Can Kane & Calvert-Lewin Inspire England to Euro 2020 Glory?
The Nations League returns this week and while it’s a chance to win a trophy, many managers are merely using such games to prepare for next summer's European Championships.
France are 7/2 favourites to win the Nations League after Portugal won the inaugural League A in June 2019, but it's a trophy that does not carry the same weight as the Euros, not even close.
England's odds to win the Nations League are 15/2 yet Gareth Southgate's side are 5/2 joint favourites with France to be crowned champions of Europe assuming they go ahead as rescheduled next year.
The tournament was supposed to be played across Europe this summer, but was postponed for a year due to Covid-19. The Three Lions face three games in seven days with Nations League games in Belgium and at home to Iceland coming after Thursday's friendly with the Republic of Ireland.
Those fixtures should give Southgate the chance to fine-tune his team selection and tactics for next year's Euros.
Questions remain about who should be selected in defence, midfield and attack, not to mention whether Jordan Pickford should remain first choice goalkeeper. But it is the options in attack that will generate the most debate over the coming months.
Southgate has tried a number of options up front in recent matches. In their Nations League opener, Tottenham's Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling of Manchester City started as the front two in a 5-3-2 formation as England beat Iceland 1-0.
Three days later in Denmark, Kane and Sterling were joined by Jadon Sancho in the starting line-up as Southgate opted for a 4-3-3 formation, but the game failed to produce a goal.
When Wales made the short trip to Wembley, Southgate used the friendly to hand a debut to Everton's Dominic Calvert-Lewin. It was a just reward for the striker who began the domestic football season with nine goals in his first six league and cup games for the Toffees.
England Strike Force in Nations League This Season
|Combination||Minutes On Field Together|
|Kane & Sterling||98|
|Kane & Rashford||96|
|Calvert-Lewin & Rashford||65|
|Kane, Sterling & Sancho||60|
|Kane, Calvert-Lewin & Sancho||17|
|Sterling, Ings, Sancho & Grealish||12|
|Kane, Sterling & Ings||5|
|Kane, Sterling, Ings & Sancho||5|
|Kane, Rashford & Sancho||1|
|Kane & Calvert-Lewin||1|
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Calvert-Lewin's consolation goal at Newcastle last weekend was his 11th goal in 12 domestic games.
The Toffees target-man kept his place in Southgate's team selection for their 2-1 win against Belgium in their next Nations League tie alongside Marcus Rashford.
But Calvert-Lewin was unable to score in successive games as a Rashford penalty and Mason Mount's deflected shot secured the win. Calvert-Lewin was replaced by Kane with 24 minutes remaining.
Last time out, at home to Denmark, Kane and Rashford started the game which did not go according to plan for England. Harry Maguire's red card after half an hour, which led to the penalty that gave the Danes their 1-0 win, meant Southgate's game plan had to change drastically.
Southgate has not been afraid to hand out debuts with 38 players being given their chance to shine for their country during his tenure, so he should have an idea as to what his best XI would be.
Sterling and Rashford have not been as prolific as Kane and Calvert-Lewin, but with 15 goals between them the pair may feel they have done enough to start in the Euros.
They have only played one minute together as a pair up front for their country against Denmark, but will Southgate give them a chance to build an understanding this week?
Emile Heskey, who played with Southgate for England, suggests Kane's current form in a freer role could bring the best out of a confident Calvert-Lewin.
Remarkably, Kane has been directly involved in 15 of the 19 Premier League goals Tottenham have scored this season, netting seven and providing assists for eight others – seven of which have set up Son Heung-Min to score.
"Kane seems like he has changed his game," Heskey told Gambling.com. "Although he's still scoring goals, he's creating them for others, and Son is certainly enjoying it because he's reaping the rewards.
"When he first started, he [Kane] was more of a No.10, so we shouldn't be too surprised that he's suddenly showing these other qualities to his game."
Kane The Provider
Calvert-Lewin has the quality to cash in on Kane's creativity as his 12 strikes this season have highlighted his ability to score all types of goals.
Heskey can relate to Calvert-Lewin, whose confidence has been boosted playing for an elite manager like Carlo Ancelotti at club level, the Italian having turned the 23-year-old into an England international.
"Calvert-Lewin's confidence is through the roof," Heskey said. "He has shown an immense amount of confidence to go out there and express himself and play.
"We saw snippets of it last season, but it wasn't often enough. But now we are seeing it all, week-in, week-out.
"He's holding the ball up, winning flick-ons, scoring headers, creating chances for himself and others and showing really good touches.
"Ancelotti has brought that confidence out in him and he looks a totally different player to what he was last season.
"I had that under Gerard Houllier. It happens when a manager doesn't heap pressure on you, when you're told to go out and express yourself.
"That makes you feel relaxed when you're playing, and Houllier did that for me."
Calvert-Lewin is a player who thrives on confidence and he will be given plenty of encouragement from Southgate who seems prepared to pick players on form, not reputation.
English Premier League Goal Contribution This Season:
Based on current form, Kane and Calvert-Lewin deserve to lead the line for their country. Kane leads the league with direct involvement in 15 Premier League goals and as captain his name is first on Southgate's team-sheet.
Leicester's Jamie Vardy is next on the goal contribution list with nine but Vardy retired from international football in August 2018 to prolong his club career, and it seems to be working out for him.
Meanwhile, Aston Villa's Jack Grealish - a midfielder who can also play in an advanced role - has been involved in nine league goals this term and he is certainly in Southgate's plans going forward after being named in the latest squad for the three matches coming up.
Calvert-Lewin has yet to provide an assist in the league this season, but his role in the Everton team is purely to score goals and after finding the net on his England debut, the future looks bright for the youngster.
This international break is a chance for Calvert-Lewin to impress Southgate and secure a place in England's attack in time for next year's Euros.
Taking chances is something Calvert-Lewin has done on a regular basis already this season and there is nothing to suggest he won't take this chance for his country either, especially if Kane can create chances for him from a slightly deeper role.
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