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

News
people

Harry Potter actor suffered 'severe flu-like symptoms' on a flight from London to Orlando

Sport
Kim Sears is reported to have directed abuse at Berdych
tennis
News
news

Rap music mogul accused of running two men over in his truck

News
Gywneth Paltrow proposed that women seek out a special herbal steam-treatment service
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
film
Arts and Entertainment
tv

First full-length look is finally here

Voices
A mother and her child
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Peppa Pig wearing her golden boots
film

"Oink! Oink! Hee hee hee!" First interview with the big-screen star

Life and Style
tech

Biohacking group hopes technology will lead people to think about even more dystopian uses

Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Film director Martin Scorsese
film
News
news

The party's potential nominations read like a high school race for student body president

Voices
The veterans Mark Hayward, Hugh Thompson and Sean Staines (back) with Grayson Perry (front left) and Evgeny Lebedev
charity appealMaverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Sport
bottom
Arts and Entertainment
Cold case: Aaron McCusker and Christopher Eccleston in ‘Fortitude’
tvReview: Sky Atlantic's ambitious new series Fortitude has begun with a feature-length special
Voices
Three people wearing masks depicting Ed Miliband, David Cameron and Nick Clegg
voicesPolitics is in the gutter – but there is an alternative, says Nigel Farage
Caption competition
Caption competition
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

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee