Sterling's time to shine: Winger steps out of Harry Kane's shadow
Raheem’s time to shine: Sterling steps out of Harry Kane’s shadow to carry the fight for England as Gareth Southgate’s side show they can win without their captain
- Raheem Sterling has arguably become the most important player for England
- Gareth Southgate’s side are finally proving they can cope without Harry Kane
- Southgate praised Sterling’s determination after he helped secure win v Iceland
No Harry Kane, no problem. Well, not quite, but England are finally proving they can cope without their talismanic captain.
That has not always been the case. The national team’s reliance on Kane is inescapable. Since the start of the 2018 World Cup, the Tottenham striker has scored 19 of England’s 61 goals.
He should have been awarded his 33rd international strike against Iceland on Saturday but his early effort was wrongly ruled out for offside.
Raheem Sterling, who scored versus Iceland, is arguably England’s most important player
Yet, there are promising signs that England’s reliance on Kane is fading. Raheem Sterling has scored 11 of those 61 England goals — and provided six assists — while Marcus Rashford has notched seven.
That is not to diminish Kane’s importance — his influence on this team is obvious — but it is clear the national side are becoming adept at winning matches without leaning so heavily on their No 1 striker.
By the time Sterling had stroked home England’s winning penalty in Iceland, captain Kane had been substituted.
And Gareth Southgate’s side had also been reduced to 10 men after Kyle Walker’s show of indiscipline.
Yet they managed to stumble over the over the line, albeit courtesy of Birkir Bjarnason’s woeful penalty miss just moments after Sterling had successfully converted his spot-kick.
How they won is neither here nor there — it never is when England play. And this was only the third time in three years that they had won a competitive game without Kane scoring.
Kane’s influence on the team is clear but England are showing that they can cope without him
‘Harry is a supreme goalscorer and he is critical to the way we play,’ said Southgate.
‘Equally, we have some tremendous threats which will be clear as the next few months develop, with Raheem in particular. Jadon Sancho, Mason Mount coming through, Marcus Rashford, of course, at home (injured).
‘The nice thing is that we won’t be leaning just on Harry and I think goals can come from elsewhere. But he’s still a critical part of what we do.’
Add Manchester United’s 18-year-old striker Mason Greenwood, who made his international debut in Reykjavik, to the equation and it is hard to disagree with Southgate’s thinking.
Sterling scored from the penalty spot as England beat Iceland 1-0 in a hard-fought encounter
The re-emergence of Southampton’s Danny Ings — scorer of 22 Premier League goals last season — as an international option could also be key for Southgate ahead of next summer’s European Championship. Kane’s lack of fitness following a quarantine-hit pre-season was clear during the second half and it remains to be seen whether Southgate starts his captain against Denmark on Tuesday.
If the manager does decide to rest his first-choice striker, he will do so safe in the knowledge that he has viable alternatives.
None more so than Sterling, who is arguably surpassing Kane as England’s most influential player. When England needed a hero against Iceland, the Manchester City man stepped up.
Gareth Southgate has been hugely impressed by the mentality that Sterling has demonstrated
He has been doing that with increasing regularity in an England shirt. Southgate said: ‘I can’t speak highly enough of him, really. It would have been very easy to have another few days on the beach, not report for international duty, get himself right for his club at the beginning of the season.
‘But his mentality the whole week has been exceptional: desperate to be here, desperate to play, desperate to stay on. I thought he carried the fight when we went down to 10 men.
‘He took the responsibility of the penalty and I thought it was outstanding character throughout. His desire to win and succeed is exceptional.
The re-emergence of Danny Ings as an alternative option to Kane could prove to be key
‘Along with Kevin De Bruyne, he was the outstanding player in the Champions League game when Manchester City went out (against Lyon last month), and he’s just been relentless.
‘His hunger to score, his hunger to win things, his hunger to drive himself, you really can’t underestimate that. It has a massive impact on everybody around him and really has taken his game to another level.’
Southgate has turned his attention to Tuesday’s game in Copenhagen. He will freshen up the team — he has no option with a number of players looking exhausted during the closing minutes against Iceland. Having deployed a 4-3-3 system on Saturday, the early indications are that he will consider a switch to 3-4-3 against the Danes.
But however the team lines up, they will do so safe in the knowledge that even without their most distinguished striker, they can still win matches.
ICELAND (4-1-2-2-1): Halldorsson 7; Hermannsson 6, Ingason 6, Arnason 7, Magnusson 6; Palsson 7; Traustason 6 (Hallfredsson 76min), Bjarnason 6; Bodvarsson 7 (H Fridjonsson 90), Thorsteinsson 5 (A Sigurdsson 66, 6); Gudmundsson 6. Subs not used: Fjoluson, Eyjolfsson, S Fridjonsson, Kristinsson, Runarsson, Anderson, Baldursson, Skulason. Booked: Ingason. Sent off: Ingason.
ENGLAND (4-3-3): Pickford 6; Walker 5, Gomez 6, Dier 6.5, Trippier 7; Ward-Prowse 6.5, Rice 6.5, Foden 6.5 (Ings 68, 6); Sancho 6.5 (Alexander-Arnold 73, 6), Kane 6 (Greenwood 78), Sterling 8. Subs not used: Pope, Mings, Keane, Grealish, Mount, Maitland-Niles, Coady, Phillips, Henderson. Scorer: Sterling 90 (pen). Booked: Walker, Gomez. Sent off: Walker.
Referee: Srdjan Jovanovic (Ser) 6.5
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