Five talking points ahead of England U21’s Euro opener

Date published: Friday 16th June 2017 10:39

England Under-21’s kick off their Euro 2017 campaign tonight with a game against Sweden in Kielce, Poland, looking to emulate the U20’s recent success on the international stage. 

The Young Lions are fifth favourites for the tournament while they also play Slovakia and hosts Poland. Here Press Association Sport looks at the talking points ahead of the first match.

 

Can England maintain the national momentum?

The pressure is on to emulate their younger colleagues after the Under-20’s won the World Cup and the Under-17’s reached their own European final this summer.

On paper the Young Lions have been handed an open group – even if it includes defending champions Sweden and hosts Poland.

Elsewhere, Spain play Portugal in Group B and Italy face Germany in Group C – meaning a big nation will fall with only the group winners and best runners-up reaching the semi-finals.

England have not made it to the knockout stages since 2009 – when they were beaten 4-0 by Germany in the final – and have won just once in their last three tournaments.

But that win came against Sweden in 2015 and with a strong, united and confident squad Aidy Boothroyd’s side should make the semi finals this time.

How will £30m man Jordan Pickford cope?

The 23-year-old said only last week he would put any transfer on hold until after the tournament but had no control over when Everton made their move.

A £30million transfer from Sunderland was completed just 24 hours before the game and it will be interesting to see how he carries himself against Sweden.

Pickford seems to be a level-headed young man and there are no suggestions it will affect him in the game. He already had a medical in Poland on Wednesday ahead of the move.

If he maintains his form into the Euros with an imminent big-money switch on his shoulders then he will continue to prove his mental strength.

 

You can follow all the action as England take on Sweden on Friday though our live score centre. 

 

Who will spearhead the attack?

Without Marcus Rashford to pick Boothroyd has a selection issue up front with Tammy Abraham, Nathan Redmond, Cauley Woodrow and even Demarai Gray able to be a central striker.

The smart money would be on Chelsea’s Abraham being the focal point up top with the 19-year-old having scored 26 times on loan at Bristol City last season.

Abraham also netted in last weekend’s 3-0 friendly win over Iceland and is in superb form going into the Euros.

Redmond had played centrally for club and country but is likely to be deployed wide while Woodrow and Gray could be on the bench.

 

Will Aidy Boothroyd finally prove the doubters wrong?

Manager Boothroyd stepped up from the Under-20’s to take control of the Under-21’s for the final two qualifying games after Gareth Southgate’s elevation to the senior side.

He was sacked by Northampton in December 2013 with the Cobblers bottom of the Football League at the time.

Just two months later he was appointed Under-20s boss by the Football Association and he has now taken on the Under-21s, where the players have responded and the transition while replacing Southgate was seamless.

Boothroyd was tagged with playing a direct style at Watford and Northampton but victory in Poland – or even a strong tournament – would banish any lingering doubters.

Who can force their way into the seniors ahead of the World Cup?

Skipper James Ward-Prowse and Southampton team-mate Redmond made their senior debuts in March and will be too old for the Under-21s after this tournament.

The pair will have half an eye on next year’s World Cup in Russia – with England expected to qualify – as they aim to make the step up to Southgate’s side permanently.

Pickford has earned a senior call-up but is yet to win a cap while Swansea’s Alfie Mawson could be a long-term option if he continues his form.

Should Abraham excel in the Premier League next year – at either Newcastle or Brighton on loan – he could be a surprise inclusion while Gray will benefit from a full season as he prepares to replace Riyad Mahrez at Leicester.

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