1. Danny Welbeck- Last season was one of real advancement in the career of Manchester United striker Danny Welbeck. After performing well in only a handful of appearances for United, Welbeck was sent on loan to Sunderland, where for the first part of the season he formed part of a dangerous attacking triumvirate, made up of himself as well as Darren Bent and Asamoah Gyan.
At the U21 Euros, Welbeck was England’s only goalscorer, finishing well against Spain, and then having his potentially crucial goal against the Czech Republic wiped out by a late blitz. Forming a solid partnership with Danny Sturridge, Welbeck caused defenses problems with his mazy dribbles and fine interplay. Many seem to think that the Englishman will get more of a chance at United next season, and if he continues from where he left off against the Czechs, then he may well earn further first team opportunities.
2. Phil Jones- There is definitely a case to be made that Phil Jones’ reputation has been a little inflated since news of him move to Manchester United came through, however, he was one of England’s strongest performers against the Czechs. Forging a very effective partnership with Chris Smalling, Jones looked strong in the air, composed in the dribble and aggressive in the tackle. If the Smalling-Jones axis continues to succeed, then it is one that we could see feature very prominently for both United and England.
Captain on the night against the Czechs, Jones led by example, communicating well with the other members of his defense, and clearly committing totally to the England cause. Unfortunately, Jones and England were beaten by a pair of late goals, leaving a heart broken ex Blackburn defender to return home and prepare for what is likely to be a crucial season in the young man’s career.
3. Chris Smalling- It might seem strange that this list is made up of three players from a team that yesterday exited the tournament but, in all honesty, England’s 2-1 loss to the Czech Republic was their best performance of the finals by quite some way. As mentioned above, the Jones-Smalling axis in defense was crucial to the Lions success for the first eighty-eight minutes of the game, the pair were both very effective at shutting down star Czech Republic striker Kozak.
Smalling’s control of the ball at the back was particularly stunning, he looked every bit like a new Rio Ferdinand, calmly dribbling the ball forward, and spraying accurate passes to all parts of the pitch. Smalling’s performance at the Championships proved that his opening season at United was no fluke, Chris Smalling is definitely the real deal.
4. Juan Mata- For those of you bored of hearing me wax lyrical about Valencia midfielder Mata, look away now. After appearing in the Days 3,4 and 5 List, Mata has returned for more, he was simply brilliant against Ukraine. After playing the part of “mister assist” for the first two games, Mata finally got a couple goals of his own, slotting home from close range before netting a penalty later on. Neither goal was particularly difficult to take, but both were converted with consummate ease, earning Mata a place on the list and Spain a place in the semi finals.
With players like Mata, Herrera, Adrian and Thiago in tow, there is no doubt that Spain are now run away favorites to win the U21 European Championships, like the senior team they keep the ball for minutes at a time, and finally they seem to have discovered a goalscoring touch.
5. Lukas Marecek- After defeating England, the Czech Republic will advance to the semi finals, and their future from then on will depend a lot on the form of players like captain Borek Dockal and inspirational midfielder Lukas Marecek. For a period in the first half, Marecek was everywhere, dictating play when the Czechs were in possession and closing down England when they were not. Marecek seems to have an astute understanding of the geometry of central midfield, his short passing was clever and his movement excellent.
Since signing in 2010, Marecek has only made a handful of appearances for Belgian club Anderlecht, but after his fine performance against England, that could be about to change next season.