We asked our European offices to compile their strongest under-23 XIs – and the results are rather upsetting for England.
It’s the international week, so what better time to feel miserable (or uplifted, depending on your allegiance) about England’s prospects beyond the 2018 World Cup?
Our European experts in France, Germany, Italy and Spain have compiled their strongest national teams, with one caveat: all players must be aged 23 or under. The results are below...
At risk of upsetting every single Manchester United fan, there is no place for Marcus Rashford. Our logic: he’s a striker, there’s only one spot available and Harry Kane is far superior. The trio behind Kane – Raheem Sterling, Dele Alli and Ross Barkley – are far more suited to attacking midfield and can float around more intelligently.
It’s a rather ominous tale in defence, with Calum Chambers (outclassed against San Marino in 2014), Joe Gomez (only just returned from a year-long injury), John Stones (responsible for most of Manchester City’s errors) and Luke Shaw (out of favour at United). Roll on Euro 2020...
England U23 team: Jordan Pickford (Sunderland); Calum Chambers (Middlesbrough), Joe Gomez (Liverpool), John Stones (Man City), Luke Shaw (Man Utd); Eric Dier (Tottenham), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal); Raheem Sterling (Man City), Dele Alli (Tottenham), Ross Barkley (Everton); Harry Kane (Tottenham).
Prepare to be depressed, England fans.
This French U23 team could feasibly challenge for the 2018 World Cup on their own. Monaco newcomers Kylian Mbappe, Thomas Lemar and Benjamin Mendy may only have one cap between them, but their exploits in Ligue 1 and the Champions League puts their combined price tag comfortably beyond €100 million. Throw in a Clasico defensive partnership of Raphael Varane and Samuel Umtiti and it’s quite clear that France are set to take down global football. The days of Olivier Giroud are over.
Oh, and just to rub it in, the French decided to submit a ‘reserve’ team containing Monaco lynchpin Tiemoue Bakayoko, football’s most decorated youngster Kingsley Coman, and Celtic striking sensation Moussa Dembele. Leave us alone.
England can look at the German attack and think ‘yep, we’ve got you matched’. The Sterling-Alli-Barkley axis may be slightly inferior to Draxler-Goretzka-Sane, but Kane is a superior striker to Timo Werner.
That’s where the joy ends, though.
Joshua Kimmich will soon welcome Niklas Sule to Bayern Munich, with the 21-year-old poised to switch to the German giants in 2017, while Jonathan Tah and Benjamin Henrichs have established themselves in the Bayer Leverkusen defence. Still, it’s hard to not view this outfit with surprise – it is not as strong as previous incarnations.
He may only have two caps, but Gianluigi Donnarumma is already predicted to rival Gianluigi Buffon’s haul of 167 (and counting). The 18-year-old – yep, really – has established himself as AC Milan’s number one and should have fine protection with club team-mate Alessio Romagnoli and Juventus’ Daniele Rugani, both fine talents, in front of him.
Less is known about their attack, with their current squad containing players aged 24 and over, but all the good Italian outfits have been built on defence and the latest crop shows no sign of breaking that tradition.
Spain are building their young army on their own shores… with one exception: Hector Bellerin. However, the Arsenal man may not be in the Premier League for long, as Wednesday’s Euro Papers explains (below).