There are few things that can make a football fan’s heart sink quite like the thought of losing your favorite team to one of their biggest rivals.
Manchester City’s 3-0 victory over Liverpool at the Etihad last night had one big highlight. The first goal of the game was scored by England international Jack Grealish, who is on loan at Aston Villa from the Premier League champions. Read more in detail here: jack grealish.
International vacations are risky for teams, with players hoping to return without injury, but considering how Gareth Southgate is constructing his England squad, Tottenham Hotspur’s worry over Harry Kane may be more psychological than physical.
Spurs did all they could to keep Kane from joining Manchester City this summer after the 28-year-old requested to go, but he’ll be reminded of what he’s missing out on in two World Cup qualifiers against Andorra and Hungary in the next five days. Southgate is likely to maintain some rotation, mindful of the individual load on players at this time of year — thinking that led him to leave out youngsters Jude Bellingham and Mason Greenwood entirely — but a hierarchy among the vast array of attacking players at his disposal is starting to emerge.
– Andorra vs. England: Stream LIVE on ESPN+ on Saturday, October 9 at 2:35 p.m. ET. – England vs. Hungary: Stream LIVE on ESPN+ on Tuesday, October 12th at 2:35 p.m. ET.
Kane’s captaincy, established pedigree, and the absence of a viable option up front make him more immune to the vagaries of form than others.
Despite a poor start to the season, Kane scored in each of England’s three September matches, bringing his total to 41 goals in 64 appearances. It will be a question of when, not if, he surpasses Wayne Rooney’s all-time goal-scoring record for England (53 goals from 119 caps). Southgate greatly appreciates the professionalism and high standards he exhibits as the leader and talisman of a youthful squad, even though his well-earned reputation was tainted when he fought to leave Spurs when chairman Daniel Levy was working overtime to retain his captain in north London.
According to ESPN, City never tried to break Levy’s determination with a bid that came close to his £150 million assessment of Kane, a resolute position made the more impenetrable by the fact that the striker’s £200,000-a-week contract had three years left on it. However, Kane’s poor start to the season has dashed hopes that this uncomfortable chapter is finally closed, perhaps as he battles to find his drive and purpose; for example, he is still without a Premier League goal this season.
The spectacle of City playing at such a high level against Chelsea, PSG, and Liverpool in the last week, but glaringly lacking a striker to more effectively transfer their dominance to the scoreboards, must irritate.
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A change of scenery may be beneficial, but Southgate seems to be deciding on a preferred front three that would have had a chance to grow further under Pep Guardiola at City if things had gone differently. Things may change in an instant. Marcus Rashford will return from shoulder surgery shortly, Jadon Sancho will undoubtedly improve after a slow start at Manchester United, Bukayo Saka’s impact at Arsenal is increasing, and Phil Foden’s outstanding record at Manchester City makes his case persuasive. However, Southgate prefers Jack Grealish and Raheem Sterling to play in the wide positions on each side of Kane.
Grealish’s £100 million transfer from Aston Villa to City has only added to the pressure on Southgate to secure a starting spot for the playmaker who had previously been relegated to the position of impact substitute. Although there is still discussion over whether England should play in a 4-2-3-1, 4-3-3, or return to the three-man defense that has worked well in tournament games, Southgate seems to be persuaded that Grealish’s precocious skill can be integrated without jeopardizing defensive balance.
One of the reasons Grealish has had to gain Southgate’s confidence, according to ESPN sources, is the attacker’s mixed reaction to being expected to press more than he did at Aston Villa. Guardiola’s style is built on such demands from his offensive players, and Grealish’s transfer to City should only add to his attractiveness to Southgate.
Grealish has failed to score for England in 15 appearances, but Southgate noted during his team announcement last week that the 26-year-old is “physically certainly in a better position.”
Sterling’s future at City is in jeopardy as a result of his arrival. Sterling was briefly mentioned as a potential makeweight in a deal to acquire Kane, according to ESPN, but the player himself had no intention of leaving the Premier League winners. The 26-year-old has only started two Premier League games this season, but Grealish has started all seven. Grealish has taken Sterling’s most frequent position on the left for City, fuelling talk that he may leave in January.
Regardless, Sterling remains a key player for Southgate, who is capable of playing on the right flank. He was a star performance at Euro 2020, with his speed crucial in connecting a defensive-minded center midfield with Kane. Although Sterling’s final product has been criticized, he has 16 goals in his last 25 England games and 17 goal involvements in his last 13 qualifying matches, proving himself to be a man for all occasions and a key component as Southgate looks for even more attacking vibrancy with Qatar 2022 just 13 months away.
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• Nigeria against. CA Rep (11:55 a.m. ET) • Tunisia vs. Mauritania (11:55 a.m. ET) (2:55 p.m. ET) • Jamaica vs. USA (7:30 p.m. ET)
Kane has a history of being a sluggish starter. He didn’t score a Premier League goal until August of 2018, a strange aberration he was relieved to put behind him three years ago after more than 1,000 minutes of futility.
Nuno Espirito Santo, however, has only been in charge of Spurs for 12 games and has yet to impose his influence on the squad. Spurs have one of the lowest xG figures in the Premier League (7.25 after seven games), and only three clubs have attempted less shots than Spurs’ 73. (Brentford 72, Norwich City 71, and Watford 70). Last month’s 3-0 loss at Crystal Palace was the first time Kane had failed to have a touch in the opposing box, much alone a shooting of any kind, in the division’s history.
Some Spurs supporters are concerned that Santo’s style is too pragmatic or cautious for the club’s offensive players to perform at their best. Despite reaching the Euro 2020 final and putting England on track to qualify for next year’s World Cup, Southgate has faced the same criticism. However, there must be a concern that Kane is just trying to find a new purpose after being refused the transfer he so much wants.
Can he still feel like England’s top man when others around him are winning big titles and competing in the Champions League?
Kane’s problematic ankles may be vulnerable to injury on Andorra’s plastic surface, according to Spurs sources, which is another matter to ponder ahead of Saturday’s encounter. However, if there is a fight for Kane’s heart and mind, Southgate’s growing reliance on Sterling and Grealish as England’s first-choice front line will be an uncomfortable reminder of what might have been.