Harry Kane is set to sit out England’s final Group B fixture, against Slovakia, after Roy Hodgson recognised the Premier League’s golden boot winner has been showing signs of fatigue over the side’s European Championship campaign.
The national manager hauled Kane and Raheem Sterling from the fray at half-time in the game against Wales in Lens on Thursday with his team trailing, and later suggested both had been suffering from “wear and tear”. The pair’s replacements, Jamie Vardy and Daniel Sturridge, scored the goals which secured England a first win at a tournament since Euro 2012, with Sturridge and possibly Vardy expected to start in Saint-Etienne on Monday.
Kane, who scored 25 Premier League goals for Tottenham Hotspur last term, arrived in France as the team’s first-choice forward but, after five goals in 14 caps, is showing the strain after two seasons of constant use for club and country. His involvement in Lens was his 118th first-team appearance since August 2014, a tally that does not include a friendly in Sydney last May or pre-season fixtures, with Hodgson expected to name the 22-year-old and Sterling – who struggled badly against Wales – among the substitutes against Slovakia.
The hope is both players will be spurred on by a period out of the side. “I think all of our strikers need to be challenged,” said Hodgson, whose decision to bring a quintet of forwards to the finals already appears justified. “They need to accept that. I would like to believe none of them is so arrogant that he sits there and thinks his place is absolutely guaranteed in the team; that ‘this lot can’t threaten me’. I would be very upset if that was the case because I see them in training every day.
“There’s a lot of quality in the strikers. Even the young ones have qualities. The Rashfords, the Jamie Vardys with only four or five international caps … they have got their qualities.” Hodgson described Sturridge, who provided an assist and a goal in his 45 minute display at Stade Bollaert-Delelis, as “a special player” with plenty to contribute now he appears to be over a succession of injury problems.
Sterling struggled to make an impact in Lens and drew the ire of a frustrated England support. The Manchester City winger had spoken at length with the sports psychiatrist Steve Peters in the buildup to the tournament having worked with him during his time at Liverpool. His form in the friendlies before the finals forced his selection against Russia, and he initially performed brightly in that match, after a difficult first season at City, but his impact has since tailed off again.
England have not yet qualified for the knockout stage, despite sitting on top of Group B after Thursday’s victory, but will look to freshen up their starting lineup in Saint-Étienne. Sturridge is expected to start and there could also be tweaks made to midfield, where Jack Wilshere may be introduced as Hodgson seeks a player “to manipulate the ball”.
Wayne Rooney has impressed in his deeper brief in the two games to date. He is likely to have another run-out in midfield against Slovakia with either Dele Alli, thrust further upfield, or Vardy potentially operating in the frontline.
Joe Hart, who against Wales became England’s joint second-most experienced player at these finals, drawing level with James Milner’s 61 caps, will retain his place in goal despite admitting to the error which handed Wales their lead. The Manchester City goalkeeper apologised to his team-mates at half-time after Gareth Bale’s swerving 35-yard free-kick found the bottom corner via his outstretched left hand. “I just said to him he didn’t need to [apologise],” said Hodgson. “He felt he could have saved it so he apologised. That’s football, these things happen and I’m just pleased the team rallied round.
“He’s part of our team and I’m sure that he’s as much of a part of our victory as much as anyone else. Maybe he is relieved that we didn’t lose the game 1-0 when the focus would have been on him and if he could have saved it. But no one in the dressing room had anything negative to say to him. He was the one who said: ‘Lads, I’m sorry, maybe I could have saved that one.’ They said: ‘Forget it, Joe, let’s get out and win the game in the second half.’ That’s boring, but it’s exactly how it was.”
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