There has been plenty of discussion around Harry Kane and his performances at Euro 2024. We take a deeper look at the England captain and whether he is a problem, or if it’s all been blown out of proportion.

There’s an unavoidable quandary that comes with writing about elite footballers. Sooner or later, you’re going to have to do an article about how a world-class goalscorer is doing it wrong.

This won’t necessarily be that article, though.

Harry Kane scores goals. He insists on it. Put a ball between him and a goal and he will expend every ounce of his being to ensure the ball goes into the net.

Moving from the Premier League to the Bundesliga last year didn’t slow him down, either. If anything, it sped him up. Kane scored 44 goals in 45 games for Bayern Munich last season, also recording 12 assists. It may not have been enough to end his infamous trophy drought, but there was no question that the 30-year-old was still one of the best forwards in the world.

Ahead of their Euro 2024 semi-final against the Netherlands, England’s record goalscorer has scored twice in five games at Euro 2024. And yet here we are joining in the discourse that he might not be playing well enough, and could even be a hindrance to the Three Lions.

It’s an appropriate debate inside a wider discussion surrounding England finding themselves in the semi-finals of the tournament in Germany despite not having played particularly well.

On paper, two goals from Kane is fine. He’s only one off being the tournament’s joint-top scorer. He was perceived to have played well at the rearranged Euro 2020 tournament when he scored four times in seven games, and his non-penalty expected goals total (xG) per 90 minutes is only 0.01 lower at Euro 2024 than it was three years ago (0.40 to 0.39).

The perception is that he’s been less threatening, but Kane is actually having more shots at this edition (2.9 to 1.9). In fact, he’s even having more shots than he did at the 2018 and 2022 World Cups (2.2 and 2.7 respectively), while his non-penalty xG per 90 was 0.21 in Russia and 0.24 in Qatar.

So, what’s the problem? Well England’s lack of goals hasn’t helped. Just two scored in the group stage, before they required a last-gasp moment of brilliance from Jude Bellingham to rescue them against Slovakia in the last 16. A 1-1 draw against Switzerland in the quarter-finals led to penalties, by which time a cramped Kane had been substituted.

Kane can often take a while to settle into tournaments, so it helps when others step up to the plate. He didn’t score at all in the group stage of Euro 2020, but two goals from Raheem Sterling and three clean sheets saw England safely through. But Kane’s impact was never really in doubt, which is essentially what every commentator said when he netted against Germany in the last 16 at Wembley. He went on to score four times in the knockout stages before England’s agonising penalty-shootout defeat to Italy in the final.

He also didn’t score in the group stage at the 2022 World Cup, not finding the net until he grabbed the second goal in a 3-0 win in the last 16 against Senegal, with England having already scored 10 times in Qatar before then.

After 45 games for Bayern in all competitions in 2023-24, it has been suggested that Kane is merely tired. That could be a factor, even if the player himself insists it isn’t.

Despite the tiredness accusation as well as the perception from some that Kane generally isn’t as mobile as he once was, before the semi-finals, he had applied more pressures to opponents at Euro 2024 than anyone else (503), as well as the most in the opposition half (326) and in the final third (187).

Arguably the most notable decline for him has been in his involvement on the ball. For a player who appears to be constantly moving around the pitch looking to receive, Kane isn’t seeing much of the ball in Germany. In fact, after the group stage, Phil Foden had passed to his goalkeeper Jordan Pickford (3) more often than he had to Kane (1).

In Kane’s previous four major tournaments for England (World Cup and Euros), he didn’t average any fewer than 34.9 touches per 90 minutes. At Euro 2024, he has averaged 25.8.

Despite that and the general feeling that Kane isn’t spending enough time in the opposition penalty area, his 4.5 touches in the opposition box per 90 is the most he has ever averaged at a major tournament, with the next most being his 3.7 at Euro 2020.

Harry Kane touches major tournaments

Compare that to his 2023-24 season in the Bundesliga, where Kane averaged 34.7 touches per 90, and 6.2 touches in the opposition box.

You can see from the touch map below where Kane is having more at Euro 2024 compared to Euro 2020. He is actually drifting into wide positions far less, which is interesting when you consider the issues England have had with width, particularly on the left. He has generally been having fewer touches in deeper areas of the pitch, while there have been increases in a few zones, including – most interestingly – in the middle of the penalty area.

Kane touch zone map Euro 2020 and 2024
Viz by Jonathan Manuel

Compare that to his touch zone map at Bayern in the Bundesliga last season, and you can see that he was having touches largely in more central and advanced areas. Former Bayern boss Thomas Tuchel clearly wanted Kane to be a traditional number nine, and it’s fair to say it worked.

