Pearce plays up English strengths

Under-21 manager says Spain hold no fears in his side's opening European Championship game

Whatever formula Stuart Pearce and his coaches have devised for the latest collision between English and Spanish footballing culture in Denmark tonight is being kept close to the three lions on their chest. Were Jack Wilshere here, there might be a clue, for the most gifted player of his generation recently advised Manchester Unitedthat from his own experiences with Arsenal against Barcelona, the answer was to "get in their faces".

Alas, Wilshere was persuaded by his club that taking part in the Euro-pean Under-21 Championship could damage his health, diminishing England's chances of only a third successin more than 100 official Uefa and Fifa tournaments. Whether United ever intended to implement his proposal was not clear either, since after a promising start in the Champions' League final, their problem lay in coming within anything like tacklingdistance of a Barcelona player.

Such hints as have been dropped, however, suggest a broadly counterattacking approach with lessons learnt about not giving the ball away cheaply, as well as relying on more traditional virtues such as set-plays and physical power.

"To try to ask an individual to play a Spanish style or an Italian style, or even an Italian player to play an English way, is not workable," Pearce said after a training session in Herning yesterday. "You have to understand the strengths that you have within your squad and that's what we've continually tried to do. That's why we're ranked number one in Europe, because the players are comfortable in the team shape, and they also see a benefit for themselves, both in their performance and pushingon to the senior England side."

Pearce's popular image does not do him justice. The emotionally charged celebration after his successful penaltyin the shoot-out against the Spanish at Euro '96 and the very nickname "Psycho" obscure a thoughtful approach to coaching and preparation. On the other hand, that approach has not convinced him that an international manager can or should change the essential attributes of the group under his wing in the limited time available. The other relevant point at this level is that the physical strength and athletic ability of hardened young British players can often count for more than in the senior game.

So it was significant that after mentioning yesterday how much he admired Spanish football, Pearce felt obliged to point out England's record against them in the various age-groups. "They are an exciting nation at the moment. They have talented players, [but] last time we came up against Spain we beat them 2-0. I think our Under-17s turned them over, our Under-19s drew with them. So our recent record is not bad."

It is reasonable to assume that the same message has been conveyed to the players. West Ham's James Tomkins said: "We have to concentrate on our own qualities and where we can get goals. We're working hard at set-pieces, which are going to be important in this tournament. But technically, we're underestimated. They just see us as big people who can't play football."

A few minutes later, the little Aston Villa winger Marc Albrighton was saying: "I don't think many countries have got the passion and the hard work that England possess. Defensively we can get at them, definitely."

Albrighton is one of several wide players in a fully fit squad hoping for a start this evening. Scott Sinclair, Danny Rose and Tom Cleverley are others, while Daniel Sturridge was impressive in pulling out to the right in the final warm-up match against Norway on Sunday.

The composition of the defence is easier to predict, with the only question mark at right-back. Michael Mancienne, the oldest player in the squad – he qualifies for this tournament by only seven days – has been playing there as well as wearing the captain's armband, but Kyle Walker has now dropped down from the seniors to threaten his place. Mancienne may move into midfield as a holding playeralongside Fabrice Muamba, which would almost certainly mean Jordan Henderson completing the tight midfield trio and Jack Rodwell losing out.

Pearce is adamant that he will be no respecter of reputations or transferfees: "I treat them all the same. I have to pick a team of 11; outside of that there will be disappointed people."

The same, of course, applies to Spain, whose squad can boast half-a- dozen Barcelona players as well as three defenders already lured abroad. David de Gea, the goalkeeper expected to leave Atletico Madrid for Manchester United after the tournament, has recovered from a finger injury. Juan Mata and Javi Martinez played as substitutes in the winning World Cup squad last year, while Bojan Krkic and Thiago Alcantara were on the bench at Wembley for Barcelona.

The defender Mikel San Jose, one of Rafael Benitez's less successful Spanish acquisitions for Liverpool – he was subsequently sold back to Bilbao – joined the style council yesterday, suggesting: "The Premier League is more physical but in the Spanish League we play with more quality. I expect England to play the same way as they do in the Premier League, with strength and speed, and we haveto be thinking fast to cope Both technique and strength are vital."

The team that marry the two most shrewdly tonight are likely to win, though as the most important factor is always not to lose the opening game, neither country would be too upset by taking a single point into the battles to come later this week.

England (probable, 4-3-3): Fielding (Derby); Walker (Tottenham), Jones (Blackburn), Smalling (Manchester United), Bertrand (Chelsea); Henderson (Liverpool), Mancienne (Hamburg), Muamba (Bolton); Sturridge (Chelsea), Welbeck (Manchester United), Sinclair (Swansea).

England Under-21s v Spain is on Sky Sports 1 this evening, kick-off 7.45pm

Sport
football This was Kane’s night, even if he played just a small part of it
Travel
travel Dreamland Margate, Britain’s oldest amusement park, is set to reopen
News
news
News
Founders James Brown and Tim Southwell with a mock-up of the first ever ‘Loaded’ magazine in 1994
media
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Threlfall says: 'I am a guardian of the reality keys. I think I drive directors nuts'
people
Voices
voices The group has just unveiled a billion dollar plan to help nurse the British countryside back to health
News
The Westgate, a gay pub in the centre of Gloucester which played host to drag queens, has closed
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

The saffron censorship that governs India

Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

How did fandom get so dark?

Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

Disney's mega money-making formula

'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

Lobster has gone mainstream

Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

14 best Easter decorations

Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

Paul Scholes column

Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss