OPINION: Gareth Southgate faces tough choice selecting Harry Kane's England deputy

OPINION: Gareth Southgate faces tough choice selecting Harry Kane's England deputy
Gareth Southgate is likely to choose from one of three players to deputise for Harry Kane
Gareth Southgate is likely to choose from one of three players to deputise for Harry Kane
Harry Kane (30) will be England's captain and main focal point at this summer's European Championships, but at least three strikers are competing for a spot in the squad behind the Three Lions' star man.

One of Ollie Watkins, Ivan Toney or Dominic Solanke will be the favourite for that position in the pecking order - but manager Gareth Southgate has a big decision on his hands in the lead-up to the tournament.

If history is anything to go by, only two 'out-and-out' strikers will be included in the squad alongside several wingers and other forwards.

At the 2022 World Cup, the only recognised strikers were Kane and Callum Wilson - while at Euro 2020 it was Kane again with Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

For both tournaments, Marcus Rashford was seen as a third option through the middle should he be needed, although his minutes mainly came from the wing.

That should be the case again this summer, despite his poor club form with Manchester United.

That likely leaves one spot for a striker - but who will Southgate take to Germany?

What the stats say

Both Watkins and Solanke have excelled this season and while Toney hasn't had his chance to shine this term, he was the third top scorer in the league last time out behind Kane and Erling Haaland.

That generally bodes well for England, who have three quality options to choose from.

Watkins has perhaps performed at the highest level, leading the line for an Aston Villa side competing in Europe and for a top-four finish.

He has netted 19 goals and got 12 assists in all competitions so far, while also contributing to more goals in the Premier League than any other player (14G 10A) bar Mohamed Salah.

Watkins over the last two seasons

His overall game has improved under Unai Emery and is probably the closest to what Kane provides in terms of both scoring and creating chances.

Watkins averages just under a goal or assist every 90 minutes and is likely to have a big impact off the bench for the Three Lions - he can link up play while also offering a huge threat in front of goal.

Solanke has also netted 14 goals in the league this season, although has much less of a creative influence on a Bournemouth side pulling away from a relegation battle.

His main job is to put chances away and he has done that incredibly well in a side that doesn't always dominate games.

While not just a poacher, Solanke could offer something different for England later on in games if they need another body in the box.

Watkins v Solanke
Opta by StatsPerform / Profimedia

A bonus with the Bournemouth forward is that he has only ever missed one penalty in his career - something all too important when playing knockout football with England. In contrast, Watkins has missed five and only scored four.

The case of Toney is slightly different; Brentford's star man has only played a month of the current campaign after a lengthy ban for breaking FA betting rules.

Since his return, the striker has featured seven times and already scored four goals, but the real detail comes from last season.

Toney netted 20 goals in 33 league games last time out, while also providing four assists - his form helped guide the Bees to a top-half finish.

He also possesses something the other two might lack - a bit of a 'maverick' factor.

Toney can score a range of different types of goals and has often shown just how lethal he can be from anywhere in the final third, which might not be the case for Watkins and Solanke.

That sort of edge can't be underestimated at major international tournaments.

Outside factors

Unfortunately for Toney, as has been seen with Southgate's squad selection in the past, his off-the-field issues could well exclude him from the manager's thoughts completely.

Before being charged for breaching FA betting rules, many expected Toney to be in the squad for the 2022 World Cup - that call-up never came and news of his rule breaks came out not long after.

A similar situation occurred for James Maddison in 2019 - the midfielder pulled out of an England squad due to illness and was pictured in a casino on the night of a game.

Following that, he wasn't selected for the Three Lions again for another three years.

It feels like the only way Toney can avoid the same punishment is if he plays to a ridiculous level for the remainder of the campaign, but that's unlikely.

His eight-month ban not only affects his fitness, it also immediately gives him a mountain to climb if he wants to go to the European Championships.

Wildcard options

Aside from the three players focused on, there are a couple of wildcard options that Southgate may consider.

Wilson faces a race against time to get fit and back in form if he were to make the squad, although it seems unlikely that he will manage to play his way into the manager's thoughts.

Never count him out, though, as we have seen on multiple occasions how Southgate likes to keep the core of his side together.

PL top scorers
Opta by StatsPerform / AFP

Another option could be West Ham's Jarrod Bowen - who has often found himself playing through the middle for the Hammers this season.

That has proved to be a positive change too, with the forward also netting 14 league goals.

After those two come the likes of Calvert-Lewin and Eddie Nketiah who aren't realistic options at this point.

The best fit

Of the three strikers considered, Watkins is the standout option for what he brings in both goals and assists - as well as the fact he is competing to a higher standard than both Solanke and Toney.

He offers more with his all-round game and would help England to play in a variety of different ways come Euro 2024.

It's also important to consider that he has been selected for England in the last two international breaks and will likely feature again in March - giving him another edge over his competitors.

There's even the chance of both him and Solanke being included, although then another talented attacker would have to make way.

Had Toney not been banned for so long it might be a different story, but the Bees' striker will need a huge shift in form if he is to play his way into the side.

One way or another, the squad Southgate selects for the March international break will be a very good indicator of who will be going to Euro 2024.

Follow England's EURO 2024 journey here with Flashscore.

Ali Pollock


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