Sunday 24 March 2019 6:42 pm

Montenegro v England: Harry Kane has gone from spearhead to link man in exciting new attack

At the heart of England’s blossoming as an attacking force, which found its thrilling expression in Friday’s 5-0 win over the Czech Republic, lies a curious anomaly.

Not since Wayne Rooney announced himself on the world stage at Euro 2004 has there been such excitement about the potency of forward talent in the national team set-up.

Yet all this while Harry Kane, who has scored more international goals than the rest of the current squad combined, is experiencing perhaps his least productive spell in an England shirt.


Least productive, that is, if measured purely by the number of goals that the Tottenham striker has scored, which amounts to two in his last nine appearances.

Remove penalties, such as the one he scored at Wembley against the Czechs, from the equation and the statistics look even less flattering: just one goal in his last 10 games for England.

Of his last five goals, four have come from the spot. Put another way, going into Monday’s Euro 2020 qualifier in Montenegro, Kane has a solitary goal from open play in his last 15 hours of international football.

Assists

That is not to say Kane is playing badly for his country, however. He remains a cornerstone of Gareth Southgate’s young team, but it does appear his role is changing.

Rather than operating at the tip of the attack, he has taken to dropping deeper to receive the ball and play in team-mates who exploit the space he has created.

The opening goal on Friday was a perfect example: Kane dragged defenders out of position before releasing Jadon Sancho, whose low centre was converted on the stretch by Raheem Sterling.


We saw signs of this change at last summer’s World Cup, where Kane managed to score six times and win the Golden Boot while still spending much of the tournament coming short to pick up possession.

Hold-up play and passing are under-appreciated aspects of his game – an inevitable consequence of his otherwise relentless goalscoring – but he is increasingly effective in them too.

When England blitzed Spain in October, Kane set up two goals and was involved in the build-up for the other. Indeed, he has as many assists in his last three internationals as in his previous 33.

Bullets

Given the array of fleet-footed attackers at Southgate’s disposal, it makes sense for a player of Kane’s vision to be loading the bullets for Sterling, Sancho, Marcus Rashford and now Callum Hudson-Odoi.

On Friday it was Sterling deservedly taking the plaudits with a first international hat-trick, and perhaps the days of Kane representing England’s main goal threat are already in the past.

The roles of Kane and Sterling have been reversed. Whereas previously Sterling was seen as a No10 to Kane’s old fashioned No9, now it is the Spurs man as provider to the Manchester City finisher.

Some centre-forwards might see this as a demotion in status, but in Kane England are fortunate to have a captain who appears humble enough to put the team before his personal garlands.

Evolution

Will it stay this way? Kane has hardly forgotten how to score, as his tally of 24 goals for Tottenham this season attests, so it would seem a fait bet that he will keep his England figures ticking over.

Maybe this is just a blip. After all, he followed a drought of two goals in 13 games for the national team between September 2015 and September 2016 with 14 in his next 10 caps.

For England, the best outcome would be that Kane continues to be the glue in the attack while rediscovering some of his own effectiveness in the opposition penalty area.

Either way, it is further evidence of an evolution in play from Southgate’s team that has only enhanced their standing further on the global stage.

The England manager has been bold enough to ditch the 5-3-2 system that helped them reach a first World Cup semi-final since 1966 in favour of a 4-3-3. Like the tweaking of Kane’s role, it has paid off.

They now have more options and that means more ways in which to unpick stubborn opponents, which could come in handy on Monday evening in Podgorica.

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