England have stumbled upon something of a golden period for strikers given they can call upon two of the Premier League’s most lethal finishers at the World Cup in Russia. Gone are the days where England were forced to call upon Emile Heskey and Andy Carroll at major tournaments; in Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy, Gareth Southgate has players that would terrify any defence in the world. Yet in typical England fashion, you can have too much of a good thing. Just like England struggling to find a way to accommodate Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard in the same side, Southgate faces a conundrum to devise a system that maximises both players’ abilities.
Southgate’s variations on a 3-5-2 inherently lend itself to a strike partnership, but playing a traditional attacking duo would sacrifice the incisive dribbling of a man who has enjoyed a highly productive and successful domestic season, Raheem Sterling. Something, or someone, will have to give. While a string of managers failed to make the difficult choice between Lampard and Gerrard, Southgate has shown that he has the wherewithal and resolve to put the team before individual egos.
Much of the discussion of England’s prospects in Russia focused on Harry Kane, the one player in the squad who certainly has world-class abilities. Regularly prolific for Tottenham Hotspur and ranked among the leading contenders to finish the World Cup as top goalscorer, Kane provides a natural focal point both as a complete forward and influential captain. England are 1/8 to qualify from Group G with William Hill, perhaps more of an indictment of the perceived low quality of Tunisia and Panama rather than a comment on England’s strength. Yet if England are to make significant progress beyond the group stage, Southgate may have to make the counter-intuitive decision to drop Kane and select Vardy. Yes, we understand Kane scored both the goals in England’s win over Tunisia but or point still stands.
Vardy is a more volatile figure than Kane, with the latter a player who has become England’s everyman, appealing to fans of all teams (except maybe Arsenal). Yet Vardy offers blistering pace that can exploit defences that commit to a high line and that may become complacent in possession. Vardy also finishes consistently in a clinical fashion, with an unerring capability to lash the ball into the roof of the net beyond any keeper’s reach. Kane is obviously not too shabby in front of goal himself, but he requires far more shots to earn his goals.
Kane’s ability to consistently carve out opportunities is a testament to his mentality and to his approach play, but Tottenham are blessed with one of the finest creative midfielders in Christian Eriksen. Dele Alli has also been far more productive domestically than internationally. Against lowly opposition, Kane’s persistence and quality can pay dividends as was shown against Tunisia.
Against the better sides that England would be likely to face in the knockout rounds, England’s fortunes may depend on just one or two chances. That is why Southgate may have to go with the pace of Vardy to create something out of nothing. Kane wouldn’t like having to come off the bench, but he wouldn’t be a bad option to throw on if needed.
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