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03rd Oct 2016

Why injuries and loss of form could give Gareth Southgate an exciting, new-look England attack

Can England learn from Liverpool, Spurs and Manchester United?

Tony Barrett

Daniel Sturridge doesn’t want to play as a wide attacker. Wayne Rooney no longer wants to play as any kind of attacker. Harry Kane wants to play as an attacker but would prefer not to do so alone or as one prong of a trident.

For Roy Hodgson and Sam Allardyce, briefly, these were issues that each faced every time they endeavoured to pick an England side that would offer a framework that would allow individual talent to shine and also a balance to the team.

More often that not, or once in Allardyce’s case, neither manager was able to find the blend that they were looking for. Different combinations and formations were tried but rarely has there been a sense in recent years that England’s attack was the sum of its parts.

Already it has been suggested that it is Gareth Southgate’s great misfortune not to have Kane available for the first matches of what could be a temporary reign against Malta and Slovenia and that he is also unlucky that Sturridge is yet to hit his stride this season and Rooney has lost both his form and starting role for Manchester United.

LONDON, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 18: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur is put onto a stretcher after coming off injured during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and Sunderland at White Hart Lane on September 18, 2016 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

All of this is true of course. Southgate would prefer to have a surfeit of options and ideally he would like to have several forwards at the top of their game instead of wondering what to do with Rooney and whether or not to start Sturridge. That, though, is the reality of the situation that he has inherited and he could do a lot worse than looking at what is happening at the clubs where Kane, Sturridge and Rooney ply their trade and taking his lead from them.

Kane’s absence was supposed to be a significant blow to Tottenham’s hopes of maintaining their strong early season form but without him their attack has arguably been more fluid and fresher, as underlined during Sunday’s hugely impressive victory over Manchester City.

Similarly, at Liverpool, Jurgen Klopp’s belief that his first choice attack features Philippe Coutinho, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane continues to be rewarded by a prolific goalscoring output and increasingly encouraging early season form.

SWANSEA, WALES - OCTOBER 01: Daniel Sturridge of Liverpool looks on while sitting on the bench during the Premier League match between Swansea City and Liverpool at Liberty Stadium on October 1, 2016 in Swansea, Wales. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)

The case of United is more difficult to view one way or another as with or without Rooney they remain fitful but the number of people who believe Rooney still deserves to be a regular starter is diminishing by the week.

Given those issues, Southgate would lose nothing from being brave. Not only does he have the opportunity to establish his authority immediately by building his selection policy around form rather than reputation, he could also inject some much needed freshness and vibrancy into England’s attack.

A front three featuring the in form duo Raheem Sterling and Theo Walcott either side of one of Marcus Rashford, Troy Deeney or Jamie Vardy would give England a combination of the searing pace, direct running, natural width and energy that their attack has lacked so often in recent years.

It would also give Southgate a chance to show that he not only has new ideas to his predecessors, he is capable of implementing them; both of which would be in his best interests as he looks to get the manager’s job on a permanent basis.

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