Are England’s Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham the best strike force in world football?

Harry Kane and Jude Bellingham are blossoming together for England

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England’s No 9 is Harry Kane, the top goalscorer in the Bundesliga. England’s No 10 is Jude Bellingham, the top goalscorer in La Liga. They are first and fifth respectively in the list of most goal involvements across Europe’s top five leagues. So it is not much a stretch to conclude that, right now, seven months out from Euro 2024, England have the best strike force in international football.

Their double-act in the 3-1 win over Italy last month was testament to that mantle. Kane would drop deep and link play while Bellingham drove into spaces behind. They combined to win England a penalty after Bellingham bounced the ball off Kane as he pinned down a centre-back, and the entire performance offered a glimpse of what a terrifying prospect they could be together at the Euros in Germany next summer.

Sitting with reporters in the home dressing room at Wembley Stadium ahead of England’s final qualifying camp next week, Gareth Southgate ponders the idea that he might have the best pairing in the world. “I think on form it would be hard to beat them,” he says, after giving it some thought. “I’m trying to think of everybody’s strike force and see what others have got…”

Argentina won the World Cup with Lionel Messi and Julian Alvarez, France have Kylian Mbappe and Randal Kolo Muani, Norway have Martin Odegaard behind Erling Haaland. But would England swap Bellingham and Kane? “The long and the short of it is we are really happy and we love the pair of them.”

Even by his own high standards, Kane’s output has been extraordinary in his opening few months at Bayern Munich. He has 15 goals and five assists in 10 Bundesliga games, and his 20 involvements put him well clear of the next best tally in Europe’s major leagues, Stuttgart’s Serhou Guirassy (15), before you get to Erling Haaland and Inter Milan’s Lautaro Martinez (both 13), and then Bellingham (12). In total Kane has 30 goal involvements already this season for club and country, in November. The Premier League has only just adopted its winter ball.

Perhaps that is no surprise when you take a world-class player and put him an utterly dominant team. The hope for England is that at Bayern, Kane might free himself of the pressure to finally win a trophy.

“I think clearly it’s a missing piece for him at the moment and I’m sure if you spoke to all our guys who have won trophies, it changes how you view yourself,” Southgate says. “It isn’t going to change what we think he is capable of and isn’t going to change his talent. But in terms of his mindset and how he will feel, I’m sure that’s something he will benefit from.

“It struck me driving home from our last game [the win over Italy], we were understandably talking about Jude but Kane had scored two, his overall performance was incredible and looking at his caps and goals is staggering, really. So there is a risk we really underestimate what we’ve got and what we’ve had for the last few years because any team, any country would love him as their No 9.”

Kane scores from his own half in one of his three Bundesliga hat-tricks

Bellingham celebrates after winning the Clasico for Real Madrid

While Kane’s Bundesliga goals might have been predicted, Bellingham’s prolific start to life at Real Madrid has come as more of a surprise. Here was a player forging his early career as a box-to-box action man who could drive through the middle of the pitch, but who is now quickly becoming one of the most potent attackers in the world, something England are keen to exploit.

“Jude’s positional evolution is really interesting because the goals wasn’t something that was obvious at Dortmund,” Southgate says. “He was 12 [goals] from 92 [games]; he is now 13 in 14 games at Madrid so he has played a different role and gained confidence from scoring. He has been in the right space for a few tap-ins as well so there’s been a real mixture.”

Southgate is speaking after naming his squad for England’s final two Euro 2024 qualifiers, against Malta and North Macedonia later this month. Newcastle’s Callum Wilson and the fit-again Bukayo Saka have been called up to replace the injured John Stones and Saka’s Arsenal teammate Eddie Nketiah, while Raheem Sterling has again been omitted. England have qualified already but still have a little work left to ensure top spot and primary seeding for December’s group stage draw.

Bellingham is included in the squad despite doubts over a shoulder injury which kept him out of Real Madrid’s Champions League fixture this week. He may not feature in both games, while Kane might be in line for a rest too after such a busy start to the season. Yet Southgate expects both will demand to play, to continue a blossoming partnership between a lethal No 9 and a prodigious No 10, two players almost exactly 10 years apart in age, England’s current captain and his likely successor.

“It’s great, we want good players who are playing well,” Southgate says. “We’re not the only ones with good players playing well. Portugal look very, very strong, France are obviously very, very strong, so there are other countries… We know a Euros, from Greece winning it, from the Czech Republic getting to finals, teams can hit form at the time, but you want ideally to be going in as one of the favourites and that’s the position over the last couple of tournaments that we’ve been in.

“So it’s brilliant that they’re playing well. It’s a bit early for us! But it’s great that you can see the level of the boys and the confidence they will be getting from playing at big clubs in Europe. And they’ll have a broader feel of where everything sits than perhaps the lads that have only played in England.”

England squad for Malta and North Macedonia fixtures

Goalkeepers: Sam Johnstone (Crystal Palace), Jordan Pickford (Everton), Aaron Ramsdale (Arsenal).

Defenders: Levi Colwill (Chelsea), Lewis Dunk (Brighton), Marc Guehi (Crystal Palace), Harry Maguire (Manchester United), Fikayo Tomori (AC Milan), Kieran Trippier (Newcastle), Kyle Walker (Manchester City).

Midfielders: Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool), Jude Bellingham (Real Madrid), Conor Gallagher (Chelsea), Jordan Henderson (Al-Ettifaq), Kalvin Phillips (Manchester City), Declan Rice (Arsenal).

Forwards: Jarrod Bowen (West Ham), Phil Foden (Manchester City), Jack Grealish (Manchester City), Harry Kane (Bayern Munich), James Maddison (Tottenham), Bukayo Saka (Arsenal), Marcus Rashford (Manchester United), Ollie Watkins (Aston Villa), Callum Wilson (Newcastle United).

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