The 22nd UEFA European Under-21 Championship begins in earnest on June 16.
Italy and San Marino will co-host with defending champions Germany as one of 12 teams vying for the prize.
As usual with any youth tournament there’s an air of excitement due to the tantalising prospect of spotting football’s next big things. This edition will be no different; looking across the various squads there are plenty of future stars.
So, we’ve decided to compile a best XI. To stop a single nation dominating, and to keep things interesting, we set a maximum of three players per team.
Here’s what we came up with…
The team was decided upon with those squads who have already been announced. So far Denmark, Serbia, Austria are missing.
Goalkeeper: Alex Meret (Italy)
Napoli ultimately finished runners-up to runaway Serie A champions Juventus. Featuring in 14 of their 38 league games was 22-year-old goalkeeper Alex Meret.
The Italian kept seven clean sheets and conceded nine goals in those 14 appearances, and potentially could have been involved more, but for an arm injury that ruled him out for 12 games at the start of the season.
Right-back: Aaron Wan-Bissaka (England)
One of the Premier League’s brightest emerging talents. Aaron Wan-Bissaka heads into this summer’s championship with an elevated status as well as being one of Europe’s most wanted defenders.
Already a host of clubs at home are keeping a keen eye on the tenacious full-back who is the latest to graduate from Crystal Palace’s esteemed youth set-up.
Centre-back: Jonathan Tah (Germany)
Jonathan Tah has already earned five senior international caps for the German national team, though four of those came in 2016. He’s firmly in Joachim Löw’s thinking, but for now is focused on defending Germany’s under-21 crown. The 23-year-old Bayer Leverkusen centre-back bounces into this summer in buoyant mood after his club secured Champions League football for next season.
Centre-back: Jesús Vallejo (Spain)
Real Madrid will be going through a rebuilding phase in the summer, but someone who hopes to feature more prominently under Zinedine Zidane is Jesús Vallejo; so far 16 of his 19 appearances for Real have come under the French coach, but the likelihood is he won’t be a regular starter.
That is not the case with Spain’s under-21 side who are desperate to make up for last time, when they were losing finalists, and win a fifth title.
Left-back: Davide Calabria (Italy)
Davide Calabria is nominally a right-back, where he’s grown in stature for AC Milan. But such is the Brescian defender’s comfort with both feet, that he is equally adept at left-bak.
Yet to make his senior international debut, which shouldn’t be too long now, Calabria has amassed 85 appearances for the Rossoneri to date – scoring twice and creating a further five goals – whilst collecting 19 under-21 caps.
Defensive midfielder: Sandro Tonali (Italy)
Andrea Pirlo’s heir? For many observers Sandro Tonali has everything to follow in the footsteps of his illustrious predecessor. Sharing a similar playing style and representing Brescia has captured the imagination.
Already a host of top European clubs are determined to capture this deep-lying playmaker’s signature.
Central midfielder: Carles Aleñá (Spain)
Emerging as a young Barcelona midfielder after Xavi and Andres Iniesta is never going to be easy. The pressure living up to their standard can only be incredible. Carles Aleñá will undoubtedly give it a go.
What’s in his favour is a technical style comparable to those behemoths. It will be interesting to see whether he’s able to hold down a starting berth at Barça next season.
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Central midfielder: Houssem Aouar (France)
Pep Guardiola was full of praise for dynamic central midfielder Aouar when Manchester City faced Lyon in the Champions League earlier this season. He’s another playing in this summer’s championship that is on the verge of winning a senior international cap. Aouar ended the recent Ligue 1 season having scored seven goals and registered seven assists in 37 outings.
Attacking midfielder: James Maddison (England)
What an incredible debut Premier League season James Maddison enjoyed. Highly thought of whilst at Norwich City, the Coventry-born attacking midfielder the 2018/19 campaign with seven goals and the same number of assists. He was the only player to create 100 goalscoring chances, and the first English player to do so since Leighton Baines in 2012/13.
Maddison has also featured for the England senior team, and only missed out on their Nations League squad due to the U21 commitments.
Forward: Reiss Nelson (England)
It will be fascinating to see where Reiss Nelson will be playing after this summer. The 19-year-old Arsenal forward spent last season on loan at Bundesliga outfit Hoffenheim where he registered seven goals in 23 league outings.
Gunners boss Unai Emery, who is keen to shake up his squad, will no doubt consider Nelson as part of those plans. But first, Nelson will be exciting in the U21 European Championships with England.
FW: Moussa Dembélé (France)
After electrifying Scottish football Moussa Dembélé, formerly of Celtic, is now putting Ligue 1 defences on notice. The former PSG academy graduate ended his first Lyon campaign with 15 goals in 33 matches and will be hoping to fire France to a second U21 Euro title and first since 1988.