It’s strange how the state of English football can change in such a short period of time. Prior to the World Cup, the competition for England’s fourth striking spot seemed relatively uncompetitive.
That isn’t to slate or undermine Rickie Lambert as a player last year, far from it – he managed 13 goals and 10 assists in Mauricio Pochettino’s impressive Southampton campaign. For a player peaking so late in his career there was almost a fairytale aspect to it, a rags to riches-esque affair that would provide inspiration for those plying their trade in the depths of the football league.
But for Lambert’s merits that season, there really was a lack of competition for the fourth spot behind Danny Welbeck, Wayne Rooney and Daniel Sturridge. Jay Rodriguez picked up a nasty anterior cruciate ligament injury that ruled him out of contention entirely, Andy Carroll was crippled by injuries until February and failed to return to form in time, and Jermaine Defoe migrated his way out of contention when he joined Toronto FC.
It would be difficult to assert that the situation has changed drastically in the sense that when fit, Rooney, Sturridge and Welbeck will almost certainly be selected. But that fourth spot now seems more contested than ever, and here’s who Roy Hodgson should select out of the in-form Carroll, Harry Kane, Saido Berahino and Charlie Austin.
There’s always an interesting selection process for forwarding players to international level. Many will select purely on the form of a player domestically- if they slip up in the Premier League then they deserve to be dropped for England.
But that should not be the case- domestic and international form are not entirely conducive. Take Andros Townsend, for example. He’s failed to nail down a spot at Tottenham permanently, yet has far out-performed himself at international level.
That argument translates nicely with Berahino – he has the third all-time highest goal-tally for England’s U21’s with 10 goals in 13 appearances, only behind Alan Shearer and Francis Jeffers, which would suggest that he may excel on a bigger stage in the unique environment that international football demands.
However, Berahino’s problem is that his style is too similar to that of Daniel Sturridge – both are pacey – last-man-off-the-shoulder goalscorers and there’s no doubting that Sturridge is superior. Berahino shows promise, but his inconsistent form of one goal in his last ten shows there’s more work to be done.
After all, young international promise doesn’t always translate to when in the senior squad- Francis Jeffers’ gradual demise is the most damning example of that.
Nine in nine for Charlie Austin is seriously impressive, and he’s knocking loudly on the international door when few would have predicted.
Austin has followed an interesting trend similar to that of Lambert, that lower-league strikers can slowly ascend up the football league and maintain their outstanding form. Before Lambert there was Grant Holt, who netted 15 in his debut season in Paul Lambert’s Norwich team, and before him Palace’s Andy Johnson slotted 22 in his first year.
Austin has that goalscoring touch, something that you cannot coach or train upon- an impressive aptitude to be in the right place at the right time.
However, his limitations resolve from around his apparent reliance on Bobby Zamora to hold the ball up for him- he’s only scored once when he hasn’t been partnered with him.
If Austin, by that logic, is reliant on being paired alongside a physical striker to perform, he won’t really be compatible with England or Hodgson, where they often line up in a 4-2-3-1 with Rooney operating from deep.
That said, if he manages to maintain this fine run of form, it would be hard to keep him out. Lots of potential, but for now, Austin needs to prove his class really is permanent and his form is not just temporary.
An impressive run in Tottenham’s second tier Europa League side made the Hurri-Kane’s breaking into the Tottenham first team inevitable.
On the surface he looks like an archetypal-aerial striker, capable of holding the ball up for midfield runners and making a nuisance of himself in the six yard box. But watch him more closely see how he’s actually a very complete player.
When partnered with Roberto Soldado, Kane drops deep into midfield where he possesses the audacity of a player much older than him to take the ball on and run at opposition defenders. He combines that with the distinctive characteristics of any Pochettino side- that of intense and dynamic pressing which keeps his side on the front foot.
Kane’s rise has been spectacular this season, but he falls short of being in Roy Hodgson’s squad – at this moment.
Andy Carroll deserves that title – but only at this very moment in time. That should be emphasised – Berahino and Kane are both young with plenty of potential while Austin will have to be picked if he maintains his blistering goalscoring form.
Primarily, it is the type of player that Carroll offers to the table – he’s in no better form than Austin or Kane, but he brings a physical presence that offers Hodgson a tactical alternative.
That should in no way be understated. When you think of the reasons for Vicente del Bosque’s incredible success with Spain from 2008-2012, it is often overlooked how he could field subtle yet effective tactical variations when tika-taka failed. Jesus Navas as a touchline-hugging winger would often come on for David Silva to stretch out a congested midfield, while Fernando Llorente played a pivotal role in offering an aerial threat when David Villa or Fernando Torres failed to make an impact.
Go back to their knockout games throughout and those two frequently made key differences in big games. Hodgson has to have different options available to him to make England their best, and Carroll offers an aerial threat above that of Kane.
His goal against Sweden at Euro 2012, a fantastic header, is an apt example to show how Hodgson used height to open up a small Swedish back four to some success.
For the time being Carroll edges Kane in offering the finest quality for that particular skill. But given how impressive Kane’s rapid development has been, Carroll will know he needs to be consistent to hold down that position.
With so many options available to him and Daniel Sturridge injured, it will be interesting to see who he judges to be the best candidate to improve the current England squad.