England Under-21s will be aiming to win the Toulon Tournament, which gets underway tomorrow, for a third consecutive time and there is plenty of Chelsea involvement in this year’s competition, with representation in both the Young Lions and Scotland squads.
The tournament has been kind to England in recent times and a nation which have experienced huge success across the younger age groups over the last few years will be confident of finishing as champions once again.
The selection criteria dictates that only players born in 1997 and beyond are eligible to be picked, meaning certain individuals who would usually be involved at Under-21 level are unavailable.
Jake Clarke-Salter and Fikayo Tomori [pictured below], who were part of the England Under-20 World Cup-winning team last June, have been joined in Aidy Boothroyd’s squad by Chelsea team-mates Tammy Abraham and Jay Dasilva, with those two players going into the tournament off the back of productive loan spells.
Striker Abraham embarked upon his first Premier League move and spent the season at Swansea, where he made 31 appearances and scored five goals, with his early-season form earning him a senior England debut, while left-back Dasilva picked up the Player of the Year award for Charlton Athletic, who reached the League One play-offs.
Having enjoyed a brilliant maiden campaign in the Chelsea Academy, where he helped our Under 18s win four trophies, young midfielder Billy Gilmour [pictured below scoring in the FA Youth Cup final] has been called into the Scotland Under-21 squad for the first time. Harvey St Clair, who was a key performer for our Under-19s as they reached the final of the UEFA Youth League, has also been selected by manager Scott Gemmill.
This year’s tournament follows a simple format. The 12 participating teams have been split into three groups of four and will play each other once, with the three group winners, along with the best second-placed team, progressing to the semi-finals.
England have been drawn in Group A and their game against China tomorrow kicks the competition off. The Young Lions will then play Mexico on Tuesday, before completing their group fixtures against Qatar on Friday.
Scotland, who were beaten by England at the semi-final stage a year ago, are in Group B and face Togo in their opener on Sunday with matches against France, on Wednesday, and South Korea next Saturday, to follow. Group C is made up of Canada, Japan, Portugal and Turkey.
Those Chelsea players involved this year will be hoping to follow in the footsteps of some of our players who have caught the eye at the tournament in recent times, in particular Ruben Loftus-Cheek and Lewis Baker in 2016.
The two Chelsea midfielders were superb throughout and both scored in the final, a 2-1 win over hosts France, as England were crowned champions for the first time since 1994.
Loftus-Cheek impressed to such an extent he picked up the Player of the Tournament award, while Baker finished finished with the Golden Boot after scoring four goals. Kasey Palmer was also part of that squad, as were Nathaniel Chalobah and John Swift, who have both since departed the club.
Five of our players - Josh Grant, Reece James, Tariq Uwakwe, Martell Taylor-Crossdale and Ike Ugbo – were part of the England team which triumphed a year ago courtesy of a penalty-shoot-out win over Ivory Coast in the final and they were guided by a familiar face in the shape of Joe Edwards, our development squad manager, who was part of the coaching backroom team.
Having scored England’s winning goal in their opening game against Angola, Ugbo was also on target from the spot in the trophy-clinching shoot-out, while Taylor-Crossdale scored twice during the tournament in wins over Cuba and Japan.
Ruben Sammut, meanwhile, was part of a Scotland team who impressed during last year’s competition. The Chelsea midfielder started as they produced a superb display to beat Brazil 1-0 and they finished third overall after beating Czech Republic 3-0 in a play-off for the beaten semi-finalists.
The final of this year’s competition takes place in Martigues on Saturday 9 June.