Article published before Tottenham's 3-1 defeat by Manchester United
A few years ago, Pep Guardiola annoyed Mauricio Pochettino by referring to “the Harry Kane team.”
Perhaps the Manchester City manager meant it as a compliment but, just for a minute, compare Kane, the scorer and creator who has a habit of making clearances in his own box, with entire teams.
He has 32 Premier League goals to his name, scoring 19, assisting 13 others.
That puts him ahead of six teams, level with a seventh and behind an eighth, Brighton, by only one. As Kane missed two of Tottenham’s matches with injury, in a sense he has games in hand on all.
His ratio of 1.14 goals per game puts him on course to contribute to 41 league goals this season. Or, to illustrate his impact another way, Tottenham have only mustered 19 league goals this season that Kane has neither scored nor made.
His 32 involvements puts him behind only Robert Lewandowski in Europe’s top five leagues.
If, collectively, Spurs are floundering in the table, Kane tops two. He is one goal clear of Mohamed Salah, two assists ahead of Bruno Fernandes and Kevin de Bruyne.
He is on course for a rare double. Only Andy Cole, in his Newcastle days, and Didier Drogba have ever finished top or joint top of both the Premier League goals and assist charts in the same season.
Just six players – Cole, Alan Shearer, Thierry Henry, Robin van Persie, Luis Suarez and Mohamed Salah – have been directly involved in 40 goals in a Premier League campaign.
In each case, their club finished in the top four. Tottenham could be eighth after this round of fixtures. If they finish fifth or lower with Kane joining their exclusive group, it will be unprecedented in Premier League history.
Perhaps Kane’s excellence has been camouflaged by their failings.
While his capacity to create has brought attention to his double act with Heung-Min Son, as they became the first duo to combine for 14 Premier League goals in a season, maybe the fact Kane is a little less prolific has deflected focus from the way he is statistically a better all-round player than ever before.
When he got 30 league goals in 2017-18, he had just two assists. When struck 29 times in 2016-17, he created seven goals. He is headed for a career-best combined total. Perhaps he is headed for the exit.
If he is bound for another club, there are two logical destinations in England and both are in Manchester.
Kane’s appeal to Manchester United could be obvious, and not merely because Edinson Cavani could leave this summer.
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Along with Leicester, United and Tottenham are the three great expected goals overachievers, all scoring at least seven goals more than they ‘should’ based on the quality of the chances they have created.
Yet that does not come from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s forwards. Marcus Rashford has beaten his xG, with 10 goals from a total of 8.19, but normally plays on the flanks.
The three other striking options, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Cavani, have underperformed theirs. Greenwood has veered from clinical (10 goals from an xG of just 3.58 last season to two from an xG of 3.72 this).
Martial, with four goals from an xG of 7.30, is statistically the seventh most wasteful player in the division (a list led by Timo Werner) and the worst offender of those with fewer than five goals.
In fairness to the Frenchman, he had beaten his xG in each of the previous five seasons. And yet the fact it is often low – only once over 7.95 – is indicative that he spends less time in scoring positions.
Rashford, meanwhile, has beaten his xG in three of six Premier League seasons, but only once had a total of over 10.75.
The contrast with Kane is twofold: he is a guarantee of excellent finishing and a guarantee of shots.
His seven full Premier League campaigns have all brought at least 17 goals; apart from last season (2.89), he has always averaged at least 3.77 shots per 90 minutes.
He has overperformed his expected goals in each of those seven seasons according to Infogol; in that time, he has 28.4 more goals than he ‘should’.
Kane has bettered his xG over his Premier League career with his right foot, his left foot and his head. And, while penalties clearly contribute to his tally, Kane ‘beats’ his non-penalty xG each season.
Join United, however, and either his goal tally or Fernandes’ would presumably go down; only one of them could take the spot kicks.
And, in some ways, Kane has more in common with the Portuguese than United’s forwards, and not merely because of his growing propensity to drop deep.
Kane has the most shots in the league (106), with Fernandes third on 85. The average distances, 17.8 and 22.8 yards, show each has a fondness for long-range efforts, and explains why each has a relatively low percentage – under 40 – on target. Only James Ward-Prowse has had more shots from free kicks than them.
Meanwhile, Fernandes tops the league for shot-creating actions, with 144. Kane is 11th, ahead of all the United forwards. They are first and second for goal-creating actions, each averaging 0.81 per 90 minutes.
If part of United’s decision with Kane is simply whether they can afford him, the other aspect would be whether he will dovetail with Fernandes to form another deadly double act, or whether they would get in each other’s way, competing for the same set-pieces, attempting the same shots from distance.
But if they can find the funds, the prospect of teaming up the two players involved in the most Premier League goals this season – a combined 59 – may feel irresistible.
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