There is a split in the discourse surrounding England’s Euro 2020 campaign to date. Some believe Gareth Southgate’s side have had a good group stage, keeping three clean sheets and they have the potential to peak at the right time. His critics suggest the football has been awful to watch and they will be knocked out as soon as they meet a good team. The truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. The defensive record has been impressive, but the Three Lions need to find another gear if they are to go far in the competition.
The one thing that everyone agrees on is that Harry Kane needs to score. He failed to score in the group stages. Although there was an improvement in his contribution against the Czech Republic, a third game passed without the Tottenham man finding the back of the net. If England are to emerge as serious contenders, they need their captain to start hitting his stride, in the same way he did at the 2018 World Cup.
There was a talismanic quality to Kane’s performances at the World Cup, as he won the golden boot. His doubters will say that he was reliant on set pieces, but he led the line well and he was scoring goals regularly. The Kane that we have seen during the group stages has been a shadow of the 2018 version. His lack of goals are the biggest concern, but his lack of involvement suggests there are deeper issues with his game.
In the first three matches, Kane has had only five shots on goal, with just two finding the target. There were signs of life against Czech Republic, as he seemed to create shooting opportunities for himself. This was lacking in the first two matches. When he picked up Harry Maguire’s pass in the first-half, he found the angle to shoot and he should have done better. There seems to be a lack of confidence. Southgate will be hoping that one goal will fix that and Kane can still have a huge influence in the knockout rounds.
Two players that were pre-tournament favourites to win the golden boot alongside Kane were Memphis Depay and Romelu Lukaku. Between them, they have scored five goals. Depay has had 11 attempts on goal, while Lukaku has had seven.
Kane hasn’t been helped by the style of play being used by England. However, there were signs of improvement in that regard, especially in the first half in the third group game. Due to Mason Mount’s self-isolation, Southgate chose to bring Bukayo Saka and Jack Grealish into the team, moving to a 4-2-3-1 formation.
In the first half, they playing quicker through the thirds, with the directness of the aforementioned players being central to that tactical change. This allowed Kane to get on the ball in more advanced areas and he was carrying a bigger threat.
Regardless of the opposition in the next round, England have to play in a similar way. Kane needs to have more support around him and there needs to be more purpose to the build-up play. The first-half against Czech Republic showed that they can do that.
If they deliver that level of performance over 90 minutes, England are good enough to beat a major nation. Kane’s contribution has been rightly criticised so far, but he remains one of the best strikers in world football. His time will come and Southgate will be hoping that time is the round of 16 at Wembley next Tuesday.