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Assessing England’s striking options ahead of next summer’s European Championship

England are currently preparing for their final fixtures of the calendar year in November’s international break, with Gareth Southgate’s side facing Ireland in a friendly this evening before Nations League clashes against Belgium and Iceland.

Southgate will be keen to fine-tune his side with a rescheduled European Championships looming next summer, the Three Lions heading into the tournament with optimism after a youthful side breezed through the qualification process.

The England manager will also have been pleased with how his attacking options have largely looked during a fascinating start to the Premier League season, with several in-form English forwards having impressed during the opening months of the campaign.

Six of the current eight leading scorers in the division are eligible for England, and we’ve decided to assess Southgate’s striking options ahead of Euro 2021 and rate their chances of earning selection:

Harry Kane

The first name likely to be selected in Southgate’s squad, Harry Kane is England’s key player and offers their best chance of enjoying a successful tournament next summer.

Kane finished as Europe’s leading scorer during qualifying, his 12 goals in just eight appearances seeing him finish ahead of the likes of Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo and Israel’s Eran Zahavi as England scored 4+ goals in each of their seven victories.

Next summer’s tournament will provide a steep step-up in opposition with the Three Lions facing 2018 World Cup finalists Croatia in their opening group game, but Kane will be confident of making an impact having enjoyed a blistering start to the season with Tottenham.

The 27-year-old has scored seven goals in eight league appearances with a further six goals coming in continental competition, whilst his passing range and creative talents have been evident with a league-leading eight Premier League assists.

Kane’s partnership with Son Heung-Min has worked brilliantly for Spurs so far this season and Southgate will hope he can strike a similar understanding with England’s wealth of inside-forward options, the England captain’s form and fitness pivotal to his side’s chances of success.

Verdict: On the plane.

Marcus Rashford

No player has played more minutes for the Three Lions during Southgate’s reign as England manager, Marcus Rashford having been a firm favourite over the past four years.

Rashford started just one of England’s seven fixtures at the World Cup in 2018 but has grown in status since that tournament, playing in a variety of roles including as a central forward and on the left of a front three.

Nations League goals against the likes of Spain, Netherlands and Belgium have shown Rashford can deliver for England against the world’s best and he remains a favourite of Southgate with his direct style and youthful fearlessness.

The 22-year-old has scored seven goals in 12 appearances – including a Champions League hat-trick against RB Leipzig – for Manchester United this season despite his club’s indifferent form, and looks a certain inclusion for the squad given his talent and versatility.

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Rashford’s competition for a starting spot is likely to come from the likes of Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho in a wide role, though he offers a fine and fluid option at centre-forward as either a deputy or partner to Kane.

Verdict: On the plane.

Danny Ings

Danny Ings won his first cap for England some five years ago, though a nightmare run with injuries prevented the forward from adding to his collection until returning to the fold earlier this year.

Ing’s fine form for Southampton has brought him back into the international reckoning, with a prolific season last term seeing the 28-year-old finish as the joint-runner-up for the Premier League’s Golden Boot.

The star has begun the new season in a similar fashion with five goals and two assists in seven appearances for the Saints so far this season, whilst he netted his first goal for England with an acrobatic effort against Wales last month.

Ings’ relentless work-ethic in the final third and ability to unsettle opponents makes him a fine option should Southgate wish to implement a pressing style of play, and the news that his recent knee injury is not as bad as first feared will be welcomed by the England manager.

Verdict: Frontrunner for selection.

Dominic Calvert-Lewin

Dominic Calvert-Lewin has catapulted himself into selection contention with a superb start to the season for Everton, currently sitting joint-top of the Premier League’s goalscoring charts with eight goals for the season so far.

Calvert-Lewin has shown huge improvements in his game since the appointment of Carlo Ancelotti at Everton and has quickly become the club’s chief attacking threat, his physical prowess now matched by a willingness to remain in dangerous areas and an improving goalscoring instinct.

The 23-year-old’s development is evidenced in the statistics with only Tottenham’s Son-Heung Min outperforming the Toffees’ talisman for xG  – a way of judging a players expected goals using a range of variables including shot angle and distance.

That data suggests that whilst Calvert-Lewin is continually getting into goalscoring positions, he is also finishing chances he may not be expected to score, an encouraging statistic for any leading striker.

Calvert-Lewin – who scored on his England debut against Wales last month – also offers Southgate a different option in terms of aerial threat, his 4.6 aerial duels won per game this season the highest of any player on this feature, whilst no player in the Premier League has scored more headed goals since the start of last season.

Verdict: Frontrunner for selection.

