England Under 21s March 2015
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Coral’s England Under-21 team at 2015 UEFA European Championship

| 23.04.2015

It’s St George’s Day, and to celebrate the patron saint of England, Coral football experts thought we would revisit how bright the future is for homegrown heroes.

As the Young Lions qualified for a fifth straight UEFA Under-21 European Championship, we got thinking about what Gareth Southgate’s best XI could be?

If a footballer is born on or since January 1st 1992 then they are eligible to play at the tournament finals (England are 5/1 to win it) in the Czech Republic. This could potentially include some big names, which we have assembled into a mouth-watering roster.

Goalkeeper: Jack Butland (Stoke)
Soccer - International Under 21 Friendly - England v Portugal - Turf Moor

The Potters stopper should be the undisputed number one for the Young Lions. Fulham goalie Marcus Bettinelli and Watford understudy keeper Jonathan Bond will likely provide cover for Butland.

Right back: Calum Chambers (Arsenal)
Soccer - Under-21 International - Czech Republic U21 v England U21 - Generali Arena

Although Eric Dier has demonstrated a set piece threat since arriving at Spurs from Sporting Lisbon, he may deputise behind Arsenal counterpart Chambers. Carl Jenkinson has impressed on loan at West Ham United, though, so competition for this berth looks pretty cut-throat.

Centre back: John Stones (Everton)
Soccer - International Friendly - England v Norway - Wembley Stadium

Everton boss Roberto Martinez rates Stones highly, allowing him to displace French veteran Sylvain Distin, and so do the England set-up. West Bromwich Albion loanee Andre Wisdom would be another option with utility.

Centre back: Phil Jones (Manchester United)
Soccer - UEFA Euro 2016 - Qualifying - Group E - England v Lithuania - Wembley Stadium

It seems as though this ex-Blackburn Rovers ball-winner has been young forever. Jones is still just 22, however, and could be a candidate to skipper Southgate’s Young Lions. The versatile theme keeps on going with Leicester City prodigy Liam Moore, while Nottingham Forest’s Jamaal Lascelles should be playing Premier League football next term regardless of potential Reds promotion, as Newcastle United now own him.

Left back: Luke Shaw (Manchester United)
Soccer - Luke Shaw File Photo

Tournament experience would do the man earmarked as the future senior England left back a lot of good. Shaw was briefly exposed to this at the World Cup in Brazil, but would benefit from being a starter.

Liverpool’s Jon Flanagan can play on either flank of defence alternatively, though has been dogged by injuries this term. Others in with a chance are Everton youngster Luke Garbutt and Southampton teenager Matt Targett.

Midfield and wide areas have huge strength in depth; there are four players for each position, so we don’t envy Southgate in terms of selection. Our choices below are all established senior England stars, but others could easily get the nod if Hodgson wants to rest or use our foursome.

Right wing: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)
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We felt sorry for the Ox, who had to watch from the sidelines in Brazil after his injury just before the World Cup. Some active tournament experience as a regular starter would be welcome.

Southampton product James Ward-Prowse is the latest in the long line of ones to watch on the south coast, while Wilfried Zaha is resurrecting his career at Crystal Palace, having returned home from Manchester United.

Central midfield: Ross Barkley (Everton)
Soccer - International Friendly - Italy v England - Juventus Stadium

Goodison Park prize asset Barkley would be brilliant at an Under-21 tournament, as his creativity could be harnessed to great effect.

Swansea City’s Jonjo Shelvey is still eligible at this level, while temporary teammate Tom Carroll (on loan at the Liberty from Tottenham) has been hailed as the new Luka Modric.

Central midfield: Jack Wilshere (Arsenal)
Soccer - UEFA Euro 2016 - Qualifying - Group E - England v San Marino - Wembley

As he was born on the cut-off day, Wilshere is free to go to this tournament. His all-round game, provided he’s fully fit, would be invaluable to England at any level.

Chelsea-owned holding player Nathaniel Chalobah has had spells this season at Burnley and FA Cup semi-finalists Reading. Southgate may also like the guile of emerging Derby County force Will Hughes.

Left wing: Raheem Sterling (Liverpool)
Soccer - UEFA Euro 2016 - Qualifying - Group E - England v Lithuania - Wembley Stadium

Either out wide or in an advanced midfield role, the searing, raw pace of Sterling should slaughter defences at this level. Enough said. Norwich City’s Nathan Redmond is catching the eye in the Championship, while Tom Ince remains eligible and has enjoyed a prolific loan spell at Derby County.

Striker: Saido Berahino (West Brom)
Soccer - UEFA Euro 2015 Under 21's - Qualifying - Pool One - England U21's v Lithuania U21's - Portman Road

Bearing the scoring burden of a struggling Baggies side only stands this emerging talent in good stead. Berahino was also instrumental in getting the Young Lions to the finals, as he was Southgate’s top scorer in qualifying with 10.

Burnley’s Danny Ings is almost in double figures during his maiden Premier League campaign, though there’s also Championship Player of the Year Patrick Bamford to consider after an impressive spell at Middlesbrough.

Striker: Harry Kane (Tottenham)
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Leading Spurs light under Mauricio Pochettino, Kane scored 30 goals this term, and previously formed a potent partnership with Berahino. Seven strikes en route to the finals, including home and away against Croatia in the play-offs, is an impressive return.

Sunderland’s Connor Wickham also scored important goals to save the Wearside outfit from relegation last term, and he remains eligible.



Jamie Clark

Athletics aficionado, die-hard snooker fan and Crystal Palace supporter Jamie has written for Coral since February 2014 after spells with Soccerlens and the Press Association as a digital journalist and copywriter. A former East Midlands sports correspondent and Bwin tipster, he is a graduate of both the University of York and University of Sheffield, with a Masters in web journalism from the latter.