FC Copenhagen youngster Ludwig Augustinsson fanned the flames ahead of England Under-21’s crunch European Championship group fixture against Sweden, and it’s fair to say he has a point.
Gareth Southgate’s side are still as short as 6/1 to reign supreme in the Czech Republic, despite failing to see off Portugal (13/4 second favourites) in their first Group B outing, and having missed out on qualification to the latter stages in their past two tournaments, albeit under old boss Stuart Pearce.
Sweden, on the other hand, saw off Italy 2-1 in their Andruv Stadion opener, and Augustinsson and co are now unbeaten in eight games going back to last October, leading the emboldened left-back to talk England down ahead of the Olomouc encounter:
“A little overrated, I think they are sometimes.
“Some players go for such sick amounts of money in England and it is a bit more expensive than what they are worth.
“To take an example, Germany is a much better squad. We’ll see tomorrow how good they are.”
Fighting talk indeed, but while the 21-year-old questioning the potential future value, particularly within England, of the likes of John Stones, Nathan Redmond, Saido Berahino and Harry Kane is fair, the gap in quality and experience between the two squads looks big enough to recommend Southgate’s men at 17/20.
English players come with a Premier League premium because of home-grown rules, but even without injured pair Stones and Berahino, the Young Lions have Redmond, Kane, Danny Ings, James Ward-Prowse, Carl Jenkinson and Tom Carroll in their armoury, all of whom are on their way to becoming seasoned top-flight fixtures.
Captain Jack Butland could be Stoke’s number one next season if Asmir Begovic leaves, as looks likely, after the 22-year-old turned out three times between the Potters’ sticks in May.
With a support act including Manchester United’s Jesse Lingard, Derby’s Will Hughes, Everton’s Luke Garbutt and £16m Arsenal man Calum Chambers, there’s cause for optimism in the England camp, after conjuring up 18 chances to Portugal’s 14 last time out.
Sweden don’t really look in the same class; skipper Oscar Hiljemark was dropped by PSV three games into the last Eredivisie campaign, and didn’t start again all term for the eventual Dutch champions, having been injured between mid-September and late January.
Vice-captain Alexander Milosevic is suspended after being sent off against Italy, meaning Victor Nilsson-Lindelof, of Benfica’s second team, comes in.
Italy were not fancied pre-tournament, while Portugal certainly were, and England hardly disgraced themselves against the Esperancas. Back them to put it right.