Six goals in six games were enough to win Harry Kane the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup, but that didn’t tell the whole story of his tournament.
As prolific as the England skipper was in front of goal, he was some way off his best. The injury Kane arrived in Russia with was a factor, but there was also a stylistic disconnect between the captain and his country.
Kane is widely seen as England’s best player, the vanguard of his generation.
Raheem Sterling holds a claim to this intangible accolade, but when it comes to the national team Kane is the talent Gareth Southgate has built his side around. So much depends on the form and fitness of the 26-year-old.
Yet, it’s possible that Kane is holding England back. Southgate’s side are at their best when they are moving through the lines of transition at pace. In the likes of Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Sterling, they boast players to facilitate such a style of play.
While Kane might not be so naturally suited to this manner of attack, has shown he can perform in a fluid frontline, impressing alongside Rashford and Sterling as England dismantled Spain in a Nations League game last year.
Kane is quicker than he is widely given credit for, with his movement one of his best qualities.
But the Spurs striker has made a great effort to diversify his game of late. It appears he no longer wants to be a frontman and a frontman alone, demonstrated by some of his performances for Tottenham recently. Indeed, Kane is just as likely to be seen dropping deep to collect the ball and pick a pass as he is in the middle waiting for a cross.
This has created problems for Spurs. With Christian Eriksen somewhat ostracised from Mauricio Pochettino’ first-team amid intense transfer speculation, Kane has felt more of a responsibility to do more himself.
This has left Tottenham without a focal point in attack and by playing in this way Kane tends to do more harm than good.
Kane may well feel the temptation to do the same thing for England, especially if Southgate opts to play against Bulgaria and Kosovo in a 4-3-3 shape. The Three Lions still lack a central pace-setter and so Kane could take it upon himself to perform this role. There were signs of this in the Nations League third place defeat to Switzerland.
England don’t need Kane to drop deep.
They need him to run in behind and provide options for Rashford, Sancho and Sterling surging forward. Even then, Kane isn’t the most natural of fits. Both Pochettino and Southgate face a similar dilemma – how to fit your best player into a system that doesn’t play to his strengths.
This isn’t to say that Southgate should necessarily drop Kane. The 26-year-old gives England an attacking presence that no other player does. Sterling has become a proven goalscorer over the past couple seasons, but the Manchester City attacker cannot be relied on for the goals in and around the six-yard box than Kane can be.
Against the likes of Bulgaria and Kosovo it’s possible that Kane will fill his boots.
England will dominate the possession against such lower calibre opponents, but this Euro 2020 qualification campaign is partly about preparing the Three Lions for the tournament itself, where they will come face-to-face with heavyweights of the international game.
When England came up against Belgium and Croatia at last summer’s World Cup, Kane struggled.
Southgate’s Plan B will be just as important as his Plan A if he is to end England’s long wait for an international title and it’s difficult to envisage Kane playing a role in the former. Installing him as an indispensable figure might just be counter-productive.