FootballInternational Football

The Pretenders: Who is best-placed to solve England’s (potential) Euro 2020 striking crisis?

January 24, 2020

THE most enjoyable England game at Euro 2012 was the 3-2 win against Sweden. Ultimately it didn’t really mean very much, but international tournament adventures rarely do. What’s notable about that game is England’s three goalscorers: Andy Carroll, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck.

None of those players enjoyed a blue ribbon international career (although they were all in blue that day, wearing arguably England’s best kit of the 2010s) but they were fit when it counted, selected when it counted and in the right place on the pitch when it counted. And that’s international football: it’s all very well being your nation’s best player in in your position but if you’re lame when the tennis supplements come out that chance will vanish, for two years at least, and possibly forever. Les Ferdinand running amok at World Cup 1994? Well it exists in some dimensions, but, sadly, not ours.

This is all very apt in late January 2020 because, just a few months away from playing actual tournament games in their own country for the first time since 1996, England’s striking options are falling like winter snow. Harry Kane: hamstrung. Marcus Rashford: stress fractured. Tammy Abraham: limping, presumed knocked. Jamie Vardy: retired and gluted out.

Some, if not all, of those players will recover ahead of June but in the meantime Gareth Southgate needs to test the alternatives. And it’s of the utmost importance. Some nations can find success at tournaments by utilising false nines or being Greece but England only ever do well when they have a striker at the top of his game available. Gary Lineker’s Golden Boot in 1986 plus another decent haul in 1990. Alan Shearer’s Golden Boot in 1996, Kane’s Golden Boot in 2018. When the centre-forward is functioning correctly, England go deep.

So who are the tier two options for Southgate to experiment with? There’s a few, and none of them are perfect but they all offer something. Here is an in-depth guide:


The Everton man ticks a lot of boxes. In favour under new manager Carlo Ancelotti, he has scored 10 goals already this season, only one fewer than his previous three Premier League seasons combined and he is doing so above xG. He’s also undergone a sort of reverse-Kane-isation, going from a creative forward (six assists and four goals in 2017-18) to an out and out goal threat in 2019-20 (10 goals, no assists). Either way, Calvert-Lewin offers a mixture of guile and finishing and will surely be in Southgate’s 23.



Danny Ings has dragged Southampton from the edge of despair to the precipice of hope, scoring 14 goals from an xG of only 10.5 and pouncing five times from opposition mistakes. He’s having the sort of season that some players only experience once or twice in their entire career, so why not cap it in the summer by letting him creating history with Ings-er-land. You say: “A Southampton player as a tournament option would seem strange”. I say: “please don’t disrespect Rickie Lambert.”




Three goals from open play and two penalties does not scream ‘get me on that plane [for a potential quarter-final in Rome]’ but look at how Watford have improved since their talisman has returned from injury. He is Nigel Pearson’s eyes and ears on the pitch, he could be all of our hopes and dreams in June and July. Oh, and penalties might be useful anyway, let’s not forget that 50% of Harry Kane’s Golden Boot in 2018 came from the spot.




England’s 1990 World Cup squad famously contained more players from Rangers than any other club but it also contained Steve Bull from Wolverhampton Wanderers, who had just finished 10th in the second tier. In that context, promotion-chasing Brentford’s Ollie Watkins is an extremely safe choice. Watkins has already scored 18 goals from an xG of 15.9 this season and has a host of Premier League teams after him. What better way to pay tribute to England’s pyramid heritage than to include Watkins in the final 23? You say: “I’m hearing reports he’s missed the only penalty he’s taken this season.”. I say: “that’s ok, we have Ings and Deeney for that.”