Why England must bench Harry Kane

If Gareth Southgate wants to end Sunday as the first manager in 58 years to lead England to major silverware then there is one overwhelmingly obvious change he needs to make to his side.

It is time to drop Harry Kane.

This is not about rewarding substitute Ollie Watkins for his match-winning heroics, the brilliant drive across Bart Verbruggen to seal the greatest win on foreign soil in English footballing history. It need not even be the Aston Villa man who takes his place; Ivan Toney has looked no less sprightly when he has been the one called on from the bench.

It is about what the Golden Boot front-runner and all-time record goalscorer is not offering to England, typified in the brilliant work of his teammates to release Bukayo Saka down the right byline early in the second half. Without time to take a touch or truly assess the situation, the Arsenal man did all that could be asked of a player as the ball flew out of play. Hit the ball towards the penalty spot, just where you would expect your talismanic No. 9 to be on hand to get a shot away.

Kane was nowhere to be seen. Too often that has been the case for England during these Euros. Against Switzerland, Kieran Trippier and Jude Bellingham crafted a great opening for a near post cross from the left only to discover there was no one to play it to, their skipper having previously been scrapping away in front of his box.

They have a player who continues to prove he can craft something in an instant when he gets in the danger area, on Wednesday night hitting a rasping effort just over the bar that would ultimately lead to a contentious penalty conceded by Denzel Dumfries. Instead, the 30-year-old seems all too willing to indulge his love for gridiron, insisting on being England's quarterback when they need someone to be on the receiving end in the end zone. When Kane was withdrawn for Watkins with 10 minutes to go in Dortmund he had had as many touches in his defensive half (three) as the Dutch penalty area. That is actually more balance than normal. For the tournament as a whole the Three Lions' record scorer has 41 touches in his own half of the pitch. He has 26 in the penalty area.

While the solution might be the same as the one Roberto Martinez should very obviously have taken to improve Portugal -- drop your talismanic striker -- the problem is nothing like the one that Cristiano Ronaldo posed for his teammates. England don't have a center forward waiting for the ball to be delivered to them. They have one too keen to go and get it.

Kane might playmake as well as any elite No. 9 but if that is going to work he needs to be surrounded by the right players. In Heung-min Son and the Leroy Sane of early last season, he found himself paired with players whose first instinct was to sprint beyond whenever the ball came to their center forward. None of England's front three tend towards that style of play. Saka, Bellingham and Phil Foden relish space in which to operate -- before the semifinal win their best performance had come when Kane afforded that for him, barely touching the ball but holding a high position that dragged the Serbia defensive line back with him.

Kane is not creating shots for others. In his last four seasons of league football, he averaged 1.34 chances created and 0.14 expected assists (xA) per 90 minutes. At Euro 2024 those numbers have cratered to 0.83 and 0.03. An insistence on creating for others has come at the cost of shots for Kane. He might be getting shots from penalties and set pieces but 1.82 from open play is the 40th-best mark at the tournament, slightly fewer than Hakan Calhanoglu got for the Turkish cause. The shots Kane isn't getting are coming off those crosses and positive positions, which too often result in nothing at all. The shooting burden is not being picked up elsewhere.

Of course, it is easy to pitch this, to contend that Watkins' commitment to running the channels however often he is asked would be just what England need to stretch a Spain defense that has looked more vulnerable than its record suggests. Quite another to dispense with the services of the all-time leading men's goalscorer in European Championships knockout games. Even a manager with less of a conservative caricature than Southgate would have elicited some surprise in withdrawing Kane in pursuit of a match-winner during a major semifinal. Would anyone in his position, on the cusp of history, ditch their right-hand man?

After all, it might only take one fortuitous bounce in the Spanish box. There is no one England would rather it dropped to than Kane. Will he be there though?

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