Harry Kane has been assured by Gareth Southgate that he will be included in the squad for the concluding matches of the Nations League, despite the Spurs striker being almost certain to be well short of full fitness.
Despite his mooted inclusion in the squad, Southgate may feel unable to risk Kane in the semi-final against the Netherlands on June 6. This could open a door for Marcus Rashford or Raheem Sterling to stake their claim as the Three Lions’ lead man.
Kane will feel that the injury came at the worst possible time, with the small matter of Spurs’ Champions League final. However, the striker should take comfort that a Kane-less Spurs just about managed to cling on to a spot in the top four. Despite their utterly remarkable triumphs over Manchester City and Ajax in the Champions League, Spurs have unsurprisingly looked worse without Kane for the most part. Southgate will hope that the same isn’t true for England.
There’s also another unconventional aspect we’re missing here. Harry Kane’s absence has not only been keenly felt by Mauricio Pochettino, but by a plethora of fantasy sports managers across the world. While they can’t quite match the Champions League in terms of finances or prestige, there are often vast prizes and pride at stake for fantasy football bosses.
Kane’s relentless prolificacy in front of goal (apart from in August, of course) made him the cornerstone of many fantasy football teams. We'll just have to wait and see how that will pan out. Kane’s absence at the business end this season forced managers to rethink their reliance on the Spurs striker. Unfortunately for Southgate, few of the potential replacements in fantasy football sides were English. Most turned to Sergio Aguero or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, but Southgate has no such luxury. While there are few all-around strikers of Kane’s calibre, Southgate does have some different forwards options at his disposal.
Given Jamie Vardy’s retirement from internationals, the natural replacement appears to be Manchester United’s Marcus Rashford. His England record of six goals in 31 appearances isn’t impressive at face value, but Rashford’s youth and wider position should be factored in. Four goals in 16 appearances for England in 2018 shows that his scoring record is improving as he matures. Three of those goals took England into the lead, revealing that Rashford has Kane’s knack of scoring crucial goals.
However, Rashford’s season has stagnated with Manchester United’s, and he hardly heads to Portugal in a rich vein of form. Someone whose form hasn’t dropped all season is Raheem Sterling, who Southgate could turn to as a more unconventional lead striker. Vardy ended the season as the leading English scorer in the Premier League, but it was Kane and Sterling who were just one behind on 17.
Sterling has shown beyond doubt that he is one of the world’s finest attackers, one that has the intelligence to operate anywhere in the final third. Given that the Netherlands are likely to line up with Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt in central defence, a forward of Sterling’s style could pose the most problems. The Dutch duo are among the world’s best, but they have both shown a mild vulnerability to nimble forwards in recent Champions League matches.
Van Dijk struggled with Luis Suarez’s movement, while de Ligt was unable to contain Lucas Moura. Sterling could play a similar role to Moura in Kane’s absence. While you want your best players in their best positions, Sterling has the ability and the confidence to provide a viable Plan B for when Kane is unfit or misfiring. If it works in the Nations League, it may give Southgate food for thought when competitive internationals swing back round.