Gareth Southgate has opted to freshen up his attacking options ahead of England’s latest set of international fixtures, and they could yet pile the pressure on under-fire captain Harry Kane.
The Three Lions boss’ main objective will no doubt be to come within touching distance of next year’s World Cup in Qatar with victories against Andorra away on Saturday followed by Hungary at Wembley Stadium three days later.
But Tammy Abraham and Ollie Watkins are part of the squad that will try and turn that aim into reality following their form for their clubs since the start of the season.
Tammy Abraham has been called up to the latest England squad by Gareth Southgate
He joins Ollie Watkins in the squad, with the duo looking to put pressure on Harry Kane
Abraham has netted four goals in 10 appearances for Roma following his £34million move from Chelsea in the summer.
Meanwhile, Ollie Watkins netted for Aston Villa in their defeat at Tottenham, finally opening his account for the season after a self-proclaimed ‘slow start’ to the campaign that included missing the beginning due to an injury.
But at the opposite end of the field at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Sunday was a man who has still not managed to shrug off the monkey of not scoring a single Premier League goal this term off his back in the form of Kane.
Kane scored in England’s last game against Poland but has largely struggled this season
The 28-year-old scored in England’s last outing in the 1-1 draw in Poland last month, and also netted a hat-trick last week against Mura in the Europa Conference League.
But when it comes to domestic club form, Kane has appeared unable to rid himself of the summer hangover following the Euros and a failure to secure a mega-money move to Manchester City.
With that in mind, can either Abraham or Watkins really challenge Kane for his place as England’s central striker, or will Southgate continue to side with the tried and trusted with his side top of Group I heading into the penultimate international break of the year?
Serie A outfit Roma undoubtedly took a gamble on signing Abraham in the summer after he was frozen out by Thomas Tuchel at Stamford Bridge.
He played just six Premier League games following the German’s arrival in January this year, but still managed to end up as the Blues’ joint-second top goalscorer for the season with six.
There was no doubt therefore that the 24-year-old’s future lay away from Stamford Bridge, but what was not so clear is where he would end up.
Leicester and West Ham were in the running but the former opted to sign Patson Daka while the latter were priced out of a move.
Abraham has been in fine form for Roma since joining, scoring four goals in 10 appearances
Arsenal also flirted with the idea of signing a player who supported them as a boy, but their failure to move on Alexandre Lacazette or Eddie Nketiah in the summer put an end to their chances.
That left Roma, managed by former Blues boss Jose Mourinho, to secure his services in a deal which is understood to include a buy-back clause of £68m in his contract.
‘There is always a small doubt for a player who is born and raised in England,’ Jose Mourinho, who personally pushed for the signing, said earlier this season. ‘They don’t leave London so much and it’s not easy to adapt. But my doubt has already passed.’
The Portuguese’s concerns no longer remain due to what Abraham has produced so far.
He has also contributed two assists and already appears a key figure of Jose Mourinho’s side
Two assists also accompany the four goals he has scored for the Serie A club, who have made Abraham their first-choice central option and a fundamental part of their plans under Mourinho.
In truth, the ex-Blues striker could have added to his goal tally had the crossbar not come in his way on another six occasions already this season.
On this evidence, it looks increasingly like the club for whom Abraham scored 30 goals in 82 appearances will trigger that option to bring him back to Stamford Bridge after the agreed two years.
But a more immediate reward for Abraham – who made his England debut against Germany in 2018 – has come in the form of a first Three Lions call-up since November last year.
The latest of his six international caps came against Iceland in that same month, but you have to go back another 12 months to find his last goal for his country in a 7-0 win against Montenegro.
Abraham has scored just one England goal, which came in 2019 against Montenegro
He will therefore be desperate to add to his six caps and prove a point to the England boss
He was undecided about whether to play for Nigeria or England a month before that call-up and consequent goal, which would no doubt have left him hungry for more.
Abraham will therefore feel he has something to prove to Southgate, who has chosen the likes of Dominic Calvert-Lewin and more recently Patrick Bamford in his latest England squads.
