Smith’s backing for Kane – but warning for England
Alan Smith backs Harry Kane, picks his starting XI to face Germany and fires England a warning as he previews Tuesday’s crunch Wembley clash for Sky Sports.
Kane has started all three group games for England at Euro 2020 but is yet to score and has found his performances under scrutiny from some quarters.
The Tottenham striker was substituted in England’s opening win over Croatia and their underwhelming 0-0 draw with Scotland following below-par displays but was improved against the Czech Republic as England earned another narrow win that saw them top the group.
Gareth Southgate said before that game that Kane was England’s “most important player” and former Arsenal and England striker Smith has played down the mini goal drought.
The Euros draw appears to be opening up for Southgate’s side but ahead of Tuesday’s big clash with Germany, Smith – who also picks his XI for Wembley – insists it is vital that England’s focus does not stray from their last-16 opponents…
‘Why Kane’s about much more than goals’
Harry Kane will be disappointed he hasn’t scored at the tournament yet. There is absolutely no question about that, but he did look livelier against the Czechs.
I always look at centre-forwards’ first few touches in the opening spell of the game and his were sharp. He looked like he was thinking quickly, and he didn’t look sluggish in the way that he had done in the opening two games.
That is encouraging for him and for England, and he could have easily scored against the Czechs but for a fantastic save by Tomas Vaclik.
People say Kane needs to be scoring in order for England to win this tournament, but that’s not necessarily the case.
There are players around that can contribute goals and sometimes it is not your chief goalscorer that comes to the fore.
As long as he’s doing his job, as long as he’s engaging the central defenders, holding the ball up and linking the play then there’s not many better in world football at doing that.
However, it would be nice for him to get on the score sheet because that will give him even more zip to his play and really boost his confidence.
If Kane gets another chance of the sort he did against Czech Republic, there’s every possibility he’s going to tuck it away.
There are penalties too and England haven’t had one yet, but he is the man to step up if they do.
For any manager they would always be worried if you are depending on one player overly for goals. I know we’ve not exactly been free-scoring, but the fact Kane hasn’t scored, and we’ve won two out of the three games so far does bode well.
But there is nobody really close to Kane in terms of challenging for his place. Dominic Calvert-Lewin is nowhere near that level at the moment, so Kane obviously gets the shirt.
Could England do more for Kane?
The way England played in the first half against the Czech Republic, there was plenty of action in the penalty area for Kane to be involved in.
On another day, that would be Kane getting on the end of Jack Grealish’s cross to the far post.
But if they play with the same sharpness they produced in that opening 45 minutes again, you’ve got to think he will get opportunities and chances to score.
I don’t think we need to be trying to force this issue. It is not all about Harry Kane, but chances should come his way if England can keep the tempo high.
‘His club future won’t be affecting his displays’
I can imagine that when he is in the hotel, lying on his bed, watching the TV and with plenty of time to think, he will be thinking about his future. In between matches you are going to be thinking about it, of course you are.
But once you walk out at Wembley with an England shirt on and the whistle goes, there is only one thing you are thinking about.
There is no way his future at club level is going to affect his game during the 90 minutes. I just can’t see that happening. He’s such a single-minded individual.
I do think that off the pitch he might be a little distracted at times, but he’s definitely got the ability to switch on and put all that to the back of his mind once the game is underway. These are huge matches; it is tournament football, and these are the games everyone wants to play well in.
Kane Is certainly no different.
‘England cannot get ahead of themselves’
If we can get past Germany, the draw looks a little kinder than it might have been. But facing Germany is a huge challenge for England.
England had a very comfortable passage through the World Cup to the semi-finals where eventually they came unstuck against Croatia.
If we can clear this hurdle against Germany, then it will give everyone a great deal of confidence.
Obviously, Germany are not as strong as they have been at times, but even so, to beat them would be huge from a morale point of view.
However, you just can’t afford to look ahead. Doing that could be fatal to your chances.
It’s all about getting past Germany on Tuesday at Wembley. Let’s hope they can. It’s a very hard game to call. It’s 50-50 in my opinion and it will be about who can turn it on when Tuesday comes around, who can take their chances and cope with the pressure.
That’s what will decide this game.
Wembley could prove crucial. It’s home comforts and England have got a great record there.
Those fans give great support but also, they do bring with them that expectation as well. You can hear the groans when things aren’t going well or when someone passes the ball sideways.
That’s the flip side to it but I think, without question, it is an advantage and England have got to try and use it to the best of their advantage.
‘My England XI to face Germany’
Smith’s England XI to face Germany: (4-2-3-1) Pickford, Walker, Stones, Maguire, Shaw, Rice, Henderson, Sterling, Grealish, Foden, Kane.
In defence, Germany are likely to go with a back three and wing-backs so that may present a problem, but I’m sticking with the back four because I wouldn’t want to upset the chemistry England have at the moment.
Kyle Walker plays at right-back for his experience, pace and his ability to get out there to Robin Gosens, to get tight to him and then get back into position. John Stones and Harry Maguire for me are the first-choice pairing and they both looked good against Czech Republic.
I thought Stones looked particularly sharp, really fit and in the peak of health at the moment, plus he’s in good form so that looks promising. Then there’s Maguire, who hit the ground running the other night, which was very encouraging. It’s obviously going to be a bit different against Germany, but he is very important to this England side. He is important for his passing ability coming out of defence as much as anything.
Luke Shaw then plays at left-back to complete the back four. Ben Chilwell has been extremely unlucky and hasn’t had any game time due to having to isolate, but Shaw looks good and reliable, so I’d stick with this back four.
Declan Rice and Kalvin Phillips have been the go-to midfielders and they probably do deserve another crack, but when Jordan Henderson came on against the Czechs it was noticeable how he offers a bit of variety in central midfield with his ability to hit slightly longer balls.
It all depends on the Liverpool midfielder’s fitness but he looked really good when he came on the other night, injecting something into England’s play and it just gives us a little bit more impetus in that area of the pitch. I wouldn’t be averse to Henderson playing and Phillips would probably be the one to miss out, and he’d be unlucky.
Further forward, Southgate’s got a few selection headaches. I think it is safe to assume that Raheem Sterling plays having been the match-winner twice and also for those runs he makes beyond defenders.
There’s talk about Jack Grealish not making it and I’d be pretty surprised by that after his performance in the final group game. I thought the way him and Sterling interchanged positions looked fluid and natural. Grealish grabbed the game by the scruff of the neck at times against the Czechs; he demanded the ball, drew fouls, committed opponents and he obviously set up the goal.
And then it is Phil Foden or Bukayo Saka. As much as I love Saka and as well as he did, I’d still probably go for Foden just because of that little bit of extra experience he has at this level. I thought he did well in the first two games. He’s a fantastic talent and I’d be inclined to go with him.