A mid-season international break is normally the one thing we all dread, but spring 2021 has a tasty little surprise up its sleeve ready to keep us entertained.
Yes, we’ve got senior World Cup qualifiers to look forward to around the globe, but actually our focus is turned to something a whole lot more meaningful – the Under-21 European Championship, featuring the best young talent from around the continent.
The competition kicks off on March 24, with reigning champions Spain taking on Slovenia, while Italy simultaneously face the Czech Republic.
To celebrate the tournament beginning, we’ve decided to get the creative juices of flowing in true 90min style.
We’re going to pick the strongest combined XI possible from the 16 competing teams, but throw in the caveat that there can only be two players picked from any one country – ruling out the possibility of Italy, Spain and France having complete autonomy over proceedings.
After hours of tables, charts, line graphs and infinite cups of coffee, we’ve cracked it – so tuck in and feast your eyes on this bad boy XI…
Diogo Costa (GK) – It was a tough call for the best goalkeeper at the Euros, and while Alban Lafont would probably take that crown, we need those French spaces later on. So, Portugal and Porto’s Costa is the next best thing, and there’s no shame in that.
Max Aarons (RB) – Don’t be misled by the fact Max Aarons is plying his trade in the Championship at the moment – he is a Premier League right-back in the making. Barcelona and Bayern Munich have both been linked with the Norwich City man, and his stock is only going to grow during England’s upcoming tournament.
Jules Kounde (CB) – Frankly, having this guy available at Under-21 level is like unlocking a cheat code on a PlayStation game. Kounde is the most sought-after centre-back in Europe, and if it weren’t for France’s embarrassment of riches, he’d be a senior international every day of the week.
Oscar Mingueza (CB) – If you can start a game for Barcelona, you’re good enough for our team. That rule would normally apply, except this Blaugrana side is a bit rubbish. However, Mingueza has stepped up to senior football nicely, and looks at home in their backline.
Gianluca Frabotta (LB) – You have to be pretty special to break into Juventus’ starting lineup from youth level, but Frabotta has done exactly that under Andrea Pirlo this year. He looks like a handy player, and could play an important part in the Old Lady’s future.
Riqui Puig (CM) – The second (and not the last) Barça star to make this team, Puig is ready to take the international scene by storm. He’s finally won over doubtful boss Ronald Koeman, and could be the catalyst behind another Spanish success.
Sandro Tonali (CM) – It has not been a simple first season in Milan for Tonali, who has struggled to adapt to the standard and pressure of elite football. He will be in his element at Under-21 level though, so expect him to boss proceedings for the next couple of weeks.
Houssem Aouar (CM) – This guy is so good, that he’s come out on top of the ‘only two French players allowed’ shortlist. Aouar bossed Manchester City in last season’s Champions League quarter-finals, and is one of the most technically gifted midfielders in Europe. Juventus want him, the Premier League wants him – no one wants to play against him.
Francisco Trincao (RW) – The missing piece to our Barcelona trilogy. Trincao may not have demonstrated enough to nail down a regular place in the Blaugrana’s starting XI, but in fairness, he does occupy the same position as Lionel Messi. He’s shown his devastating brilliance in flashes though, and could be a key player in this tournament.
Myron Boadu (ST) – The Eredivisie is not always the best litmus test to evaluate the true quality of a player, but for Boadu to have banged in 12 goals in 25 games this season, that’s the sign of a starlet destined for the top of Europe’s pyramid. This guy knows where the goal is.
Callum Hudson-Odoi (LW) – It’s hard not to get excited over the prospect of Hudson-Odoi torturing poor youngsters on the wing for England. The Chelsea forward has come back into form under Thomas Tuchel, and will be the entertainer of this tournament – providing Aidy Boothroyd doesn’t unexpectedly bung him at wingback…