England’s attack needs a shake-up – who should Southgate bring in?

With the final international break before the World Cup looming, England’s upcoming matches against Italy and Germany in the Nations League give Gareth Southgate an opportunity to look at the players vying for the last spots in his squad. Southgate will have a good idea about who he will be taking to Qatar, injury permitting, but with 26 places up for grabs – three more than at the previous World Cup – the players on the fringes will fancy their chances of making the flight.

A number of players have impressed in recent months and will hope they have done enough for their clubs to warrant a look-in. Given England’s drab performances earlier this year, they have every right to believe they deserve international recognition. England have collected just two points from their four Nations League matches so far. They have conceded six goals and scored just the once – and that was a late Harry Kane penalty against Germany. England are likely to be relegated to League B unless their results improve dramatically at San Siro and Wembley later this month. Considering that the team’s last match ended in a 4-0 defeat to Hungary, their worst on home soil for 94 years, it’s probably time to shake up the squad.

England have concerns in front of goal. One goal in four matches, and that coming from the penalty spot, is a worry for Southgate. Yes, the four Nations League matches were scheduled at a bizarre time, coming after a long season, but that should not be used as an excuse. Having picked a familiar set of attackers in those fixtures, bar Jarrod Bowen, Southgate should freshen things up and maximise the talent pool available to him.

The standout contender is Brentford striker Ivan Toney. After a solid return of 12 goals and five assists for the Bees in their debut Premier League season, he was surprisingly overlooked by Southgate in the summer. It will be hard for Southgate to ignore the 26-year-old after his sprint start to the season. No English player has scored more goals than Toney (five) in Europe’s top five leagues this season, and only Manchester City goal machine Erling Haaland (11) has been directly involved in more goals than Toney (seven) in the Premier League.

Jamaica tried to convince Toney to switch his national allegiance last year, but he rejected the chance to turn out for the Reggae Boyz, which may prove to be a wise decision for both the player and Southgate. Toney is not a traditional No 9 in the sense that he is simply there to get on the end of chances. His buildup play is also crucial for Brentford, something England and Southgate could utilise to good effect.

Anthony Gordon is another player who will hope his club performances have been good enough to secure a spot in the England setup. The 21-year-old does not have a great goal return – he has been yellow carded more times (seven) than he has scored goals (six) in the Premier League – but he brings a youthful fearlessness to his game that could help England. Subject to intense speculation over his future over the summer, the Everton player has been solid this season. His willingness to get stuck in would give his England teammates and the fans a lift.

Another winger pushing for a first international cap is Leeds star Jack Harrison. The 25-year-old has made an exceptional start to the season, registering one goal and three assists in his opening three league matches, including a standout display in a memorable 3-0 win over Chelsea.

The goals and assists have since dried up, though not for want of trying. Only Mohamed Salah (24) and Kevin De Bruyne (21) have created more goalscoring chances than Harrison (18) in the league this season. If his teammates had showed a little more composure, Harrison would have more than three assists to his name. He could offer England an alternative creative threat from the left should Southgate wish to use a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1.

Southgate could also bring back the tried and tested players who were left out of the England squad for the June internationals. With three goals and two assists to his name, Marcus Rashford is one goal away from matching his goal contribution last season as the Rashford renaissance continues to gather pace. The Manchester United forward looks a striker rejuvenated under Erik ten Hag and, having previously shone on the international stage alongside Raheem Sterling and Kane in a 4-3-3, he could return to the fold.

Jadon Sancho will hope his solid start to the campaign will be rewarded with an England return. Sancho is one goal away from matching last season’s return, having bagged key goals in narrow wins over Liverpool and Leicester. Sancho is able to keep his composure when required and his level-headedness in front of goal would benefit England.

Southgate has new options and experienced players who are coming into form. He has some decisions to make. The England boss will want to gain momentum before the World Cup and, after four stagnant displays in June, some fresh faces could give the regular starters who have become too comfortable a shot in the arm. With relegation from their Nations League group on the cards, what does he have to lose?