How the spotlight on Sterling will benefit Kane
Gareth Southgate takes his England side to Montenegro on Monday as they look to build on their impressive 5-0 win at home to the Czech Republic in their Euro 2020 qualifying opener.
Here’s what to look out for as the Three Lions prepare for their first away match of 2019…
Spotlight on Sterling
Raheem Sterling was the toast of Wembley on Friday, with his hat-trick steering England towards a comprehensive victory as they began their road to Euro 2020.
The 24-year-old is rightly receiving plaudits from all directions for his attitude off the field as much as his performances on it, with Jadon Sancho praising Sterling for taking him under his wing, and it means the Manchester City winger's card will be marked as England head to Montenegro on Monday.
This spotlight on Sterling could well play into Sancho’s hands on the other wing, but perhaps no player will benefit as much as England’s captain, Harry Kane.
The Tottenham striker has long shouldered the goalscoring burden for England, but in Sterling he has a team-mate who has proven himself capable of sharing the load.
England’s goalscorers since the World Cup
- Raheem Sterling: 5
- Marcus Rashford: 3
- Harry Kane: 2
- Jesse Lingard: 2
- Trent Alexander-Arnold: 1
- Callum Wilson: 1
A fit Marcus Rashford has done likewise in recent months, and in taking the limelight on Friday, Sterling has alleviated the pressure on Kane, who has scored twice for England since the World Cup, including from the spot at Wembley on Friday.
Harry Kane of England celebrate after scoring goal during the 2020 UEFA European Championships group X qualifying match between XX and XX at Wembley Stadium on March 22, 2019 in London, United Kingdom.Getty Images
So often the focal point in an opposition’s pre-match rundown, Kane enters the Montenegro match as simply one of many attacking threats the hosts must handle if they are to take anything from the game.
As a result, Kane could well thrive in the healthy competition that Sterling has thrown his way. The identity of England’s talisman is once more up for debate - it would be no surprise to see Kane rise to the occasion in their final match before the Nations League Finals in June.
Barkley’s time to shine
Eric Dier limped off against the Czech Republic on Friday and will not be fit to face Montenegro, meaning the man who replaced him at Wembley, Ross Barkley, will be favourite to slot in at midfield in Podgorica.
Barkley has featured fleetingly for Chelsea this season, starting 11 of Chelsea’s 30 Premier League games and coming off the bench 12 times.
Southgate has kept his fatih in Ross Barkley, a player who stands on the edge of the old and new EnglandGetty Images
The 25-year-old has been given greater playing time in cup competitions, and was on target in both legs of Chelsea’s last-32 victory over Malmo last month, and it appears he will have the opportunity to prove to Southgate his worth from the off.
West Ham’s Declan Rice, who made his debut against the Czechs, will also be pushing for a start, and having been a regular fixture for the Hammers this season, Barkley will know he must put in a performance – should he start – to justify selection ahead of the 20-year-old.
Declan Rice has been part of a confident England camp this week for the first timeGetty Images
Can Montenegro spring an upset?
Recent results highlight how stubborn Montengro can be, losing by a two-goal margin just three times in their last 25 games – the last time they lost by three goals was 26 matches ago at Macedonia in 2015.
Montenegro's last 10 results
- Friendly: Bosnia-Herzegovina 0-0 Montenegro
- Friendly: Montenegro 0-2 Slovenia
- Nations League: Romania 0-0 Montenegro
- Nations League: Montenegro 2-0 Lithuania
- Nations League: Montenegro 0-2 Serbia
- Nations League: Lithuania 1-4 Montenegro
- Nations League: Serbia 2-1 Montenegro
- Nations League: Montenegro 0-1 Romania
- Euro Qualifier: Bulgaria 1–1 Montenegro
Montenegro have arguably not faced a nation of England’s calibre since… coming up against England six years ago, with a 1-1 at home before losing 4-1 away in the World Cup 2014 qualifiers.
England are a different beast to what they were in 2013, but will still be wary of facing a Montenegro side who were eight minutes away from starting their Euro 2020 qualifying campaign in fine style; a late Todor Nedelev holding them to a 1-1 draw in Bulgaria.
With just two wins in their last 13 matches, Montenegro should be no match for Southgate’s men, but the eastern European side will hope to draw on narrow losses at home to Poland and Denmark – 1-2 and 0-1 respectively – in their World Cup 2018 qualifying run as proof they can run the Three Lions close.