Kane touch zone map Bayern 23-24

It’s understandable that concerns were being raised about Kane’s lack of impact in the opponent’s penalty area at Euro 2024 – he managed just one touch in the opposition’s box in each of the first two games against Serbia and Denmark. But he then had eight against each of Slovenia and Slovakia, before adding another five against Switzerland.

So why does it appear – to the eye at least – like he’s drifting away from his centre-forward position?

The below passage of play from the 73rd minute of the Switzerland game with the score at 0-0 didn’t help. England had been working the ball from left to right trying to find a way through a well-organised Swiss defence. After Kieran Trippier won a throw on the left, Kane came across to offer a short option. Trippier threw the ball to Jude Bellingham. Declan Rice and Foden exchanged passes before Rice found Trippier on the left. All the while, Kane stayed out on the left in case his presence was needed.

England v Switzerland slide 1

Trippier played the ball down the line into acres of space for Bellingham to run onto. However, when Trippier received the ball, Kane had also offered for a pass, moving further away from the penalty area.

England v Switzerland slide 2

Bellingham looked up to evaluate his options in the box and saw no-one. Realising that, Foden and Kobbie Mainoo made late runs while Kane stayed wide to offer Bellingham help against the covering Granit Xhaka.

England v Switzerland slide 3

The Real Madrid man ended up having to cut back after realising there was nobody to cross to, and by the time his teammates had reached the box, Xhaka was on top of him. An attempted cross was blocked before Bellingham fouled Xhaka in attempting to win the ball back. Switzerland took the lead just two minutes later.

It seems crazy to be criticising arguably the world’s best goalscorer for his decision-making around the penalty area. It does also seem odd to see moments like this, though, where Kane passes up an opportunity for a potential chance to instead try and help his teammates out wide.

His xG map from last season in the Bundesliga shows how many of his goals were scored from in or close to the six-yard box; when you think of a Kane goal, so many of them are in those deadly central areas between the goalposts.

Harry Kane xG Bundesliga 23-24

Does Gareth Southgate want his captain to be taking up these positions on the pitch? You’d have to ask him, but Kane plays in more advanced positions regularly for his club, suggesting Southgate has either asked him to drop deep or he’s willing to indulge Kane’s wish to do so.

The below passing network is from England’s draw with Denmark. You can see how little involvement Kane had despite scoring his team’s goal.

England passing network v Denmark
Viz by Jonathan Manuel

Their next game with Slovenia wasn’t much better, even if Bukayo Saka managed to find his captain a few times.

England passing network v Slovenia
Viz by Jonathan Manuel

It seemed by then that Kane had had enough. The passing network against Switzerland saw him drop deeper in search of the ball. As a result, five players had a higher average position on the pitch than him.

England passing network v Switzerland
Viz by Jonathan Manuel

You could see it being a valuable tactic to draw defenders away if others were regularly making direct runs in behind and towards the goal, but Foden also prefers to come short, while Bellingham’s runs are usually timed later on in attacks. Saka has largely been receiving the ball wide with the intention of beating players rather than racing onto balls in behind.

Kane roles played out of possession Euro 2024
Viz by Jonathan Manuel

Any questioning of Kane also has to acknowledge the back injury he sustained at the end of the season. He insists he’s fine, saying after the second game against Denmark: “The first game [vs Serbia] I felt as fit as I have all season. I came off in the second game, but that was down to the manager wanting to see something different, and maybe freshen up the front players.

“I’m getting better and better each game and fitter each game, and I spoke in previous tournaments about trying to make sure you’re coming into your peak towards the most important part of the tournament… from my point of view it’s important that going into this knockout stage, you’re feeling 100%, and I feel I’m there.”

If you take Kane at his word, his issues must therefore be tactical. Whether it is down to him or his manager, it seems something has to change if England are to get the best out of their most potent attacking weapon.

Talk of dropping Kane will almost never seem sensible, even if Ivan Toney has looked a threat off the bench and Ollie Watkins was one of the best strikers in Europe last season. Kane is still keeping himself involved, with only Rice and Bellingham (both 22) being involved in more open-play shot-ending sequences for England at Euro 2024.

England attacking sequence involvements Euro 2024

England have had a similar issue before with their best goalscorer when Wayne Rooney wanted to play in midfield later in his international career. Kane hasn’t quite gone that far yet, but it’s likely that Declan Rice is getting a bit sick of being able to smell his aftershave.

It is quite frankly ridiculous to suggest that Kane would score more goals if he was a bit more laser focused on goal and, to put it bluntly, selfish. He already scores enough goals; too many his opponents would presumably argue.

But for England to break through against the Netherlands on Wednesday, they may need their main man and captain to go back to what he knows. Get into the penalty area, ensure the ball is between himself and the goal, and do what he does best.

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