Yes, Harry Kane must sharpen up... but this England team is set up for its captain to fail

yes, harry kane must sharpen up... but this england team is set up for its captain to fail

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Let us begin by cooling the jets on one thing. Harry Kane, fitness permitting (and that is another question in itself) will not, and should not, be dropped from this England team.

The captain’s goal to open the scoring against Denmark here in Frankfurt was his 64th in international football. Only one other player in Gareth Southgate’s squad has more than four.

Kane has started tournaments slowly before and then come alive. Indeed, this was the first time he had scored in a group stage since the World Cup in Russia six years ago.

The presence of a world-class No9 is something England, for all their deficiencies, have been able to rely upon for years when the likes of France, Spain, Germany, Italy and the Dutch have not. To surrender that advantage now would be insane.

This, though, combined with a peripheral showing against Serbia, was a troubling display, one in which Kane again looked short of himself after missing the end of the club season with a back problem, and England again looked in no way set up to get the best of a player whose brilliance has narrowed in its reach.

The 30-year-old’s sharp finish from Kyle Walker’s cross on 18 minutes would prove his only touch in the Denmark box all evening. When trying to show the other side to his game, dropping deep to switch the play out of frustration at England’s familiar retreat, he gave the ball away and was punished by the Danish leveller. With 20 minutes to go and England looking for a winner, the most prolific scorer in the country’s history was withdrawn.

Inside the Deutsche-Bank Park, consensus quickly formed that England’s major problem had been in midfield, with Trent Alexander-Arnold looking less a diamond discovery and more a lost sheep. In the BBC’s wash-up, though, the lived experiences of two great England strikers saw the spotlight turn on Kane.

“When I got into my thirties and I’d lost a yard of pace, I needed legs around me,” said Alan Shearer, advocating for a darter like Anthony Gordon to come into the side against Slovenia next week.

Gary Lineker took a different turn.

“In all honesty, Harry Kane needs to do a lot better,” he said. “His movement was minimal. Even when he comes short, he’s drifting very lethargically, he’s plodding short.”

Both are probably right. Clearly, Kane must improve. He has not for years now been a high-pressing forward, since a series of ankle injuries took their toll, but he is capable of playing with infinitely more intensity than this.

England’s lack of a player to stretch the game, either wide left or in behind, has, though, given the three-man defences of both Serbia and Denmark scope to focus on smothering Kane out of the game.

Clips resurfaced this morning on social media of England’s 3-2 victory over Spain in the Nations League in 2018, still the high watermark in terms of an attacking display under Southgate, with Kane magnificent in creating from deep and Marcus Rashford and Raheem Sterling flying beyond.

Onus is on Kane himself, to sharpen up, to show the desire that even now is not really in question. On Southgate falls the task of finding a way to help him out, by getting that kind of free-running foil into his team.

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