England boss Gareth Southgate sweated over captain Harry Kane’s fitness ahead of Friday’s clash with the United States.
While initial scans suggest he did not sustain any major ankle damage in Monday’s opening World Cup win over Iran, Kane faces a race against time to be fit for England’s second game.
Southgate now has a big decision to make ahead of Friday’s game. He either trusts his medical team’s judgment and uses Kane as a target again, or plays it safe and rests his star forward for more important nights.
So if he chooses the latter option, who can England turn to in Kane’s absence?
sports mail‘s CHRIS SUTTON took a look at the four Plan B options Southgate has in attack against the US and assessed which of them would be most effective on Friday night.
Striker for strikers. There have been a couple of games in England where Harry Kane hasn’t started and generally Gareth Southgate has left with an equivalent substitute.
Tammy Abraham took his place against Italy. Against Ivory Coast it was Ollie Watkins. Against Andorra it was Patrick Bamford. Neither of them are in this World Cup, but Callum Wilson is – and he’s been brought to Qatar to play in that exact scenario.
If Kane isn’t fit, Wilson is there to cover for him. They are obviously different players – Kane is almost irreplaceable.
But Wilson is quick and physical and has good scoring instincts. He would be the obvious choice.
When Marcus Rashford came on as a substitute against Iran, he was used in a wide role, scoring after a lovely assist from Kane. That will have done wonders for Rashford’s confidence.
He was used as a centre-forward for Manchester United but the 25-year-old said playing on the left flank is his favorite position. Still, Rashford will do whatever Southgate asks of him.
Heck, England’s manager could ask me to hand out the half-time oranges and I would.
Rashford is fast. When the USA push the field forward, as they did against Wales in the first half, his pace could come in handy. Rashford isn’t a bad option, but Wilson is the more likely choice.
Southgate is fortunate to have versatile players who give him options if he wants to go in a different direction than a traditional centre-forward.
We’ve seen Phil Foden being used as a false nine for Manchester City in the days leading up to Erling Haaland, acting as the creative link between Jack Grealish and Riyad Mahrez. Kane likes to get involved in builds and Foden isn’t bad at it himself.
He’s neat, he’s mobile, he knows when to drop deep and he can make killer runs behind the opposition line.
But it would take a lot for Foden to do that in a World Cup game. This would be a total wildcard for England.
When Kane didn’t start in March’s 3-0 win over Ivory Coast, Raheem Sterling stepped in as captain, taking central positions near Watkins, assisting one and scoring another. Like Foden, he’s acted as a false nine for Manchester City in the past so it wouldn’t be completely alien to him.
Sterling’s Chelsea form wasn’t the best but he had a strong game against Iran and was expected to start against the USA. If used as a false nine, amazing as that decision would be, Foden could fill the gap down the left.
But I can’t shake the feeling that Wilson would feel undervalued if he saw those top three if he’s Kane’s back-up at this World Cup.