Tammy Abraham

Tammy Abraham has been included in the England squad for November’s fixtures despite seeing his status as Chelsea’s number nine threatened significantly this season, the west London side’s lavish summer spending increasing competition for places at Stamford Bridge.

Abraham enjoyed a fine breakthrough season at Chelsea last season to score 18 goals in all competitions and establish himself at international level, opting to represent England over Nigeria and since scoring once in four caps.

The 23-year-old now faces a fight for his place for both club and country, however, having started just four of the Blues’ opening eight league fixtures following the summer signing of Germany international Timo Werner.

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Abraham’s form has been solid in his appearances to date and his familiarity with Southgate will boost his chances, but a lack of guaranteed starts is a concern for the player, who has seen a wealth of English forwards thrive this season.

Verdict: Work to do.

Callum Wilson

Callum Wilson looked to have made the position of Harry Kane’s deputy his own just two years ago, being introduced into the England set-up following fine performances for Bournemouth shortly after the 2018 World Cup.

Wilson scored his first international goal against the United States on his debut in November 2018 and has since won a further three caps, but a difficult spell with Bournemouth last season has seen him fall out-of-favour.

The 28-year-old struggled as the Cherries were relegated from the Premier League last season, though a summer switch to Newcastle has reignited his fortunes.

Wilson is enjoying his football once more and has scored six goals and provided one assist in eight appearances, his strike rate impressive given his role in a team lacking creativity with the star’s goal conversion rate of 46% behind only Jamie Vardy and Son Heung-Min amongst the league’s leading scorers.

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Competition is fierce for a place in the England squad and a hamstring injury suffered last time out has halted his progress, though Wilson will move back into contention for a call-up if he continues this form throughout the campaign.

Verdict: Outside chance.

Patrick Bamford

There will have been few tipping Patrick Bamford for an England call-up during the summer, a player who has often flattered to deceive at Premier League level facing a fight for his position at Leeds following the club-record signing of Rodrigo from Valencia.

Bamford, however, has responded in stunning style to emerge as Leeds’ key player on their Premier League return, scoring seven times so far this season with only Harry Kane and Mohamed Salah bettering his shots-per-game ratio across the division.

The 27-year-old’s selfless style has made him a firm favourite of Marcelo Bielsa at Leeds and has reportedly moved the forward into Gareth Southgate’s thinking, but whilst his goalscoring output has significantly improved there remains questions over his finishing ability.

No player in the division has missed more ‘big chances’ than Bamford so far this season despite his impressive goal tally, the succession of opportunities which come his way at Elland Road unlikely to be replicated at a major international tournament.

Verdict: Wildcard option.

Michail Antonio

Michail Antonio’s shift into a centre-forward position has proven a masterstroke from David Moyes at West Ham, the forward’s performances almost singlehandedly dragging the Hammers away from relegation last season.

Antonio scored eight goals in just seven appearances towards the end of last season and has maintained that rich run of form this time around, scoring three times in six Premier League games for West Ham including a brilliant acrobatic effort against Manchester City.

Gareth Southgate has largely favoured younger players during his reign so far so the inclusion of an untested 30-year-old would come as a huge surprise, though Antonio’s unique skillset could lead to him being a wildcard option.

Few players in the Premier League possess his mix of pace, power and athleticism, whilst his ability to carry the ball in possession – averaging 2.2 dribbles-per-game – could provide an intriguing Plan B.

Those traits have seen Antonio fouled on an average of 2.8 times per game, higher than any other English forward and a statistic which could appeal to an England side who thrived on set-pieces during their run to the World Cup semi-finals in 2018.

Verdict: Wildcard option.

Ollie Watkins

Aston Villa have enjoyed a brilliant start to the new campaign with a series of summer signings impressing for Dean Smith’s new-look side, last season’s struggle against relegation replaced with a push towards the European places.

Smith’s savvy recruitment from the Championship has paid dividends with Matty Cash and Ollie Watkins having impressed since making the step-up, the latter amongst the leading English goalscorers in the division.

Watkins announced himself at Premier League level with a stunning hat-trick to dismantle champions Liverpool last month, his current record standing at six goals in seven appearances for a resurgent Villa following his double against Arsenal last time out.

The 24-year-old has the pace and mobility to play across the forward line, whilst his physical presence has seen him win 4.6 aerial duels so far this season – level with the impressive Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

His average of 1.3 key passes per game is also the second-highest of any player on this feature behind only Marcus Rashford, Watkins’ seamless adaptation to the top flight providing Southgate with yet more food for thought.

Verdict: Potential Bolter.

Read – Granny Rule XI: The best English-born footballers to play for Ireland in each position

Read Also – Don’t Lookman! Five of the worst penalties ever taken in English football history

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