Gareth Southgate believes England’s frontline is as exciting as any other in the world.
World Cup Golden Boot winner Harry Kane grabbed a hat-trick in Saturday’s 4-0 victory over Bulgaria to move him past Stan Mortensen and Sir Geoff Hurst in the Three Lions’ all-time scoring ranks.
The England skipper not only has 25 goals from 40 international appearances but is complemented by the likes of Raheem Sterling and Marcus Rashford, with teenagers Jadon Sancho and Callum Hudson-Odoi knocking on Southgate’s door.
“I think that they’re as exciting as anything, really,” Southgate said of his attacking unit.
“I remember going to Spain and thinking ‘well, a really tough game, but actually you look at our front three and their front three on the night and I felt that we were strong’.
“And I’ve got to say, we’ve got Sancho and Hudson-Odoi who are going to push, and really push, so I think that it is exciting.
“You need to have players on the field to affect the games, but you need to have players that can come in and have an impact and I think we’re in a healthy position.”
Asked if the players are beginning to recognise they have the potential to be the best, Southgate said: “It’s an interesting comment. I think they have great humility.
“I think they possibly don’t, because they sometimes don’t view themselves as others do.
“We’ve also got to remember that as a coaching team. Very often you work with the team and it’s easy to find what they can’t do well.
“I think whenever we’re judging games, all of us look at what hasn’t gone well and sometimes we can overlook the brilliant things that they do, that maybe other countries don’t have.”
Southgate’s front three on Saturday worked well together thanks to their “balance of speed, intelligent movement”, unselfishness and work-rate.
Having an out-and-out goalscorer at the top is another big help, with 26-year-old Kane already well on the way to breaking Wayne Rooney’s all-time England scoring record of 53.
“I think it will just be about fitness and avoiding lengthy injuries – things that are out of your control – but I would think everything else is there to really challenge it,” Southgate said.
“The reality of that is that there’s a reason that only Bobby (Charlton) and Gary (Lineker) and Wayne have got there, because it’s such a hard challenge to stay fit, the number-one choice, focused, motivated for the long period that you need to be able to get the games and to get those goals.
“But if anybody has that strength of mentality, for sure it’s Harry.”
While the attack is becoming an increasingly exciting component, a midfield balance has yet to be achieved.
Southgate believes the change to a midfield three is helping to solve the issue of injecting creativity on top of a defensive platform, although there is no clear Luka Modric or Frenkie De Jong type of player.
There is, though, talent coming through. Mason Mount is looking to push on after his debut on Saturday, while James Maddison is hoping to win his first cap in Tuesday’s Euro 2020 qualifier against Kosovo.
“There’s Phil Foden as well underneath that,” Southgate said.
“There are different profiles of players that come through our academies, and some that have been playing number 10 earlier in their careers, or wingers – Ox (Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain), (Ross) Barkley – that are giving us different opportunities.
“We’ve got Ruben (Loftus-Cheek) as well who is out injured, so there are lots of options.
“We never have them all fit at the same time, so it’s quite an interesting… I mean I watched the Dutch, they never seem to change their bloody team. I don’t get it. They never have an injury. I don’t know how that happens.
“But, yes, we’ve got strength in depth and real competition, so I think we’re fascinated to see who’s going to progress and who’s going to nail those places down.”