England trip to Andorra gives Gareth Southgate the chance to continue challenging search for Harry Kane’s deputy

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Gareth Southgate is likely to experiment against Andorra  (The FA via Getty Images)
Gareth Southgate is likely to experiment against Andorra (The FA via Getty Images)

If Gareth Southgate cannot use tomorrow’s game against Andorra as a chance to experiment, then when can he?

In the reverse fixture last month, he reinvented Trent Alexander-Arnold as a play-making midfielder and later Reece James in a holding role.

Patrick Bamford was given a shot at leading the line before Harry Kane was summoned from the bench to get the job done as a guaranteed three points at Wembley proved trickier than expected.

Kane will, no doubt, be itching to play some part at the Estadi Nacional in the Pyrenees to further add to his 41 goals for England and edge ever closer to Wayne Rooney’s all-time record of 53.

But if the start of this season has proved anything, it is that Southgate needs an alternative to his captain and talisman.

Kane’s failure to secure a move to Manchester City in the summer appears to weigh heavily on his shoulders, whether he cares to admit it or not. He has looked a shadow of himself in the games of real consequence for Tottenham.

While he has six goals in 10 appearances, five of those came against Pacos Ferreira and NS Mura in the Europa Conference League. They are teams Kane never wanted to be facing this season, in a competition he never wanted to be playing in.

He is still to score in the Premier League, but there will be no panic from Southgate, who saw Kane score in all three of England’s September World Cup qualifiers, but finding a reliable understudy has so far proved beyond him. And if Kane’s malaise seeps into his international form, then it will become more of a pressing concern.

Bamford was the latest in a long line of contenders for a role that is proving thankless. It is an unenviable position to be back-up to the nation’s best player. Opportunities are rare and expectations are high.

Against Andorra, at Wembley, Bamford may well have thought it was an ideal chance to get his international career off to a flying start. Instead, he left the pitch shortly after the hour mark with just a single shot on target to his name. Kane came on and within 10 minutes had found the back of the net from the penalty spot. That is what he does and what no other English striker of his era has come close to emulating.

Southgate has searched far and wide. In the past three years Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ollie Watkins, Tammy Abraham, Danny Ings, Callum Wilson, Danny Welbeck, Mason Greenwood and even Rooney have been given a shot. None of them can combine Kane’s lethal finishing with his play-making qualities.

England cannot rely solely on Harry Kane (PA)
England cannot rely solely on Harry Kane (PA)

That is fair enough, given the 28-year-old’s status as one of the finest strikers in the world. Portugal do not have another Cristiano Ronaldo, likewise Argentina and Lionel Messi.

When England have needed goals from elsewhere, Raheem Sterling has generally been the man to provide them, but Southgate is aware of the need for a viable back-up to Kane, even if he has backed his captain to maintain his standards well into his thirties.

Abraham looks well placed to push his cause during this international window after being pushed out of the England picture when frozen out by Thomas Tuchel at Chelsea. He is rebuilding his career under Jose Mourinho at Roma and has the link-up play to add to his finishing qualities.

Injuries to Calvert-Lewin, who pushed ahead of Abraham leading up to the Euros, and Bamford has given him the chance to force his way back into Southgate’s plans. Watkins is another looking to use Andorra to make an impression.

That has been the issue for the revolving cast of understudies: they come and go having left little mark.

Calvert-Lewin went to the Euros as first back-up to Kane, barely had a kick, and while injury has taken him out of contention so far this season, his absence has hardly been felt.

Tammy Abraham has returned to the England squad (Getty Images)
Tammy Abraham has returned to the England squad (Getty Images)

Be it Bamford, Watkins or Abraham, Southgate can replace him with another competent striker who is unlikely to see meaningful action but for a major injury to Kane. The challenge for all of them is to break away from that pack.

Goals, alone, against Andorra, who conceded five against Latvia and four against Hungary, Ireland and England in recent times, will not be enough for Abraham and Watkins to do that.

But anything other than that and they risk being shuffled back to the bottom of the pack at time when they are running out of opportunities to impress ahead of next year’s World Cup.

Abraham spoke well this week of his own ambition to be considered among the best strikers in the world. Calvert-Lewin, too, believes he can one day displace Kane.

Even amid Kane’s current struggles at club level, that feels a long way off. Right now, the task is to become the man behind the man — and that is proving challenging.

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