England manager Gareth Southgate will be naming his squad next week for the final two international matches before the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar as the Three Lions face off against Italy and Germany in the UEFA Nations League, and before he puts his ear to the phone, the former Crystal Palace and Middlesborough player will face more questions than answers as he prepares his side for arguably the biggest tournament in world football.
The games in Milan and at Wembley towards the end of the month will be Southgate’s last chance to cast an incredibly attentive and analytical eye before eventually naming a 26-man squad for the international showpiece in November.
And considering how the new campaign has started, Southgate will be faced with many dilemmas as he picks his squad, with many of his household names struggling to make their mark at the club level so far this campaign, and who’s positions as one of his most tried and trusted lieutenants is in serious peril.
Players like Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Tyrone Mings, Mason Mount, Jack Grealish, Kalvin Phillips and Jarrod Bowen have either struggled to stake their claim for a regular place at their respective clubs or are struggling to pull up any trees so far this campaign, which leaves the England manager doubting whether any of these regulars in his squad can continue their trajectory under his stewardship.
However, there are a number of players making an impression, especially in the attacking sense and Southgate has indeed previously suggested that there is a high bar for forwards to break into his setup given the quality in his arsenal.
Alongside the two guarantors in Harry Kane and Raheem Sterling, there are however, places up for grabs. Marcus Rashford and Jadon Sancho who were ejected from the previous squad earlier this year, have returned to form under Ten Hag at Manchester United, Bukayo Saka is enjoying another fruitful spell at Arsenal, and so is Phil Foden at champions Manchester City. Tammy Abraham is impressing over at AS Roma in Serie A, whilst the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Callum Wilson are recovering from injuries which leaves a few spots opening up, on the striking front.
One player who is certainly staking his claim for a place so far this campaign – and controversially speaking, pulling up the biggest trees of any English forward right now – is Brentford‘s Ivan Toney.
The 26-year-old has been nothing short of sensational this season, or even since Brentford’s first Premier League match at the start of last campaign, a 2-0 win over Arsenal. He registered 12 goals and five assists during the 2021/22 campaign, after a scintillating 31-goal Sky Bet Championship campaign the previous year, and so far this campaign has hit five goals and two assists.
If you need any more evidence as to how good Toney is, you’d only need to check out his hat trick against Leeds United last weekend.
They ain’t believe in me… but GOD DID !!! pic.twitter.com/fPcWds9TZ3
— Ivan Toney (@ivantoney24) September 3, 2022
The third, arguably the best of an unerring bunch of top-quality goals, a piece of amazing skill which further highlighted just why the former Newcastle United and Peterborough man is one of the best strikers in the English top-flight, he’s arguably so far enjoying a better campaign than Harry Kane. Let’s be honest!
It’s got to be only a matter of time before Gareth Southgate finally offers him his first England cap over the next few weeks. There will certainly be uproar, if that isn’t the case, certainly from the Brentford faithful.
When Toney was released by Newcastle United back in 2018, little did we know, or even he know he’d be one of the underrated stars of the English top flight four years later, and for a team who have just started off their Premier League journey – a rather terrific one to put the gloss on Thomas Frank’s tremendously built side.
The Northampton-born hitman has enjoyed a fairytale come-up; released by Newcastle United, starting off again at League One level with Peterborough where he excelled before signing for Brentford in August 2020, and going onto become the Sky Bet Championship’s record goalscorer in a single campaign – which was recently been beaten by Fulham‘s Aleksandr Mitrovic last season.
So far in a Brentford shirt, he’s hit 52 goals in 96 appearances, 17 of them in the Premier League at the time of writing – only Mohamed Salah (25), Son Heung-Min (23), Harry Kane (22) and Cristiano Ronaldo (18) have hit more goals than Toney since Brentford’s promotion to the top flight. In fact, only Salah (115) and Kane (112) have bagged more goals in English football than Toney (101) since August 2018. He also has a spotless record for the Bees, scoring all 18 of his attempts.
His record in front of goal simply cannot be questioned, he is a reliable goalscorer, a pretty darn good one at that and his manager agrees. Speaking after Toney’s heroics in their 5-2 win at Leeds United, he said: “Obviously Ivan would be delighted if he gets a call-up and he would love to play for England, I know that for a fact. We hope for it but that is one of his strengths; that he is consistent in everything he does.
“He was obviously magnificent in every aspect of the (Leeds) game. Three different goals but all three taken with top quality, so I really do hope he gets that call-up.
“I think it would be well deserved but again it is Gareth’s job to pick the best players for England and he has done a very good job so far in doing that. In-form strikers? He must be the best behind Kane right now.”
Indeed, he is the best behind Harry Kane but more important of all, he is incredibly consistent at what he does. Isn’t that what Gareth Southgate looks for in his forwards? Consistency? Confidence? Attacking influence? Potential to perform at the top level in football?
Ivan Toney ticks all those boxes. However, it won’t just be his goalscoring exploits that Southgate will be most impressed by, but Toney’s all-round game is what stands him out amongst his counterparts. He is the complete forward, not only finding the back of the net but also providing a telling influence for his teammates too.
So far this campaign, he’s registered two assists along with his five goals (check out his assist for Bryan Mbeumo against Manchester United in their 4-0 rout last month – a mesmerising pass), created four big chances, averaging 1.7 key passes per game.
Also, amongst forwards in Europe’s top five leagues over the past 365 days, he ranks in the 74th percentile for key passes, 84th percentile for passes into the final third, 81st percentile for progressive passes, 73rd percentile for shot-creating actions and most tellingly in the 99th percentile for through balls per 90. Considering the club he is playing for, those metrics, according to FBRef make for incredible reading.
He is a constant threat who also works hard when not in possession too. Ivan Toney’s defensive statistics also stand out: he ranks in the 73rd percentile of forwards for tackles won per 90, 98th percentile for shots saved per 90, 90th percentile for interceptions and 95th percentile for clearances per 90.
Despite losing Christian Eriksen to Manchester United over the summer, the Bees have not missed the Danish superstar one bit, simply because of Toney’s incredibly unique ability to drop deep and pick out superb passes for his fellow attacking outlets.
The 26-year-old is crucial to Thomas Frank’s setup, his strength in the air and the ability to hold up the ball as well as picking out great pockets of space in order to hurt opposition defence are such unique attributes in Toney’s game. Out of all forwards in the top flight, only Chris Wood recorded more aerial duels won than Toney.
Calling him a poor man’s Harry Kane could even be considered very disrespectful to him.
As his Bees teammate, Mbeumo explained: “For me, he has so many qualities and abilities: He can pass, shoot, finish, drop and play with the ball, lead the line. And that all makes him a very hard player for the opponents to deal with, because he has the capacity to change his type of play.
“He has a different and unique profile, and for me he really deserves his chance with his country.”
Southgate will need all the creativity and invention in the final third he can muster heading into the World Cup in November, and possessing the qualities of Ivan Toney will be an incredibly smart addition to his setup. As stated previously, he is arguably the best performing English forward right now, so it will of course be a disservice to not pick him or at least try him out in England’s next two international friendlies.
The ball is in your court, Gareth. Ivan Toney is your man.