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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
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

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor