Harry Kane has not hit his usual heights so far this season and faces Arsenal next on Sunday.
Slow starts are nothing new to Harry Kane. Not until 2018 did the England captain score a Premier League goal in the month of August, by which point he had twice won the Golden Boot.
But there is added focus on Kane this year in the aftermath of his failed move from Tottenham to Manchester City.
And through four appearances – including three starts – in the opening five games of the 2021-22 campaign, the striker has attempted just four shots without scoring.
The last time Kane had four or fewer attempts across a four-match span in the Premier League was in April 2018, but he at least scored against Stoke City. He has not gone four league games without a goal since a run of five in August 2016, although he had 16 combined attempts.
The most recent comparable spell, in which Kane had four or fewer shots across four league games without scoring, was in October 2014. He’d managed only one attempt but featured in just 56 minutes, then a bench option in the early stages of Mauricio Pochettino’s reign.
As a senior star, Kane has never been this ineffective in front of goal.
With a record 11 strikes in Premier League North London derbies – only scoring more against Leicester City (15) in the competition – Kane might welcome a timely short trip to Arsenal on Sunday, but there is plenty to work on.
Nuno Not Helping
Nuno Espirito Santo oversaw three straight wins to start the league season, but Spurs have gone off the boil since then and Kane is not alone in suffering from the new coach’s safety-first approach.
Tottenham are averaging 9.2 shots per game this term, their lowest rate in a season since at least 2003-04 and only ahead of Leicester (8.6), while their expected goals (xG) total of 4.4 is now the lowest in the division. They also have the sixth-lowest average possession at 44 per cent.
That obviously has a knock-on effect on Kane. Looking at his rolling average non-penalty xG per game, we can see the sharp decline he’s suffered this season.
Although this more conservative set-up has been in place for a little while now it has seemed set to become more entrenched under Nuno.
A far cry from Pochettino’s pressing team, in which Kane thrived, Tottenham have had just 55 pressed sequences (fourth fewest) and 29 high turnovers (fifth fewest) in 2021-22 so far, although both of these figures were boosted by a surprisingly positive, and quite Poch-Esque tweak to the system in the first half against Chelsea last weekend – when Nuno’s men were the better side.
Until that point, Spurs had preferred instead to play on the counter, moving the ball 1.72 metres upfield per second across the first four games, the joint-third fastest in the league.
This suited speedy fellow forwards Steven Bergwijn, Son Heung-Min and Lucas Moura far better than it does Kane, who is neither notably quick nor regularly carrying the ball. The England striker is averaging 7.8 carries per 90 minutes this season, ranking him ninth among the 11 Spurs outfielders to feature in 200 or more minutes.
With Tottenham relying on these rapid attacks early in the campaign, rather than pressing from the front or patiently playing through the thirds and allowing Kane to get into dangerous positions, the 28-year-old has made only 10 touches in the opposition box.
Deeper and Deeper
Of course, as shown previously for Spurs and England, Kane can be effective in dropping deeper and picking out the runs of those faster teammates.
And it’s not as if Kane has not still been involved in Tottenham’s play, having a role in 31.6 open play sequences per 90 – just shy of last year’s rate of 31.8, which had leapt up from 25.7 the prior year.
But just 2.5 of these sequences per 90 are ending in a shot, while Kane has not been involved in any open play sequences leading to a goal this term – a metric he unsurprisingly led in 2020-21 (36) when he topped the charts for Premier League goals and assists.
Kane has only created four chances, too, although Spurs would surely sooner have their main man on the end of such opportunities regardless.
Having peaked with a shot every 17 minutes or every 6.9 touches in 2017-18, Kane’s early-season form has seen him shoot every 72 minutes or every 33.5 touches.
Given he attempted 61.3% of his shots last season from inside the box, despite renowned ability from long range, this decline should come as no surprise.
Just 7.5% of Kane’s touches this season have been taken in the opposition box. That career-low mark continues a downward trend into a fifth straight season, but it may now have reached a point where it is harmful to his chances of scoring.
Since Yaya Toure’s sublime 2013-14 season from midfield, every Premier League player to notch 20 goals in a season has taken at least 10% of their touches in the opposition box. Getting the ball in dangerous areas and scoring goals unsurprisingly go hand in hand.
Few would write off Kane’s chances of a sixth career 20-goal campaign at this stage, but this week he faces a forward who has seen how quickly similarly prolific form can desert him.
Shoot On Sight?
Volume shooting has clearly worked for Kane previously. Since becoming a Tottenham regular, only in 2019-20 (81) has he failed to tally 100 league shots in a season. In 2015-16 (158), 2017-18 (184) and 2020-21 (137), he led the league in this regard.
Even with improved performances, Kane will this year face competition from Cristiano Ronaldo for that crown, with the returning Manchester United forward firing in 6.5 attempts per 90.
But Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is showing why simply shooting from all angles is not an effective fix for fading form.
Aubameyang has at least scored this season and has mustered nine attempts, but those efforts have had an average worth of 0.15 xG – the lowest mark of his Arsenal career.
Given the one successful strike – against Norwich City – was a goal-line tap-in, it is easy to paint a picture of some fairly wild shooting habits from Aubameyang. His other eight shots have had a combined xG of 0.39 – or 0.05 per shot.
At odds with Kane, Aubameyang is taking a career-high 17.1% of his touches in the opposition box, yet the Tottenham No. 10 has matched his three shots on target so far.
While both men will be hoping Sunday’s clash can provide a springboard for the rest of the season, something will have to change for that to be the case.
Kane clearly should not follow Aubameyang’s example, but few Spurs fans would complain if their leading marksman was at least within shooting range a little more often.
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