Gareth Southgate’s Three Lions strikeforce dilemma
Only four active England internationals have hit more than 15 goals in the Premier League in the past decade. They are Harry Kane, Jamie Vardy, Daniel Sturridge, and Charlie Austin. Kane has scored more goals in calendar 2017 than anyone in Europe's top leagues. Raheem Sterling, albeit a pure winger, seems poised to join the list early in the New Year. He is sitting on 13, at the moment. Vardy has eight, Austin six, the perpetually injured Sturridge just two. Despite Kane's obvious class and Sterling's emergence, England's strike force doesn't have the depth other World Cup hopefuls, such as Argentina, France, Spain, Brazil, and Belgium can claim.
Let's look at Gareth Southgate's challenges:
How many go to Russia?
I don't get paid £2 million per year, but with so little quality on hand, I have to say the England manager's choice is easy. In terms of centre forwards, he really has just two to call upon. Anyone selected beyond Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford is makeweight for the traditional three most countries take.
Rashford is top young talent. Despite the numbers he's put up, the Manchester United 20-year-old is still in his developmental phase He should really go as an impact substitute, running directly at tired defences. Just as he’s been deployed on numerous occasions for club and country to date.
Jamie Vardy has shown signs this season that he can be the striker who carried Leicester through a dream league campaign two years ago. He has Rashford's speed, but lacks the skill with the ball at his feet.
Charlie Austin has had one good Premier League season. That was with relegated Queens Park Rangers. Since then, he’s been plagued by injury, overlooked, or just bang average. Since moving to Southampton, he hasn't been able to make 50 appearances. Southgate will be truly desperate to book him on the flight east.
Daniel Sturridge is the most unfortunate from the pool of English strikers. He’s easily the most technically gifted, but also frustratingly brittle. His stellar season was undoubtedly 2013-14, preceding England’s ill-fated World Cup campaign. The Liverpool star hit 22 league goals as part of a deadly quartet comprising himself, Luis Suarez, Steven Gerrard, and Raheem Sterling. They caused mayhem, scoring 75 of the Reds 101 Premier League goals, while missing out on the title by 2 points.
Since the Uruguayan’s departure, Sturridge hasn't been physically able to lead the Anfield attack. Countless injuries and failed attempts to find a suitable replacement for Suarez have left him a fringe player. Now that a new foursome has emerged, featuring Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino, Sadio Mane, and Mo Salah, his plight has only worsened.
If Southgate sticks to his guns regarding players being in "good form" while receiving “regular game-time,” Sturridge won’t even make the 30-man preliminary squad.
At the bottom of the barrel, you'll find Tammy Abraham, Dominic Solanke, and Danny Welbeck. None have been particularly prolific, although all have impressed in short stints with the national team. At Swansea, Tammy Abraham has been outperformed, if you can call it that, by Wilfried Bony. Solanke has a single goal in 395 minutes with the Liverpool first-team, further down the pecking order than Sturridge. Welbeck is buried behind Alexandre Lacazette, Olivier Giroud, Mesut Ozil, and Alexis Sanchez at Arsenal. He may need to force a move in the winter window to get the opportunity to prove himself.
All-in-all, Southgate's only strategy is to hope Harry Kane doesn't get injured, then bring on Rashford or Vardy late. Simple. The problem is you want it to be complicated.