Kane injury can open England door for Grealish
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In the aftermath of Harry Kane’s hamstring surgery, opinion divided regarding the ramifications his extended absence would inflict on Tottenham Hotspur. Was it a disaster or a catastrophe? Short on alternative striking options [largely stemming from neglectful recruitment], it certainly is a devastating blow. In eighth, their hopes for a top-four Premier League finish rapidly evaporate. On the other hand, the situation presents several interesting opportunities for Gareth Southgate and the England national team. Among other options, it presents the Three Lions manager with the chance to give Aston Villa's Jack Grealish a long-awaited opportunity.
Rather than sulking, Southgate is positive enough to view Kane’s absence as a trial for his other strikers. Chelsea’s Tammy Abraham tops the list for most observers. It seems increasingly unlikely that Premier League top scorer Jamie Vardy will make himself available for England again. Thus, the likes of Abraham and possibly Southampton’s in-form Danny Ings queue for prominent roles in England's March friendlies against Denmark and Italy.
However, directly replacing Kane with an out-and-out penalty box striker like Ings or the line-leading Abraham underplays other terrific components to Kane’s game. Particularly in an England shirt, Kane developed into a polished, complete forward. He’s not just a number nine but a genuinely capable number ten, too. He will drop deep, pick up the ball on the halfway line, drag a central defender with him and turn. With his territory on the pitch thus expanded, his passing range improved. With precise 30-40 yard balls, he can reach Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling as they run into space he smartly vacates. England’s counter-attacking threat is largely due to Kane’s play-making qualities.
With that in mind, it may be time for Jack Grealish to bring his swagger, rolled-down socks and increasingly physical stature to the national team. Not withstanding their other qualities, none from Rashford, Abraham or Ings offers Kane's complete package. At Ross Barkley or Mason Mount's expense, one solution is to insert Grealish into the attacking midfield role and play Rashford centrally with Sterling and Jadon Sancho to either side. Imagine Grealish feeding that front three. The Villa captain offers more than Barkley or Mount as a playmaker. He draws more defenders, possesses greater technical quality in tight areas and is a distinct presence.
The experiment should appeal to Southgate on several levels. Kane receives a much-needed rest before the Euros, assuming he can recover in time to feature. The manager will learn if Rashford, Sterling and Sancho's promise as an attacking triumvirate holds water. Finally, the boss gets to see what Grealish can do when surrounded by the talent he lacks at Villa Park.
Despite the improvement in performance and mood since Southgate took over, England has an Achilles heel. The Three Lions struggle to control tempo against good teams. As always, midfield deficiencies haunt the side. The problem existed even with the dream ticket of Paul Scholes, Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
Grealish, playing ahead of Jordan Henderson and either Declan Rice or Harry Winks, can offer the same confidence to receive the ball under pressure he displays each week for Villa. In Kane’s absence, England can toy with a Plan B. If Kane is fit for the Euros, Southgate will revert to Plan A regardless of results against the Danes and Azzurri. Can Grealish give him a fresh selection headache? It can’t hurt for Southgate to find out.