With the European U21 Championships kicking off this Sunday in Italy, the hosts know that they face a tough task to negotiate a difficult group draw including Belgium, Poland and, most notably, Spain.
We take a look at the highest rated player from each side based on performances in Europe’s top five leagues last season.
BELGIUM – Dodi Lukebakio (Fortuna Dusseldorf) – 6.82
Watford fans should keep a keen eye on Lukebakio this summer with the Belgian spending last season on loan from the Hornets in the Bundesliga with Dusseldorf. The 21-year-old scored ten league goals and registered a further three assists having started 22 of 31 appearances, with the highlight undoubtedly a hat-trick at the Allianz Arena against Bayern.
ITALY – Lorenzo Pellegrini (Roma) – 7.00
A regular for the Azzurri senior team, amassing ten international caps, Pellegrini looks sure to start in an incredibly strong Italy midfield. The Roma star created 2.9 chances per 90 minutes in Serie A last season, with that figure jumping to a tournament high of 4.4 in the Champions League.
POLAND – Dawid Kownacki (Fortuna Dusseldorf) – 6.73
Set to line up against former teammate Lukebakio in the tournament opener, Kownacki spent the second half of last season in the Bundesliga on loan from Sampdoria. The 22-year-old – who was the leading scorer in qualifying for the tournament (11 goals) – netted four times in ten appearances for Dusseldorf, playing primarily from the left flank.
SPAIN – Fabian Ruiz (Napoli) – 7.25
Forced to bide his time for a place in the Napoli side after a summer switch from Real Betis, by the end of the campaign Ruiz was a star performer for the Serie A runners-up. Utilised across the midfield, scoring five goals and registering four assists in 27 appearances, the 23-year-old’s form earned him a senior call up, making his debut as a substitute just last week. Only four players created more chances from open play (62) in Italy’s top-flight last season despite the fact Ruiz started just 20 games.