Harry Kane – The first name on the teamsheet for both club and country. He is the most clinical striker England have produced in years, and his continued improvement is music to the ears of England fans. But just how important is he to Gareth Southgate’s England team, and does he have the ability to lead The Three Lions to a deep run in this summer’s World Cup finals?
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Growth, Progression, and Improvement
Harry Kane burst onto the scene at Tottenham in the 2014/15 campaign, but he actually made his debut years earlier. Things didn’t look quite as rosy as they do now though, with him winning and subsequently missing a penalty in his Spurs debut against Hearts in the Europa League. The rest of this season and the following two campaigns were largely spent out on loan, where the teenage striker began to develop his skills.
He returned to a Tottenham side under the new management of Mauricio Pocchettino for the 2014/15 season, and it was this campaign that would prove to be his breakout year. An overwhelming dedication to self improvement and Pocchettino’s demanding training sessions transformed him almost overnight from backup to first choice striker.
He scored his first professional hat-trick in October of that year as Spurs thrashed Asteras Tripoli 5-1, a game that will long live in the memory of Kane. After netting his hat-trick he was forced to get between the sticks after Hugo Lloris got sent off, conceding their only goal of the game. He finished that season with 31 club goals to his name, 21 of which came in the Premier League.
Unsurprisingly, this earned him a call up to the national team by Roy Hodgson. It was another game to remember for the youngster from Spurs as he replaced Wayne Rooney in the second half against Lithuania before opening his England account just over a minute later. He was afforded his full England debut a few days later in a friendly against Italy, and he has rarely been overlooked since.
That 2014/15 campaign will go down as the defining season in Harry Kane’s young career. He came from nowhere to lead Spurs’ scoring charts, earning himself an England callup in the process and even being awarded the captains armband for Spurs later on in the season. His 30th goal of the season came against Newcastle in mid-April, and that made him the first Spurs player to reach that milestone since Gary Lineker managed it all the way back in 1992. His 21st league goal of the season, which came on the final day against Everton, saw him equal the club record for Premier League goals in a season.
Far from a one-season wonder, Harry Kane has progressed incredibly over the last few seasons. He has never scored fewer Premier League goals than the previous campaign for Spurs, and back in December he broke Alan Shearer’s long standing record if 36 Premier League goals in a calendar year, eventually finishing 2017 with 39 league goals and 56 in all competitions, a record that made him Europe’s top scorer. This was the first time in eight years that neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo had won the award.
He has been similarly successful in terms of goalscoring for the national side too, netting 12 times in 23 appearances since his debut in 2015. He is England’s first choice striker by a mile, and despite being just 24 years old his maturity and leadership skills have been enough to earn him the England captaincy for the World Cup.
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England’s Changing Shape
Despite making his debut off the bench against Lithuania and starting the next match, Kane didn’t actually become a regular starter until the latter stages of 2015. He was named in the starting eleven against Estonia in October, and went on to start the next five games for England. Injuries have kept him out of a fair few England squads, so it’s possible to analyse his effect on the team.
Roy Hodgson clearly changed the shape of the team when Kane started, opting for a three man attack in games in which he didn’t play. This 4-3-3 formation yielded three goals in three games against Netherlands, Australia, and Slovakia. Meanwhile, when he did play he was often utilised as a lone striker ahead of three more advanced midfielders. This plan was later scrapped by Hodgson, with him reverting to the 4-3-3 but working Kane into the fold during Euro 2016. In this nine month period England scored an average of one goal per game without Kane starting, and 1.9 goals when he was in the starting lineup.
More relevant to the upcoming World Cup is how Gareth Southgate reacts depending on whether Kane is involved, and the results are quite telling:
England with Harry Kane
- Always utilised as a lone striker, often with three more attack-minded midfielders behind him. Club teammate Dele Alli is a constant presence in the number ten role, and is usually flanked by a pacey wide player such as Raheem Sterling or Marcus Rashford and a technical passer such as Adam Lallana.
- Sometimes just two players are deployed behind him. Again, Alli is ever-present, and is partnered by the likes of Rashford or Sterling.
- England have scored 12 goals in the six games that Harry Kane has started under Gareth Southgate, with Kane himself getting seven goals and one assist.
England without Harry Kane
- Southgate tends to switch between a lone striker role and a two man attack when Kane isn’t involved. Jamie Vardy is preferred as the lone striker, and is partnered by either Rashford or Sterling when in a two man partnership.
- England have scored 11 goals in the ten games that Harry Kane hasn’t started in under Gareth Southgate.
It is abundantly clear that England’s attack is built around Harry Kane, and it’s also clear that Southgate does know how to get the best out of his captain. Of course, it may just be that Kane has improved exponentially in the past year, but the fact that he scored just two goals in his last ten starts under Hodgson and has bagged seven in six under Southgate is a very telling statistic.
As far as the setup of England goes, it’s quite clear what Southgate intends to do. His squad selection indicates that he’s edging toward a three man defensive setup, with Spurs duo Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier acting as wing backs. In front of that back line will be two more defensively minded midfielders, likely to be Jordan Henderson and Eric Dier. With Oxlade-Chamberlain injured and Lallana only in the backup squad, The Three Lions are lacking that creative passer of the ball, which points to Dele Alli and Raheem Sterling/Marcus Rashford acting as the bridge between the midfield and lone striker Kane.
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