Gareth Southgate refusing to play two strikers even in England training

Ollie Watkins – Gareth Southgate refusing to play two strikers even in England training

Gareth Southgate is yet to test playing with two strikers in training as the England manager sticks to Plan A in his bid to win the European Championship.

Southgate included three strikers in his 26-man squad and yet, so far, Ollie Watkins and Ivan Toney have spent the majority of their time pretending to be opposition frontmen to help the preparation of England’s defenders.

Neither Watkins, who scored 19 Premier League goals and registered 13 assists for Aston Villa, nor Toney were used in the narrow win against Serbia and Southgate appears to favour like-for-like switches from the substitutes’ bench.

Rather than change shape against Serbia, Southgate sent on Jarrod Bowen to replace Bukayo Saka against Serbia, with Toney taking over from Kane in the warm-up defeat by Iceland and Kane replacing Watkins against Bosnia.

Asked if he had played alongside Kane at all in England training, Villa star Watkins said: “No, we haven’t. We’ve done a lot of tactical stuff, but it’s normally me and Ivan pretending to be Serbia. We weren’t too bad! Ivan makes a good Mitrovic and I was Vlahovic.”

England face Denmark in their second Group C game on Thursday night and, speaking on Tuesday, Watkins was asked whether he had been asked to pretend to be Manchester United striker Rasmus Hojlund yet.

“Well we did an extended training session today and it wasn’t tactics, but maybe tomorrow.”

Watkins admitted that he would like to be given the chance to play alongside Kane and feels the pair could replicate the England captain’s old Tottenham Hotspur partnership with Son Heung-min.

But he also stressed that he would not be adding to Southgate’s headaches by knocking on the manager’s door.

“No, I don’t think I would,” said Watkins. “I feel like he probably has a lot of tough decisions to make, looking at the squad. There are a lot of good players and it’s probably a headache for him, so he doesn’t need me causing another one.”

On his desire to play with Kane, Watkins added: “Yes, definitely. I would like to play with H, because he drops in deep. He can play the No 10 role and he picks up a lot of passes.

“I feel it would be similar to when he was at Tottenham and picking the balls up and playing it through to Son. But I know we’re blessed with a lot of talent in the No 10 role.”

Watkins was also asked whether or not he should start a game next to Kane or be used as a substitute alongside him, but the 28-year-old said: “I’m not the manager! I don’t know. I’m just saying that Harry’s a world-class player and I like to play with top players.”

Watkins: ‘I’m used to playing every game’

Given he is guaranteed to start every game for Villa, Watkins admitted that he is having to get used to his supporting role with England.

“I think it’s something that’s new for me,” said Watkins. “I’m used to playing every game. I have done across the last four or five seasons. I don’t enjoy being on the bench, I’m not going to lie. But I don’t think any player is happy to sit there and just watch their team. But I know my qualities and I’ll be ready when I get the opportunity.

“And the thing is it could be in the game on Thursday. It could be later on in the tournament and I just have to be ready when called upon. That’s the mindset I’ve got. I’m ready for any opportunity that’s thrown my way. You’ve seen it in the Champions League. Joselu didn’t play much across the season, but he came on and scored two very important goals. Real Madrid wouldn’t have won it without him.”

Watkins insisted that he and Toney are in friendly competition to be seen as Kane’s number one deputy, and believes they offer different qualities if Southgate continues to stick by his Plan A of only ever playing with one striker.

“Obviously, there are different options for different games and there will be some games that suit me more where there’s a lot of space to run in behind,” said Watkins. “And there’ll be maybe games that are a lot more physical, with long balls being put up and Ivan will be maybe better in that case. So it’s good to have options.

“I always feel as a striker – or for any player – you always get compared to another player in your position. But I don’t have any bad feelings. There’s no animosity between me and Ivan. I’m not one of these people who’d wish bad on anyone. I want everyone to win at the end of the day. Ivan scored a lot of goals and he’s a great player. I’ve scored a lot of goals and I’m a good player.”