Harry Kane had to wait his turn. Until now, he had seen the likes of Bukayo Saka, Jude Bellingham, Marcus Rashford and Phil Foden rack up goals and grab the headlines. Seven other teammates had put the ball into the net so far in the World Cup before the England captain, wearing the number 9 shirt, finally got his goal, breaking into celebration as he put the Three Lions ahead 2 -0 against Senegal at the halftime kick.
Expectations are high when you’re the designated striker in the side. But they’re higher when he’s also the golden boot holder of the last World Cup, has the most tournament goals for England, is one shy of equaling Wayne Rooney’s all-time England goal tally , and is on course to break Alan Shearer’s record for most Premier League goals.
What John Stones said about Harry Kane before England took on Senegal
Despite his teammates scoring nine goals, England manager Gareth Southgate has repeatedly had to answer questions about when Kane will find his shooting boots after their goalless performance in the group stage.
Harry Kane targets ‘battle’ with France in quarter-final after ‘perfect’ goal against Senegal
Kane instead placed three of them.
Kane was asked the same question before the Senegal match. “I would love to be sitting here with two or three goals now, sure, but I think the group stage has gone well.”
While there’s no doubting the quality he possesses on his feet, the bang-out break he had in his early-to-mid-20s is now evidently on the decline. | Photo Credit: Getty Images
The Tottenham Hotspur forward has evolved his game in recent years. While there’s no doubting the quality he possesses on his feet, the bang-up he had in his early-to-mid-20s is now clearly on the wane. When he dribbles with the ball, you almost feel him stagger awkwardly before the defenders get to him. Goals like the one he contested away to Southampton in 2015, when he got past three defenders before scoring, are no longer part of his catalogue. It is not usual to see an elite striker at 29 years of age, a trend that he started a little over two years ago, losing that dynamic quality in his game. Repeated ankle injuries to him (six instances) over the years explain the struggles to some degree.
Southgate: England set for biggest test against France in quarter-final
But here it is: Kane has created a ‘free forward’ role and is operating between the lines. Sort of an outlier among today’s strikers. It’s a bit like what Lionel Messi does, only with the economy of touches and without the emotion and force of nature in his game.
In Argentina‘s match against Australia, Messi attempted 15 line-breaking passes and was successful with 11, while Kane had 11 line-breaking passes against Senegal and was successful with nine, the most among England’s six forwards. Now, Kane sinks deeper, vacating his designated position on the squad sheet in search of the ball across the lines. It’s not easy to go man-to-man for an opposition when a striker does that.
the goal intact
His move naturally draws a defender out of position, allowing Kane’s teammates to fill that space. Kane’s game is now more dangerous once an opposing number allows him to pick up the ball, turn and play into a running back at the feet or behind the lines. At Tottenham, the pace of Heung-min Son and Dejan Kulusevski is used to devastating effect on counterattacks. Kane has registered 17 and 10 assists in the last two seasons with the Spurs. He had a combined 26 assists in the previous six seasons.
In the win over Senegal, Foden (22 years old), Bellingham (19) and Saka (21) were the benefactors of Kane’s movement and pass. For England’s first goal, Foden’s touch helped take Senegal’s right-back out of play. Kane had similarly lured the right centre-back with him down the left channel, where he picked up the ball, spun and unleashed a runaway Bellingham to pull back for midfielder Jordan Henderson to tuck in. When the ball hit the back of the net, Kane was nearly 45 yards from goal, casually jogging into the box.
Repeated ankle injuries (six cases) over the years go some way to explaining Harry Kane’s goal-scoring problems. | Photo credit: AP
A turnaround in Kane’s game has yet to come at the cost of his goal-scoring prowess. He’s scored 33 and 27 goals in the past two years in an otherwise subpar Spurs team. He has 12 goals in 15 games for the North London side this season. He still makes the runs to the end of cutbacks and passes. In the victory over Senegal, he had three touches inside the opponent’s box. He scored from one and almost scored from another before that. In the group stage, he only had six touches inside the box. To put it in perspective, Poland does not. 9 in the world, Robert Lewandowski, had 23 touches in the rival area in four games.
At the 2018 World Cup, Kane scored five goals in the group stage before converting just one penalty in the round of 16 as his form dipped to a fourth-place finish. Kane is careful not to repeat a similar trend and is interested in conserving his energy for the crucial stages of big tournaments. At last year’s Euros, his first goal came in the round of 16 before he netted three more in England’s run to the final.
Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden celebrate with Harry Kane | Photo credit: AFP
“I was aware before the Eurocup of trying to do it in another way. Of course, I still wanted to start well, but I was trying to make sure that I was physically and mentally in the best place for the round of 16, ”he said before the victory in Senegal.
With a goal in the bag and world champions France next, England and Kane will be keen to bring the goalscorer and facilitator back to the fore.
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