament. 8

CM: Javi Martínez

“This is like a World Cup to me,” said the Athletic Bilbao man, another player who formed part of the 2010 Spain squad in South Africa but who has stuck his hand up to drop down to the U-21s. Martínez says that the player he admires the most is Steven Gerrard and this can be seen in his bustling, box-to-box play, although the Basque man is set to take on a Sergio Busquets role for his team in Denmark. 8

CM: Thiago

The Barcelona midfield playmaker is one of the reasons that the Catalan club’s desire for Cesc Fabregas has cooled of late. Thiago has played for Spain at every level and had a breakthrough season for his club, this year, when given the responsibility for helping to run the midfield show from time-to-time for Pep Guardiola’s title-winning titans when more senior members of the squad were rested. 7

RM: Ander Herrera

A footballer who confesses that he would have been sitting with the Zaragoza Ultras if he wasn’t out on the pitch, Herrera is a terrier-like leader out on the field who is prone to the odd mad tackle but also some fine attacking play too. Before the tournament, the midfielder confirmed a move to his native Bilbao and Athletic who fancy a bit of Basque rabble-rousing from Herrera. 7

FW: Bojan Krkic

Poor form in the past couple of seasons and few opportunities of late has seen the Barcelona forward fall from being billed as future star at the Catalan club to a very transferable player. Bojan is lacking confidence and by no means certain of a starting place on Sunday, but his underlying striking talent and experience is undeniable. 7

FW: Iker Muniain

The Athletic Bilbao forward is not exactly prolific but is one of the most promising young talents in Spanish football. Muniain is still just eighteen but has already achieved a great deal in a career by holding the record for being the youngest player to score in la Primera, something he achieved at sixteen. Muniain most resembles a young Alan Smith (the Leeds version) and is a pain-in-the-arse, bite-your-ankles nightmare for defenders but with some sublime skills too. 7

Manager - Luis Milla

The former Barcelona, Real Madrid and Valencia midfielder was promoted from his role as Spain’s U-19 coach, having lead them to the final of last year’s European Championships. The simple goal for Milla is to keep his team playing in Spain’s sexy style and make sure one of the three spots for the Olympic Games is taken by his team. 7

Total: 82

Final Total: England 86 - Spain 82

Verdict: England shade it due to a better defence and having more players in form. Bring on 7.45...

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