Gary Neville believes alarm bells will start ringing after Harry Kane’s despondent demeanour during the defeat with Chelsea – so what exactly is wrong with the England captain?
It would be understandable if the transfer saga that rumbled through this summer and ended with Daniel Levy blocking Kane’s exit to Manchester City would affect the striker – but new Spurs boss Nuno Espirito Santo has also tweaked his role.
Of course, Kane is renowned for brief barren runs under growing pressure before the floodgates typically open spectacularly – just look at Euro 2020 or his infamous dry Augusts, which eventually ended three years ago.
That process is ramping up again with no goals and three shots on target from four attempts during 288 minutes in the Premier League this term.
Kane has now failed to score in his first four Premier League appearances of a season for the first time since 2015/16. Those numbers are stark for a striker widely considered among the best in the world.
The chart below underlines what we have come to expect from Kane. The England captain has smashed 17 or more league goals every season for seven years.
Indeed, Kane appeared to be undergoing a rejuvenation and reinvention last term, winning the Golden Boot on 23 goals with a goal ratio rebounding towards the prime years – when he last won the Golden Boot two years running from 2016.
In terms of reinvention, Kane was also intermittently dropping deeper as a playmaker and notched a league-high 14 assists – equating to a staggering 37 goal involvements for the league campaign.
The graphic below suggests his expected goals ratio has certainly dipped towards his career baseline, but the recent trough could also be attributed to a wider and deeper role – in addition to a lack of creativity within the team.
Even deeper, even wider
Against Chelsea, Kane started on the left in a 4-3-2-1 behind Heung-Min Son. The system and approach appeared to pay off during the first half but was dismantled by Chelsea after the break.
Speaking after the game, Gary Neville said: “As soon as Chelsea went 2-0 up, I was watching and thinking [Kane] wouldn’t be hanging out on the left for much longer. Nuno switched it straight away but when he did go central, nothing happened. He didn’t get more involved in the game.”
Nuno has tended to deploy a 4-3-3 system during his five league games at Spurs – but his method appears to be creating additional support down the left flank at the expense of a central midfielder.
As the graphic below shows, Kane is an integral part of that left-sided vision. In fact, Kane has dropped deeper than in any other season and his heat map currently resembles a reserved, left-sided midfielder.
The bulk of his activity has come from passes just inside the opposition half, with freedom to roam into central and right-sided areas – but, still, typically operating at least 40 yards from goal.
Incredibly, Kane has registered only 10 touches in the opposition box in the Premier League this term. For context, 76 players surpass that figure and Raheem Sterling has clocked nearly three times that total from fewer minutes.
Despite the even deeper positioning, Kane is also passing backwards and sideways more than any previous season, which suggests he has limited options upfield – apart from a notable diagonal into central areas, which is typically directed towards his primary goal combination parter, Son.
But Kane’s, often telepathic, relationship with Son has stalled at the gates this term. Maybe it’s the customary Kane stutter, or the deeper role, or playing too wide left, or the absence of central creativity – despite flashes of promise from Tanguy Ndombele – or the summer transfer saga.
Manchester City are reportedly prepared to come knocking for Kane again in the January transfer window, when Levy must once again decide whether the exit door and club coffers are opened or remain under lock and key.
Speaking on the Gary Neville Podcast following Chelsea’s 3-0 win over Tottenham, the Sky Sports pundit had his say on Harry Kane’s barren start to the campaign after failing to force through a move to Manchester City this summer.
“When Manchester City drew with Southampton, the talk resurfaced about them not signing Harry Kane. He’s playing for Tottenham and he loves this club, but just being on the left on Sunday, I was thinking in the first half, ‘if this doesn’t work, it won’t go down too well’.
“As soon as Chelsea went 2-0 up, I was watching and thinking he wouldn’t be hanging out on the left for much longer. Nuno switched it straight away but when he did go central, nothing happened. He didn’t get more involved in the game.
“They are difficult circumstances in the sense that he did want to further his career and win trophies. Kane chose this summer to publicise the fact that he wanted to leave, and to go and win trophies but Daniel Levy and Tottenham decided to keep him which is their right as he’s under contract.
“But it’s never easy when a player wants to leave your club and everyone in the ground and in the dressing room knows that he wants to leave. Things aren’t going well. We had the stat at Crystal Palace where he’d played his first 90 minutes without a touch in the opposition box or a shot on target. Little things like that start to ring before the game.
“There were alarm bells and now there will be further questions as he looked despondent towards the end. He was playing against a very good team and he’s been part of a Tottenham team in this situation for a number of years. He’ll be thinking, ‘I’m here again’. He’ll be thinking, ‘I’m not going to challenge for the title again at Tottenham and I’m not even going to get into the top four’. He wanted more.
“He wanted to challenge for titles and this Chelsea team will challenge for titles. I can’t see any way in which they won’t. Of course, they could get injuries but I just look to the bench. They seem to have everything.
“At this moment in time, I still don’t believe Liverpool are the same team of a couple of seasons ago even though they’re very good, Man City just haven’t got the striker and Manchester United are doing OK but they’re not the same as Chelsea. United struggled to beat West Ham.”
Keane: A summer hangover?
Sky Sports’ Roy Keane, speaking on Super Sunday:
“He has scored goals this season for his country but for me today it was more his body language. He’s your top man and the guy you’d hang your hat on even when you’re having an off day. That’s when you’ve got to create an argument and knock somebody over. I never see him digging anyone out, ever.
“My concern is that there’s a bit of a hangover from the summer. If I was the manager working with a world-class striker, that would be my concern.
Harry Kane vs Chelsea
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“You want your striker to lead the line. I’ve not got the stats to hand but I don’t remember too many sprints or any chances. Like Ronaldo today, strikers do depend on others creating chances for them but there’s more to it than that.
“If he’s not doing his job, drag him off. You’ve got to put a marker down to the player.”
Souness: He’s not playing like a centre-forward
Sky Sports’ Graeme Souness, speaking on Super Sunday:
“Jose Mourinho was credited with finding a new position for him where he came deep and got on the ball. Kane is someone who can see a pass and is a lovely striker of the ball but I would offer a different argument.
“It really came home to me in the recent England game against Poland, when the ball was going wide he was making no attempt to get into the box. He’s looking for the ball to be rolled back to him.
“For strikers, as they get older, they like to drop deeper as they don’t want to be up against the centre-half. That’s what I see in Harry Kane. I hope I’m wrong but he’s not playing like a centre forward.
“Right now he’s playing in midfield and he needs someone to point out to him that he’s a striker.
“That’s why there’s so much to admire about the Chelsea manager. He’s not afraid to make changes if it means winning the game. If he takes a world-class player off, generally he brings a world-class player on.
“Tottenham don’t have that luxury, but their season depends on getting Harry Kane scoring goals again.”
Richards: Will he stay or will he go now?
Micah Richards, speaking on Super Sunday:
“I wouldn’t say he’s over-thinking but he’s coming too deep. We get to see it live and we can see he gets frustrated when he doesn’t get the ball. He wants to touch it, feel it, but Chelsea knew his game and nullified his threat straightaway.
“It’s difficult for him given all that happened in the summer… is he staying, is he going? I think his head is now totally clear with being at Spurs but they’re just not creating enough for him and he doesn’t help himself when he drops too deep.”
This content was originally published here.