FEATURE: England’s road to Russia – The Strikers.
Usually for England, four or five strikers make the squad for tournament football. In recent times however, England have been blessed with numerous versatile forwards who have been largely deployed out wide supporting Wayne Rooney, as opposed to the traditional lone target man.
Approaching Russia, Harry Kane is England’s undisputed first choice striker. The options around him are where the interesting selections will lie for Southgate.
World Cup 2014
Wayne Rooney, Daniel Sturridge, Danny Welbeck and Rickie Lambert travelled to Brazil as England’s strikers. Jay Rodriguez was well placed to take one of those places but suffered a long-term cruciate injury just two months before.
Lambert played only once more after the World Cup and Sturridge and Welbeck have struggled with injury. Factor in Wayne Rooney’s decline despite his recent move to Everton and it becomes clear that the attack is the area that England’s squad has changed most drastically over the last three years.
Since the embarrassing group stage exit, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford have emerged from their respective academies, Jamie Vardy has emerged from non-league and Jermain Defoe has returned from exile.
Choosing his attackers will likely be Southgate’s hardest decision. Increased competition is no doubt a good dilemma to have, but with Rooney likely to play in midfield if he goes, any of the following strikers could realistically hope to be in with a chance of a place on the plane to Russia in 2018.
Harry Kane (Tottenham Hotspur, 19 caps)
75 Premier League goals in the last three seasons alone have got England fans excited again. Kane’s complete all round game is perfect for an England team begging for a striker playing alone through the middle with fast wide men either side. A poor showing at Euro 2016 will only have sharpened his focus for next summer.
Daniel Sturridge (Liverpool, 25 caps)
Since Luis Suarez left Anfield, Sturridge hasn’t managed to pass eight goals in a single season. He has managed to remain on Gareth Southgate’s radar however, scoring against Malta and Scotland last Autumn. He has a head start in the race to Russia, but another disappointing season may not see him forgiven.
Jamie Vardy (Leicester City, 16 caps)
There are few stories like Jamie Vardy’s, from non-league to the Premier League title in four years, a back heel goal against Germany along the way standing out in the memory. He certainly offers something different to the other options, but he will be 31 next summer and Leicester will likely not be challenging at the top of the table again.
Marcus Rashford (Manchester United, 9 caps)
Rashford was a shock inclusion in England’s Euro 2016 squad after breaking through at Old Trafford just months before. Another solid season followed, but he must show signs of further progress this coming season to cement his place in the squad. At just 19, he must still only be considered a future prospect at this stage.
Jermain Defoe (AFC Bournemouth, 57 caps)
After a four-year exile from International football, Defoe came back with a vengeance against Lithuania, taking just 21 minutes to get back amongst the goals. He offers experience of tournaments as well as lethal finishing ability, but he will be 35 next summer. After the disappointment of missing out in 2014 and 2016, he will be determined to force his way there with a big season for Bournemouth.
Danny Welbeck (Arsenal, 34 caps)
Forgotten man Welbeck has already played in two tournaments for the Three Lions, despite missing Euro 2016 through injury. He does not have the ability of Harry Kane, the pace of Jamie Vardy or the clinical finishing of Jermain Defoe, but he has consistently performed well for England when relied upon. If Southgate is looking for a versatile back up for Harry Kane, able to play out wide, Welbeck could still get the nod, despite not getting many games for Arsenal.
Andy Carroll is an exciting option to have when fit, but question marks remain over his somewhat one-dimensional play. Jay Rodriguez, Danny Ings and Charlie Austin will all be hoping for big seasons after injuries, while Callum Wilson is in a similar boat. You cannot yet discount forgotten man Saido Berahino, who was actually called up to the senior squad as early as 2014, but has not made an appearance to date after going somewhat off the rails.
Young lions Tammy Abraham and Dominic Solanke are likely to be given chances to shine after leaving Chelsea and seem to be the most likely to emerge next season.
Written by Sam Hanys.