In the coming months, Gareth Southgate will have a plethora of decisions to make. The big one, of course, will be how his England side sets up: Will he opt for a back 3 or 4? Then, there’s the question who to play in whatever system he does choose. There’s even a significant debate over what goalkeepers he brings to Russia, let alone who starts.
The Vardy Option
But despite all the uncertainty, Harry Kane has sown up the heart of the attack. And why would he not have? In his last three seasons, Kane has scored 78 league goals in 99 appearances – the most of any player over this period. With a phenomenal return of .79 goals per game, he remains the obvious first-choice to start up-front for England.
When compared to Kane, Vardy has only scored 51 goals in 102 league games. However, when it comes to a World Cup, you need someone who can step up in the big games – and the Foxes’ talisman has shown time and time again that he is the man to do just that.
In the last three seasons, Vardy’s goal per game ratio increases for the big games, at a rate of .62 goals per game against the ‘big 6,’ whereas Kane’s decreases to .47 goals per game – with Leicester substituted in for Tottenham when necessary to keep it a level playing field. This is a significant difference when you’re talking about only a few games at an international tournament.
Replicating Leicester’s 4-4-2
Of course, for England’s upcoming friendlies against the Netherlands and Italy, Kane is out injured, giving Vardy the chance to audition for his starting place in Russia. It’s clear that the team would also need to be built around Vardy for the pair of games. The Leicester City frontman has thrived in a 4-4-2 at the King Power – including the incredible league winning campaign of 2015/16 – alongside Shinji Okazaki or Kelechi Iheanacho.
For England, there are a handful of players who could play in a similar workhorse position, namely Jesse Lingard. Sitting behind the striker, Lingard has shown a creative spark and a dogged grit that would make him a suitable candidate to play alongside Vardy. A front two of Vardy and Lingard will have a pace and energy to it that most teams will find hard to stop.
At the international level, success can often come down to identity. Just look at all the World Cup winners of this century: Brazil played a swashbuckling attack that would overwhelm any opponent. Italy were a defensive masterclass, and Spain would pass around any defence. Germany had a team built on youth and pressing that couldn’t be kept up with.
For England to come close to winning the World Cup, they need to establish a clear identity and stick with it from a grass root level all the way to the summit. The 4-4-2 is, thankfully, ingrained in English football and the modern version of the formation is a perfect blend of defensive grit and a breath-taking counter attack that would appease any English fan.
The Logical Choice for Southgate
England’s next four games will be a perfect playground to test out this system. The outcomes of the games against two top sides in Italy and the Netherlands are largely irrelevant. What’s important is that the players get practice in the system, and visible progress is made. Losing might even be beneficial to temper the always unusually high expectations of the England team.
England also have the good fortune of opening the World Cup with the two easier games of their group. Against Tunisia and Panama, England will be granted with a valuable opportunity to see if Kane and Vardy could be able to work together up front without much risk of losing. Southgate also has the added incentive to try something different on the basis that the FA has assured him of his employment status no matter what happens in Russia. Even if England manage to lose each of their games this the Summer, Southgate will continue in his role.
Kane, let’s be clear, is the better striker and he plays in the better team with the better manager. But we can’t forget that Vardy is a Premier League winning striker and his record against top sides is astonishing. This season, Vardy became the first ever player to score against all of the Big 6 in one season. If they play to Vardy’s strengths, then maybe England could be having a party this Summer in Russia.