England take on their Italian counterparts in a crunch European Under-21 Championship encounter on Wednesday, but which team shades the battles in each area of the pitch?
Marc Saba, co-founder of fantasy football site Football Fanager, runs the rule over the key players as the Young Lions gun for a semi-final spot.
Goalkeepers – Butland v Bardi
Stoke stopper Jack Butland struggled for first team game time last season, much like Chievo’s Inter-loanee Francesco Bardi. However, the latter picked has picked up some valuable Serie B experience in recent seasons and has now been recalled to his parent club ahead of the new season. It bodes well for a breakthrough season, and the Italian shades this battle against an impressive but inexperienced Butland.
Winner: Francesco Bardi, Italy
Defenders – Gibson v Romagnoli
Alessio Romagnoli, the 20-year-old Sampdoria centre-half on loan from Roma, was in encouraging form this season, picking up his first goals in Serie A as his side finished a decent 7th in the league. However, Ben Gibson, despite plying his trade in the Championship last season, has become an important player for Middlesbrough and his star shines brightly. It has to be the Englishman in this key battle in what will be a tight game.
Winner: Ben Gibson, England
Midfielders – Ward-Prowse v Benassi
An area where England can really take the upper hand. Ward-Prowse adds real vigour to a strong England midfield, having done the same for Southampton throughout the season. Italy, who’ve played a midfield three so far in the tournament, have little to call on. Benassi – who has been a fringe player at best at Torino – is discovering that he’s probably better suited to a lower level of football.
Winner: James Ward-Prowse, England
Italy – Kane v Berardi
Tottenham Hotspur striker Harry Kane caused waves, if not tsunamis, in English football this year. He passed the 30-goal mark, captained Spurs and was voted PFA Player of the Year in a stellar season. However, his opponent also has an impressive track record. Currently on loan at Serie A minnows Sassuolo from giants Juventus, he was the side’s leading scorer with 15 goals, just five behind the likes of Carlos Tevez. It’s close, but let’s go for Kane.
Winner: Harry Kane, England
Football Fanager is a fantasy football game that opened to public last June in time for the World Cup. Based in Livingston, Scotland the platform has over 25,000 subscribers playing for cash awards and a variety of prizes ranging from signed memorabilia to full Champion’s League final experience with travel, accommodation and match day tickets.
It allows football fans, whether die-hard or more casual fans, to prove their managerial skills in head-2-head battles, private and public leagues.
Currently Football Fanager offers leagues linked to the five major European leagues (English Premier League, French Ligue 1, German Bundesliga, Italian Serie A and Spanish La Liga) as well as the Champion’s League and major international competitions. More will follow for the 2015-2016 season.
Football Fanager is to become the place of choice for people wishing to demonstrate their managerial skills at football, for fun or for cash, against friends or versus unknown passionate football fans.
Who do you think will win the European Under-21 Championship match England v Italy? Let us know in the comments section below or on our Twitter and Facebook pages.