Harry Kane needs Jadon Sancho or Marcus Rashford to start for England – and the numbers prove it

Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho
(Image credit: PA Images)

England 5 Czech Republic 0. Two years ago, the Three Lions' Euro 2020 qualifying campaign began with an emphatic win over the team they now need to overhaul to top Group D. How did they do it? Pace.

At Wembley that night in 2019, the game was only 24 minutes old when Harry Kane dropped deep and swiftly played a reverse ball that set Jadon Sancho clear on the right. When the winger squared the ball across goal, Raheem Sterling did the rest.

The Czechs couldn't handle England's front three that night. Back then, pretty much no-one could. England scored 37 goals in eight qualifying matches, the highest goals per game ratio of any team en route to Euro 2020.

Yet since then, England's formula has changed. Pace has no longer been as critical an ingredient for a place in the front three, and the goals have started to dry up.

Last night's 0-0 draw against Scotland was the fourth time that Kane and Sterling have been joined in the front three by Phil Foden. Individually, all three are outstanding players, each deserving of a place in the England starting line-up, when only their talent is taken into account. But collectively, their four matches together have seen England notch only five goals. Is it enough?


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Harry Kane

(Image credit: PA Images)

For large periods against Scotland, England laboured, lacking inspiration. Kane was starved of service and worryingly anonymous at times, while Sterling and Foden were not on their absolute best form.

They'd been impressive against Croatia, although even then chances were not in plentiful supply. Sterling took his, and that was enough for what was undoubtedly an impressive win against the 2018 World Cup finalists.

Gareth Southgate opted to play Kane, Sterling and Foden together in the first two matches of the Euros because they'd already combined in England's last two World Cup qualifiers in March. Truth be told though, England were far from their attacking best in either of those games - a 2-0 win in Albania, and a narrow 2-1 triumph over Poland. They got the job done, but in neither match did they look like a team that could win the Euros.

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Foden has often operated out wide for Manchester City this season, but in time, perhaps his best position will be more centrally, as a number eight. He might be playing there already for England, if it hadn't been for the emergence of Mason Mount in a central attacking role.

Maybe the pair are so talented that they could play together, even if right now, Southgate seems unlikely to risk going into any game without the defensive security provided by two of Declan Rice, Kalvin Phillips and Jordan Henderson.

But if England need to get their attack firing again - and one goal in two games suggest they do - then they may need to make an alteration to their front three. It's no reflection on any of the fine players currently occupying those slots, it's simply about which combination works best. The Three Lions may be a more potent force if Sancho or Marcus Rashford played alongside Kane and Sterling, offering more pace and a more direct style.

Rashford might have got the nod from the start of the tournament, if he hadn't suffered a difficult end to the club season, hampered by shoulder and ankle problems. Only he and the England staff know how close to full fitness he is right now.

When Sterling, Kane and Rashford started together though, they tore Spain apart in a 3-2 win in Seville in 2018 - England's most impressive attacking display in years - then combined to beat Bulgaria 4-0 and 6-0 in Euro 2020 qualifying.

Marcus Rashford, Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling

(Image credit: PA Images)

True, Bulgaria aren't the Bulgaria of old, but they're also not the sort of team who lose 6-0 at home very often. They won at home to the Czech Republic, yet England could have bagged about 12 on their visit to Sofia. Every time they attacked, it seemed like Sterling, Kane or Rashford would score. The trio have never started a competitive game together since that night, largely because one of them has usually been absent through injury.

England had pace in their front line throughout that qualification campaign. They scored nine in two away games against Kosovo and Montenegro when Sterling and Kane were joined by Callum Hudson-Odoi, who has since drifted from the international scene. 

At home to Montenegro, they scored seven when they fielded Kane, Rashford and Sancho. It was Montenegro's record defeat. As well as combining in the 5-0 home win against the Czech Republic, Sterling, Kane and Sancho helped England bag five at home to Kosovo.

No-one could live with England's pace and directness on both flanks - if the opposition wasn't always great, the Spain game showed it's capable of working against better opponents too.

The World Cup qualifier against Albania in March was perhaps the biggest indication that England have lost something without that double dose of pace. Equally weak opposition, but a much less impressive performance.

Jadon Sancho

(Image credit: PA Images)

It was the same in the most recent Nations League campaign too, when England strayed away from a formula that worked and finished third in their group behind Belgium and Denmark, with only seven goals in six games - admittedly two of them with Sterling, Kane and Sancho in the front three, before a brief switch to two up front, then the introduction of Jack Grealish.

Back then, Sancho was struggling for form - recently he ended his club season on a high, scoring twice and assisting once in Borussia Dortmund's DFB Pokal final victory over RB Leipzig. He's yet to get on to the field at Euro 2020, but now may be the time for either he or Rashford.

Both have shown evidence of forming a deadly combination with Kane and Sterling, in a way that others haven't. England are yet to concede a goal at Euro 2020, but their attack has fallen short of contenders like Italy and Belgium.

Perhaps the Scotland game confirmed what the March World Cup qualifiers had already indicated - that something needs to change for Southgate's side to return to their dynamic best.

On Tuesday, the Czech Republic return to Wembley. Pace destroyed them two years ago. Maybe pace is the way to go again.

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