An incredible 33 goals in 48 Championship appearances last season marked Ivan Toney as one of English football’s most lethal finishers. However, the gulf between the first and second tier is so wide, and ever growing, that many questioned whether the Brentford frontman would cut it at Premier League level.
Five matches into the 2021/22 campaign, though, and such doubts have faded. Toney has grown with every game he has played with the 25-year-old extremely impressive in Brentford’s 2-0 away win over Wolves, in which he scored one and assisted the other. The hosts couldn’t handle Toney.
He produced a complete performance. Toney gave Brentford cutting edge in the final third, held up play effectively as the visitors’ attacking apex and even shouldered his share of the defensive duties as the Bees, who played much of the second half with 10 men, left Molineux with all three points.
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Last season, it was Patrick Bamford who faced questions over his top-flight ability after an impressive campaign in the Championship. Bamford netted 16 times to fire Leeds United to promotion and managed to better that tally in the Premier League, where he mustered 17 goals in 38 outings.
This has been enough to push Bamford into the England squad, with the 28-year-old making his senior international debut in the World Cup qualifying win over Andorra two weeks ago. Gareth Southgate has started the process of formulating his squad for Qatar 2022 and Bamford is clearly on his radar.
Toney should be in Southgate’s thought process too. If Bamford stands a chance of being included in England’s World Cup squad, the Brentford man must also be on the shortlist of forwards. Toney has shown enough in his recent performances to suggest he would handle the step up to the international level just as he has handled the step up to the Premier League.
Southgate’s tactical horizon would be broadened with the selection of Toney. While Bamford predominantly plays as a lone frontman in a 4-1-4-1 or 3-3-1 shape for Leeds, Toney can operate as one half of a front two, as he did against Wolves. This is something England could use as part of a Plan B.
Kane, of course, will be England’s first choice centre forward for the 2022 World Cup if fit with the Tottenham Hotspur striker arguably the best in Europe in his position. But there were times during Euro 2020 when Kane struggled to influence play. Southgate needs better ways to combat this in Qatar.
Marcus Rashford gives England a threat in behind, as does Raheem Sterling, while Mason Greenwood, whose development at Manchester United is continuing at a rapid pace, is a wide forward who carries real goal threat from the flanks. Southgate doesn’t have another forward like Toney, though.
As Wolves discovered, Toney is a defender’s nightmare. He is awkward to play against. His movement isn’t especially orthodox with his physicality making him a handful, but Toney also has the technical ability to play it on the ground - he wouldn’t be so effective for Brentford otherwise. All these qualities make him an excellent strike partner.
To use Toney as part of a front two, Southgate would have to change his game plan, but this is precisely why the Brentford striker should be in his thoughts. England will need options to go all the way in Qatar and while Toney must continue to score goals and impress in the Premier League this season, he has the profile to be a useful figure for the Three Lions.
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