This season hasn’t been much of a classic, yet. Chelsea were expected to lead the league having added Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas to an already strong squad, while Manchester City were expected to put up a title defence stronger than their previous. City’s neighbours, United, were also expected to do much better under Louis Van Gaal than under David Moyes, and despite some early struggles they’ve established themselves back among the top 4 places.
Then there’s the surprise packages yet to really drop off their early season pace. West Ham United are flourishing under their tactical genius Sam Allardyce, while Southampton has shrugged off their summer exodus to find themselves among the European places as well. There has not been much else to shout about, but one trend emerging this season will give England fans and Roy Hodgson some hope in the run up to Euro 2016: a new breed of English strikers firmly establishing themselves in their club sides and the league in general.
Bucking The Trend?
English international strikers have usually been picked from the top clubs in the country. Only during Euro 2004 did England, under Swede Sven-Göran Eriksson, had strikers from a diverse pool of clubs. Owen and Rooney led the line while plying their trade for both sides of the Merseyside divide, while Emile Heskey and Darius Vassell brought much pride to the Midlands’ clubs, Birmingham City and Aston Villa respectively.
Some argue that elitist favouritism resulted in Peter Crouch being an England regular when he was at Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool; while Michael Owen and Emile Heskey were the first-choice strike during the early naughties, back when both were at Liverpool. In more recent times, Wayne Rooney is captain for United and England, while Danny Welbeck, once of United and now at Arsenal, and Daniel Sturridge, currently Liverpool’s injured first-choice striker, are Hodgson’s preferred frontmen too.
to be fair, crouch’s england record was pretty impressive
However, the season so far has seen a rise in the number and quality of strikers Hodgson could, and probably should, turn to soon. With Van Gaal preferring Rooney in a deeper, midfield position, Welbeck still being shuffled between the wings and upfront at Arsenal, and Sturridge continuing to be plagued by injury, this new trend could actually benefit Hodgson by providing much more quality competition to the striking positions.
The New Breed
Among this bunch, the most probable to be called up at the moment is certainly Charlie Austin of QPR. Austin is the top English goalscorer right now with 12 goals, and quite amazingly, it is also his first season in the Premier League. He has really benefitted from Harry Redknapp’s use of wingers, with the likes of Eduardo Vargas providing Austin with great service and support. Austin has the height to battle with tall central defenders, as well as being very competent on the ground – as seen with his touch, swivel and composed finish at Southampton. Some of his finishes this season has been poacher-like, and Austin certainly knows how to time his runs. Austin may not be the type of modern day forward who drops deep to link the play up, but he could be exactly the type of goal poacher Hodgson needs to finish off chances created by Rooney et al. And at 25 years old, Austin’s best years are still ahead of him, and QPR, and England, will continue expecting him to progress.
could austin turn out in the white of england soon?
Next in line is the ever impressive Harry Kane. This season has really been a breakthrough year for the Spurs academy graduate. Kane started the campaign with appearances in the cup competitions, and took his chance well, scoring a few goals that saw him displace Emmanuel Adebayor and Roberto Soldado as Mauricio Pochettino’s first-choice striker in the league. The Argentine manager’s faith in the young Englishman has been rewarded, with key goals and great link-up play with Christian Eriksen during Spurs’ recent good form. Kane may only be measure in at 1.83m, but he has the physique to carry the ball upfield and has shown that he can deal with the league’s meanest defenders. His ever improving relationship with Eriksen also shows that he can play with a roving playmaker, and this could work in Kane’s favour with Hodgson looking to find the right striker for Rooney to work off.
One that is quite similar to the current choices, Welbeck and Sturridge, is West Brom’s Saido Berahino. The 21 year old, born in Burundi, has pace to burn, magnificent footwork and a powerful shot on him. He seems to have a similar playing style to Jermain Defoe. Berahino’s tally of seven league goals this season has already seen him surpass his total from last season. His form has dropped off in the past month, but Berahino is still key to West Brom’s survival. And with Stephane Sessegnon leading the supporting cast, Berahino should easily hit double digits by May.
Beyond this trio, there are a few who could, with a goalscoring run in 2015, also push Hodgson for a spot in his England side. Andy Carroll has recently returned from injury to play his part in West Ham’s impressive season, and has looked a great threat up front, linking well with former Liverpool teammate and fellow England contender Stewart Downing. Carroll’s qualities are clear to most, so it will be more of the Geordie steering clear of injury and being a constant in Allardyce’s new-look team. Burnley’s 22 year old striker Danny Ings is attracting attention from sides higher up the league, with his haul of four league goals is pretty decent for a relegation-battling side struggling for goals. Like Berahino, Ings will be key to his side’s survival, but unfortunately for Ings, it seems that he does not have the quality of service Berahino currently enjoys, which could hinder Ings’ chances of impressing Hodgson.
berahino must regain his early season form to make the international step up
A final mention surely has to go to Southampton’s Jay Rodriguez. The 25 year old looked set for the World Cup after breaking into the national side, but unfortunately a cruel long-term injury scuppered his chances and now Rodriguez has a battle just to get back into his club side. Saints’ new signings Saido Mane, Dusan Tadic and Graziano Pelle look to have sealed the three attacking slots, so it will take some goal haul off the bench, or an unfortunate injury to either trio, to find Rodriguez back in the starting line-up. Fortunately, his status at the club will mean manager Ronald Koeman will give him every chance to do so.
With this array of strikers getting first-team football at club sides at all corners of the league table, Hodgson will not just be able to call upon trophy-winning strikers, but also battle-hardened warriors from the other end of the spectrum – bruised as well as bruising strikers that go through the pains of a relegation dogfight. Hodgson will hope that, at the end of the next 18 months, he will have a very welcoming headache as he picks which of his probable, preferred trio of strikers (excluding Rooney) he will take to France.