International Fixtures

One Overlooked Player Who Needs to Play for England

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England’s Goal Scoring Woes

Despite defeat against Italy in the final of Euro 2020 Gareth Southgate and his England side came out of the tournament with plenty to be positive about. The nation had reached its first European final since 1966, young stars like Phil Foden and Bukayo Saka were making a mark on the international stage and many others would surely only get better in preparation for the Qatar World Cup. Other teams like Croatia have gone from strength to strength in this competition since suffering disappointment in major tournaments. Unfortunately for England this simply hasn’t been the case. Instead of the positives from the previous tournaments being built upon it has been the team’s weaknesses that have shone through in the last 18 months.

Demotion from Nations League

Coming off of a 1-0 defeat to Roberto Mancini’s Italy in their fifth Nations League match it was pointed out that England has somehow gone five games without scoring a goal from open play. This left England winless in their last five games with two embarrassing defeats to Hungary standing out among the results.

Embarrassingly, the team were relegated from the top Nations League competition.

The following game against Germany was an improvement but ultimately ended anticlimactically for the Three Lions. This run of form has brought immense criticism of Gareth Southgate and his defensive tactics. Everything from his squad selection, player positioning and his ability as a tactician has been brought under scrutiny in recent times.

What Is Wrong With England

For once the criticism of an England manager isn’t without merit. Southgate is blessed with some of the best and most sought-after attacking talents on the planet. Yet, he insists on playing deep, narrow, defensive and counter-attacking football. While this does immensely help out the players in his defence that lack pace — thinking Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw — it also hinders all of his attacking options greatly.

The vast majority of the attacking options in Southgate’s squad play for teams that dominate possession and players such as Foden and Sterling are given the platform to break teams down over 90 minutes.

Harry Kane also suffers in this system due to the narrowness of the side. The Spurs talisman has a tendency to drop deep when his side is sitting deep in order to help progress play. While this has helped in Antonio Conte’s counter-attacking system it really doesn’t work in Southgate’s.

The difference between the two is intensity and width. Conte’s side can work on his tactic week in and week out while international managers must keep things a little more simplistic due to the lack of time with the players. At Spurs, Kane always has Richarlison, Son, or Kulusevski running beyond him. These are players that thrive when they are allowed to play with width.

The Answer: Ivan Toney

There are a few possible answers to Gareth Southgate’s woes. He could replace Harry Kane with Marcus Rashford and like Solskjær before him, rely purely on his ability to hurt teams on the counter-attack. He could attempt to dominate possession with the immense midfield talent that he has allowing the likes of Kane, Foden and Sterling the ability to hurt the opposition while pressing them high up the pitch.

This though would require changes to the defence as we know the likes of Harry Maguire are not suited to these systems. The change that would require the least amount of disruption to Southgate’s plans would be to bring Brentford’s inform striker Ivan Toney into the mix. This would give Kane a strike partner which would allow him greater freedom to drop deep without sacrificing the team’s ability to get forward and also provide England with a much-needed plan B.

Toney is a very different striker than Harry Kane and if it wasn’t for Kane’s undeniable quality then you could argue he even fits the system better. While Kane uses his quality to play around defenders, Toney uses his physical attributes to battle them. Toney uses his athleticism to compete physically with the opposition back line, using the threat of his pace to push the opposition back. This would have the added benefit of creating space for the likes of Foden and Grealish to work.

With Southgate valuing the defensive contributions of every player in his team he would surely be happy to see that Toney is in the top 20% of strikers producing defensive actions in Europe’s top leagues while also being a proven goalscorer. A rare combination as most attackers specialises in being one or the other. Toney is a deadly finisher that also regularly provides assists for his teammates as shown this season where in 7 games the striker has bagged 5 goals and 2 assists. A pattern that can be seen throughout Toney’s career. It is also worth mentioning that Toney is lethal from the penalty spot, something which England fans know all too well is important on the national stage.

The beauty of using Ivan Toney for Southgate is that his versatilities mean he could play with or instead of Harry Kane without drastically altering the system that the manager is so fond of. While it is very unlikely that the Brentford striker plays instead of Kane it is important to remember that an injury to Kane is always a possibility.

Toney Must Go To Qatar

With England’s struggles being so obvious it is surely only a matter of time before Ivan Toney breaks into the national team. With his attributes, one would think he will surely be in the World Cup squad, but as of yet Southgate has shown very few signs that this will be the case. At the end of the day, one of his regulars may have to miss out and this is something that the England coach has never been comfortable with.

Do you think that Gareth Southgate will unleash Ivan Toney at the World Cup? Let us know! If you enjoyed this content then follow @FootballOTH and @OTHeroics for more sports content.

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Az Lynch has been writing about football since he joined Overtime Heroics in 2021. He is a graduate of both Dundee and Abertay Universities in Scotland. His content is focused on the English Premier League. You can follow him on Twitter