Every Monday, BetaSoccer’s Daniel Rouse breaks down the weekend that was in English football. Welcome to the “Eye on England.”
Harry Kane was quiet on Sunday. The Tottenham Hotspur striker touched the ball fewer times than any other starter and aimed just one effort at goal. But, like the ruthless finisher he is, he made that solitary effort count.
It’s easy to overlook what Kane did 47 seconds into his side’s 2-1 defeat at Liverpool. He was only seven yards from goal and Alisson was positioned to one side of his net after being drawn to Heung-Min Son’s deflected shot. Still, Kane had a lot to do.
He anticipated the bounce on the crossbar when Virgil van Dijk didn’t; he intelligently went to ground when others would’ve stood, wobbled, and bungled the chance; he twisted his neck muscles in an unorthodox manner that allowed him to steer the ball out of Alisson’s reach. It was a superb individual deed and, like a lot of what Kane does, it seemed largely uncredited.
In some ways, Kane is too easy to satirize, and that turns attention away from what he does on the pitch. He’s the footballer without the flash; he’s a slick, polished forward with the voice of a drowsy monster that hides your slippers for a laugh. He reels off cliches in post-match interviews with an unintentionally hilarious deadpan expression and, lest we forget, steals goals off his teammates.
And he doesn’t have that standout quality like most attackers: Mohamed Salah dribbles, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is really quick, and Sergio Aguero’s center of gravity is dragging along somewhere in Death Valley. Kane, on the other hand, is regularly summed up in purely muck-and-nettles terms – mentions of his workmanlike ways, knack of getting on the end of crosses, and his hard shot – when, despite his average speed and technical ability, he’s an exhilarating and unconventional English forward.
Kane’s Premier League scoring record is remarkable – 131 goals in 191 appearances – and he should challenge Alan Shearer’s 260-goal record, but some of the most enthralling elements of his game often occur when he withdraws from a No. 9 slot.
When he drops, he trudges and schemes. He seeks that sweet spot behind the midfield and in front of the defense while constantly assessing what’s around him, and then, when the opportunity comes, Kane hurriedly releases a teammate. He’s the master of sweeping diagonal deliveries to the flanks – Kane laced more accurate long balls than any other striker last season – but can also turn innocuous moments into dangerous attacks with deft uses of his head or, if the counterattack is ignited by someone else, his wise movement.
Kane’s adapted from a quintessential No. 9 to someone who can be a hybrid of a traditional striker and a No. 10. He laid on hat-trick of assists for England against Bulgaria earlier this month – Raheem Sterling’s improvement and Jadon Sancho’s emergence on the international stage coinciding with Kane’s change of identity is no coincidence – before helping himself to a goal.
When Christian Eriksen departs, Tottenham won’t immediately lack a creative force if Mauricio Pochettino (or his successor) utilizes the underappreciated parts of the captain’s approach. Fully embracing Kane’s reimagined role, with two speedy attackers on either side of him, could present a devastating focal point for Tottenham.
Kane added his creative and tactical qualities, yet he remains the player hardened by difficult early career loan spells. He’s both what English football pigeonholed him as from the start – the muddy-kneed No. 9 with a physicality from yesteryear – but with suppleness and positional awareness that sets him apart from many contemporaries in the game.
Sadly, Kane’s thrillingly unique attributes are often missed.
Were Arsenal fans right to jeer Xhaka?
Granit Xhaka isn’t good enough for a team with Champions League aspirations. The decision to captain him, then – Unai Emery undermined his own authority by deciding a players’ vote should determine who wears the armband – was baffling and an indication of how Arsenal have fallen since they were skippered by legends like Frank McLintock, Tony Adams, and Patrick Vieira.
But Xhaka isn’t deliberately bad. He didn’t loot the captaincy when Laurent Koscielny left in the summer, nor did he pick himself in the starting XI to face Crystal Palace on Sunday. So, the fans singling Xhaka out for abuse when he was substituted seemed unfair.
Arsenal fans’ ire should be directed at the board that badly mismanaged the latter years of Arsene Wenger’s reign and, in the immediate aftermath of the disappointing 2-2 home draw with Palace, the rudderless team’s handler, Unai Emery.
It doesn’t get any easier for Ralph Hasenhuttl. Following Friday’s cataclysmic 9-0 defeat to Leicester City at St. Mary’s, Southampton next face Manchester City in back-to-back matches at the Etihad Stadium.
The Saints’ playing style soon became more watchable when Hasenhuttl took over last December, with Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, Yan Valery, and James Ward-Prowse quickly improving under the Austrian’s tutelage. Now, Southampton are in the relegation zone – but Hasenhuttl hasn’t suddenly become a poor manager. He deserves time.
“One day in the future, Ralph will coach the best teams in the world,” Hojbjerg said in an interview with Sky Sports in September. “We are all very focused on Southampton and we have a lot to achieve here yet, but I think that is definitely possible for him.”
Women’s Super League tightens up
The excellent Vivianne Miedema shook off a calf concern to score in Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat of Manchester City at Meadow Park on Sunday. It was a patient performance from Joe Montemurro’s side that left the top of the Women’s Super League tantalizingly close. Sadly, there is now a three-week wait for the next round of top-flight fixtures to kick off.