Last week, Roy Hodgson finally revealed his provisional 26-man England squad for this summer’s European Championships. The manager may have successfully narrowed his striking options down to five (Kane, Rashford, Rooney, Sturridge and Vardy), but exactly how the Three Lions will line-up offensively for their opening group game against Russia remains unclear.
It’s a crucial area of the squad with goals making the difference in tight games all the way to the final so let’s take a look at what options are available to Hodgson.
In form duo
Given the remarkable form of Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Leicester’s Jamie Vardy this season, both of whom scored in the 2-1 win over Turkey at the weekend, starting the pair up front is the obvious choice for most people. It’s rare that an England manager is blessed with having two red-hot goalscorers at his disposal heading into a major tournament, so surely Hodgson will be able to find room for both Kane and Vardy in his starting XI.
The issue is that their inclusion would involve moving captain Wayne Rooney into a more withdrawn role, most probably directly behind the front two as part of a midfield diamond or even into the middle of the park. This approach appears the only way in which to fit Kane, Rooney and Vardy into the same team at once, but while Rooney has operated effectively in central-midfield for Manchester United in the past, there remain doubts as to whether England’s record goalscorer should be deployed anywhere else than up top.
Should Hodgson resist the temptation to start his captain in a more unorthodox role, then this could result in a straight shoot-out between Kane and Vardy as the lone striker ahead of Rooney. If the 3-2 victory against Germany in March was anything to go by, in which Kane spearheaded a front-three and Vardy came on as a substitute, then it seems as if the Tottenham man is Hodgson’s preferred choice to lead the line with Vardy’s extra pace a very useful option off the bench.
The deployment of Kane as the solitary centre-forward would allow Rooney to play in his preferred position of number 10 as part of a 4-2-3-1 formation, and potentially give England more width through the likes of Raheem Sterling and Adam Lallana on the flanks. But the argument that Hodgson can justify leaving out Vardy, who netted 24 league goals in a title-winning Leicester team, in order to simply allow Rooney to play in his favoured role is far from convincing.
And let’s not forget the other two forwards included in Hodgson’s provisional squad – Daniel Sturridge and Marcus Rashford. With three names still to be excluded from the final 23-man squad list, neither player is guaranteed a seat on the plane at this stage and will therefore be keen to impress the manager during the remaining warm-up fixtures against Australia and Portugal.
It may have been another injury-hit campaign for Sturridge, but the Liverpool man still managed to bag eight goals in 14 league appearances, and his opening goal of the Europa League final against Sevilla demonstrated his ability of produce moments of magic on the big stage. 18-year-old Rashford, meanwhile, netted eight times in all competitions after breaking into the Manchester United team in February, and his fearless attitude could well take result in him being taken to the tournament as Hodgson’s trump card off the bench. So while neither player has a strong case to start ahead of Kane or Vardy, both would certainly provide an attacking threat in a substitute role.
England’s final two friendly ties over the coming days will be crucial in the finalisation of their plans before heading to France. Hodgson hasn’t yet had the opportunity to field Kane, Rooney and Vardy in the same side until now, but it’s difficult to look past such a menacing combination if the Three Lions are going to be genuine contenders at Euro 2016 this summer.