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For a period of time, Harry Kane was peerless. He was comfortably England’s best forward.
The Tottenham Hotspur talisman fell into the same category as Wayne Rooney, David Beckham and Michael Owen. He was that important that he was regularly rushed back from injury to play for the Three Lions.
The 26-year-old has 26 goals in 41 appearances for his country, he won the Golden Boot at the 2018 World Cup and he’s scored against Germany, France and Colombia. He’s just three shy strikes short of the top ten for England goals and time is on his side.
However, heading into the October round of fixtures, Kane’s place as an undisputed starter for Garth Southgate’s side isn’t quite as assured as it once might have been.
The Spurs hit-man is by no means out of form. He’s averaged 0.50 open-play goals per 90 in the Premier League so far this season, but there’s an argument to be made that he simply isn’t the best option for England right now.
Southgate regularly speaks about using in-form players. Along with injury, it was his reasoning behind leaving Dele Alli and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain out of his most recent England squad.
If this is, in fact, true then the only man who should be leading the line against Bulgaria and the Czech Republic is Tammy Abraham. It could be argued that this is a kneejerk reaction given the Chelsea No.9 had scored just five Premier League goals prior to this new campaign getting underway. But it isn't.
To kick-off the new season, Abraham went three appearances without finding the back of the net. But then, backed by Frank Lampard, the 22-year-old registered twice against Norwich City after being restored to the Chelsea XI. He followed that up with another double against Sheffield United and then bagged a treble against Wolverhampton Wanderers in the following game.
He went three matches without a goal after that spell of seven in three. But he’s now struck in back-to-back games as Chelsea claimed their first win in the Champions League under Lampard before a 4-1 victory over Southampton lifted them into fifth in the Premier League.
Abraham was in line for a call-up to the Nigeria squad but opted to play for England. Something he wouldn’t have done if he didn’t feel he could break into Southgate’s starting XI.
He might not get a better opportunity.
While strikers are judged on more than just goals these days, being able to put the ball into the back of the net helps their cause. So far this term, Abraham has averaged 1.25 open-play goals per 90 from an open-play post-shot expected goals average of 0.93. For context, post-shot expected goals uses where the shot was taken from as well as where the effort lands on target to give the chance a value.
It helps identify which players are improving their shots with their placement. For example, Abraham’s expected goals per 90 average is 0.7 but his post-shot expected goals average is 0.93 which shows the Chelsea forward is finishing smartly and improving how dangerous his efforts are.
Kane is lagging behind his rival when looking at expected goals, value added to expected efforts and open-play goals per 90.
The Spurs No.10 is averaging fewer shots per 90 and he’s landing fewer of his efforts on target. But he is having slightly more touches in the penalty area. However, the stats highlight how sharp Abraham has been this season. Now we're into October, sample sizes are increasing and players are reverting to the mean.
But the Chelsea striker is still averaging more than four shots per 90. This sort of volume is usually associated with forwards in dominant sides. Yet the former Aston Villa loanee is posting that figure for an inexperienced side while getting close to 60 per cent of his shots on target.
He’s running really hot and the Three Lions should look to take advantage of this. It would be interesting to see how Abraham adapts to the England side with Jadon Sancho and Raheem Sterling providing the ammunition.
This isn’t to say Abraham is better than Kane. But, on current form, the former is in a league of his own and Southgate should take advantage of this to see if he can really rival Kane for England's No.9 jersey in the long-term, or whether these performances are heavily linked to Chelsea’s approach to games.