Another man who has helped to oust him is Villa star Watkins, who was delighted with his England call-up.
‘It is always nice to be called up and recognised,’ Watkins said. ‘I feel like my performances have been good. Hopefully I can score a few more and it is only up from there.’
Southgate does not seem to be the only man who has been impressed with Watkins, with former Villa striker Gabriel Agbonlahor even claiming he expects him to challenge for the Premier League Golden Boot this season.
He is some way off Mohamed Salah and Jamie Vardy’s six but a well-taken finish at the near post at Tottenham will no doubt give him confidence, especially as he was frustrated at times throughout the rest of the match.
Ollie Watkins opened his account for Aston Villa this season by scoring in the defeat by Spurs
Watkins scored 14 goals for Villa last season after joining for a then club record fee of £28m from Brentford, and will hope his goal at the weekend is the start of the sort of form that saw him score a hat-trick against Liverpool and twice against Arsenal last term.
Watkins however is even less experienced than Abraham on the international stage, having earned half of the caps the Roma star has following a maiden call-up for his country in March this year.
His England bow also saw him net with his first shot on target in a 5-0 win against San Marino at Wembley, meaning he has the same number of goals as Abraham at the international level.
And while Abraham was never close to making England’s squad for Euro 2020, Watkins did make the provisional squad before being cut for the final set of players that reached the final.
Watkins scored with his first shot on target on his England debut against San Marino in March
But to what extent can the pair’s recent rich club form help them put pressure on Kane? The Spurs man came in for criticism yet again despite their win against Villa.
Former Tottenham right-back Alan Hutton claimed he is trying too hard, telling the BBC: ‘He is one of the best strikers in the world for me, and he always will be. You go through these patches.
‘Obviously what happened in the summer has affected him, but maybe at the moment, he is just trying a little bit too hard. He is trying to get into the spaces where normally it comes naturally to him.’
Meanwhile, England legend Sir Geoff Hurst has claimed Spurs should look to cash in on him when the January transfer window opens.
There has no doubt been a lack of confidence in front of goal from Kane, who missed a gilt-edged chance in the north London derby defeat by Arsenal and then could not take one of the chances created to finish off Villa.
But Southgate (left) is unlikely to be tempted to replace Kane with Watkins or Abraham
His general sub-par performances this term have not been limited to his club either, lacking finesse and looking sluggish for England in Warsaw despite his brilliant dipping drive past Poland keeper Wojciech Szczesny from long range.
But it will be that one touch which could yet linger in Southgate’s mind as to how much game time he affords one of Abraham or Watkins.
It was not so long ago that Kane was linking expertly with Raheem Sterling in the Euros, which he also started modestly before picking up later in the tournament and finishing just one goal behind Golden Boot winner Cristiano Ronaldo.
And even when he was going through that lean patch in the summer, Southgate said: ‘He’s our most important player, there’s no doubt about that.
The 28-year-old has yet to break his duck in the Premier League for Tottenham this season
But it was not so long ago that he was central to an England side that reached the Euros final
‘You’ve only got to look at his goalscoring record with us to see his importance to the team. He is fundamental, not only with the goals he scores but the build-up play and everything else he brings.
‘I know there will be a lot of questions being asked about him at the moment but he’s been through that a hundred times before. I’ve been in this role and answered these questions before and he’s come up with the goals, and I expect that to be the same moving forward.’
And just last month, Southgate admitted he cannot imagine Kane not breaking Wayne Rooney’s goalscoring record of 53 goals for his country, with the Spurs star currently sat on 41 and fifth on the all-time list.
Southgate will keep a close eye on Abraham, but he has staunchly defended Kane recently
Southgate will no doubt keep a close eye on Abraham and Watkins in training and if and when they make it onto the field, especially given that England are currently on 16 points from six qualifying games.
But it appears unlikely that the duo will be able to pile any real pressure on Southgate’s main man Kane.
The 51-year-old has previously staunchly backed him when he has been down in the dumps and looks increasingly likely that he will be afford him as much time as possible with England to try and turn his season around.