Under-21 European Championship Preview & Betting Tips: Big players for the big occasion

17:00/Jun 16

Sports betting writer Bradley Gibbs takes a look at the upcoming under-21 European Championships in Poland.

As the under-20 World Cup is now a thing of the past, it’s time for Europe’s best under-21 teams to come together in Poland for the 2017 renewal of the under-21 Euros.

Having seen their younger compatriots lift the aforementioned World Cup less than a week ago, England’s under-21 side will be hoping to follow up with victory in Poland, although, with the strength in depth possessed by some of the other nations, they might just struggle to do so. Having said that, at 10/1, there will be plenty of punters who’re fancying the English to take this tournament.

Big three in the betting

Unsurprisingly, as arguably the three biggest footballing nations at this tournament, Spain, Germany and Italy are the trio currently vying for favouritism at the head of outright market. As things stand, the Spanish are favourites at 7/2 and, given their squad, it’s hard to argue with this. With players such as Gianluigi Donnarumma, Federico Bernardeschi, Mahmoud Dahoud and Serge Gnabry in their ranks, neither Italy nor Germany lack quality but, in terms of sheer experience at the highest level, Spain’s squad looks by far the deepest. From head to toe, the Spanish possess players who’ve been valuable assets to their top tier clubs over the last season or so and such strength in depth could be the difference at this tournament.

Spain stand alone in terms of quality in depth

Considering we’re talking about under-21 football, Spain’s 23-man squad really is full of players who’re massive names at this level. What’s more, Albert Celades appears to have assembled a squad with has key players in all critical areas of the pitch. Apart from perhaps Italy’s Donnarumma, Kepa Arrizabalaga, who comes off the back of almost a full season for Athletic Bilbao in La Liga, is the most experience keeper at this tournament while likely starting full-backs Héctor Bellerín and José Gayà have gained plenty of experience in recent Premier League and La Liga seasons with Arsenal and Valencia respectively. In the centre, Jesús Vallejo, who’s just returned to Real Madrid after a successful loan spell with Frankfurt in the Bundesliga, is another big addition. The defender was a key part of Frankfurt’s relative success last season and looks as though he could be about to star for the current Spanish champions in the near future. Add in the fact that other defensive inclusions Jonny and Jorge Meré both featured prominently in La Liga last season and Spain’s defensive contingent looks very useful indeed.

The defensive third is just the start, it is further up the pitch where this squad really begins to catch they eye. Depending on how they line up, Spain could feature a midfield that is comprised solely of players who’ve played regularly for La Liga’s top three clubs over the past season. Both Denis Suárez and Marco Asensio have caught the eye for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively and, considering that they’ve slotted in seamlessly alongside some of the world’s best players in recent times, could very easily have a devastating effect at this level. Other notable inclusions are AC Milan’s Gerard Deulofeu and Real Betis’ Dani Ceballos – both of these tricky midfielders were key players during qualifying while both enjoyed strong ends to the season at club level.

If the players mentioned above weren’t enough, the best is yet to come. In captain Saúl Ñíguez, Spain have in the heart of their midfield a player who is undoubtedly the most high profile (and most experienced in terms of playing at the highest level) at this tournament. Over the last two seasons, Saúl has been a vital cog in Diego Simeone’s Atletico machine and has provided a combination of energy, creativity and goals in both La Liga and the Champions League in doing so. With 15 goals spread across two seasons in both the Champions League and the Spanish top flight, Ñíguez has proven himself to be a big player and the 22-year-old could act as the catalyst for Spanish success in Poland this summer.

It’s one thing having a useful back-line and midfielders who’re going to provide the service, but all good teams need forward players to make the difference by scoring goals. Fortunately for Spain, they’re not short in this area either. The aforementioned Deulofeu and Asensio are players who’re highly adept at providing quality in the final third while the frighteningly quick Iñaki Williams adds yet another dimension. However, the most eye-catching addition in the forward areas in Malaga’s Sandro Ramírez. Having left Barcelona in search of regular football last summer, the 21-year-old managed to come up with some big goals for Malaga by finding the net with regularity in La Liga during the regular season, scoring a total of 14 goals in just 26 starts. With a whole host of creative players behind him, it would take a brave man to bet against Sandro continuing his scoring form at these finals.

For all their quality on paper, it’s worth noting that Spain didn’t exactly breeze through the qualification campaign but they did make it through regardless. With several players making the cut thanks to standout performances during the second half of the domestic campaign, there have been a number of positive alterations to the squad since their place at these finals was confirmed and it’s fair to say that Spain U21’s are looking as strong as ever.

Even though there are a number of decent teams at this tournament, all of which boast at least a couple of highly talented youngsters, Spain’s squad really does look a cut above. Even as favourites, at 7/2, these young Spaniards, many of whom really wouldn’t look out of place at a major first team tournament, look a decent price and are fancied to confirm themselves as the big boys of European under-21 football by lifting the trophy.

More under-21 tips can be found here.

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Under-21 European Championship
16.06.2017 17:00 BST
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