Over the past several weeks, there has been a striker controversy in North London. Tottenham Hotspur has two expensive strikers, and they have combined for just two goals through the first 10 matches. The pressure has been building on Manager Mauricio Pochettino to start youth striker Harry Kane instead. The excitement over Kane is partly just a function of how ineffective Spurs’ primary strikers have been, but it is also a reflection of one of the most impressive youth résumés in England.
Kane had not been a highly-touted prospect before this season. Unlike the current youth stars of England’s national team, Raheem Sterling and Ross Barkley, Kane is not an exceptionally gifted athlete. He has neither Sterling’s pace nor Barkley’s power. On the baseball scouting scale, Kane would probably rate a 50 for speed (average) and 60 for power (above average but not plus). What the Spurs forward appears to have is not raw tools but that ineffable striker’s skill of finding himself in dangerous positions with an opportunity to score.
Here’s a goal from last season that gets at Kane’s skill. The cross from Christian Eriksen is gorgeous, but note how Kane finds just an extra yard of space between the two center backs and times his run to get to the ball at the last second.
So far, Pochettino has allotted nine starts to Emmanuel Adebayor, two to Roberto Soldado and none to Kane. Adebayor has contributed two goals and no assists in that time, while Soldado has one assist but has yet to score himself. With both strikers out of form, Kane had the opportunity on Sunday to play the hero. After coming on as a substitute, Kane took a free kick in the 90th minute, and his deflected shot found the back of the net. It was a lucky goal by any account, but it’s not just that one goal that stakes Kane’s case. Rather, it’s his track record of getting into dangerous positions, taking good shots and scoring goals.
The game-winner on Sunday was the young Englishman’s first league goal this year, but he had already scored eight others on starts in the Europa League and the Capital One Cup. Only seven other Premier League players have contributed as many goals and assists in all competitions as Kane, and the names surrounding him are nearly all the elite of the league.
He’s done this in just 662 minutes played, giving Kane the third-best per-minute rate of all the players listed. Of course, Kane has for the most part played against lesser teams in secondary competitions. Can he be expected to maintain this level of performance while facing tougher opposition?
While it would be foolish to project a 21-year-old to step in and produce elite numbers, Kane’s underlying statistics in league play in his short career are fantastic. Within minutes of coming on against Aston Villa, Kane contributed a good shot from the danger zone, which was parried away by keeper Brad Guzan. He has attempted 38 shots in 751 minutes played in the EPL, for an elite 4.5 shots per 90 rate. Anything above 3.5 shots per 90 is typically good, over 4 or 4.5 is pushing toward elite. And unlike some players, his shot rate is not a misleading after-effect of poorly chosen strikes. 21 of Kane’s shots have been attempted from the danger zone. That’s 55 percent DZ shots, compared to an EPL average of a little under 40 percent. And he’s not just a penalty box poacher, as Kane’s solid rate of expected assists shows.
If you compare Kane’s underlying shot statistics to other EPL players with at least 500 minutes played in the last three seasons, the names he is compared to get a bit ludicrous.
Obviously Suárez has done this in about 6000 minutes compared to Kane’s 750. And Pellè and Costa have track records in other leagues. One should expect regression to the mean from Kane. But it is hardly surprising based on these charts that the Spurs striker has fans’ expectations rising. He has been putting up excellent numbers both in non-EPL competitions and in the minutes he’s been given in the English Premier League. There is a good chance that Kane will finally earn a start this Sunday against Stoke City, and it is always exciting to see if a top prospect can translate his promise into real production. Harry Kane is a man to watch in English soccer.
All data provided by Opta unless otherwise noted.