Let’s get this out of the way – I’m a huge Harry Kane fan. I love his unassuming demeanour on the pitch and his will to fight for every scrap, regardless of the scoreline.
Ever since Mauricio Pochettino let him off the leash in 2014 ahead of the much maligned and widely unloved Roberto Soldado, Kane has become a household name in football. Is he single-handedly responsible for the incredible rise in the Tottenham fanbase in the last five years? Debatable, but he’s certainly been the shining gem in Mauricio Pochettino’s jewel of a team.
Harry Kane has had quite a rise to stardom but his recent form, starting from last season, has certainly been below par. At least that’s what the traditional “eye test” tells us. He looks a millisecond off the pace, the first touch has slightly lost its shine, and the ferocious enthusiasm with which he attacked the goal seems to have stymied.
There have been plenty of theories put forth by fans and experts alike. Perhaps he’s played too many minutes in a short timespan. Or maybe he’s rushed back from injuries too often.
Whatever the reason might be (I’m certainly no sports science expert), I was definitely curious to dive deeper into this and try to figure out if the numbers told me anything.
So that’s what we’ll talk about in this article. We’ll look at some basic stats first and then the nerdy stuff, aka analytics. Will the expected goals (xG) metric tell us anything? Let’s find out!
First, the Basic Numbers Behind Harry Kane’s Career So Far
Let’s get into it straight away. For this section, I’ve taken the below variables:
- Minutes played
- Number of goals scored
- Minutes per goal
- Number of assists
This comes with a caveat. I haven’t taken into account his England numbers (though that will factor into our findings later on). And I’ve taken these numbers starting from the 2011/12 season, when he finally started seeing first-team action (albeit on loan at Millwall).
Total Minutes Played
Seeing a trend here? It was the 14/15 season when Pochettino finally gave Kane his chance (after all the strikers were injured or suspended). Fans had been baying Pochettino to let Kane start since the beginning of the season but the Argentinian decided to make Kane earn his chance.
Kane’s 16/17 season was cut short due to an ankle injury (which has been a recurring issue throughout his career).
This is all well and good. But what about his goals?
Total Goals Scored
This is where things start to get interesting.
A clear decline in his 2018/19 goals output. Jump back to the minutes played chart – there isn’t a lot of difference in the time he was on the pitch between the 18/19 season and the 16/17 one (or 14/15).
Clearly something wasn’t right last season. Let’s verify this by looking at the minutes per goal for each season.
Harry Kane’s Minutes per Goal
Whoosh. A drastic increase in the 18/19 season after 2 magnificently efficient goal-scoring years.
What’s interesting is that the same pattern is being sketched out in the current 19/20 season as well. The sample size is admittedly small but that is definitely a statistic I’m keeping an eye on.
So wait – maybe the theory stating Kane drops deep and creates for others could be in play? It’s definitely possible given how well Heung Min-Son and Lucas Moura have done in recent times. Kane does have a tendency to drop deep and draw defenders so Son and Moura (or Lamela) can make runs into the space he vacates.
This deserves some deeper analysis (like a heatmap) but I will limit myself to looking at his assists. Yes, it’s not the most reliable metric when it comes to analysing creativity, but it does give us a decent indication.
Before you look at the below chart – what’s your hunch? Keep that in your mind and then compare the numbers.
Surprised? There is absolutely no indication, as far as assists go, that Kane’s creativity has increased where his goals have taken a turn for the worse. He averages ~5 assists a season – and that has held for the most part.
The basic numbers so far tell us there has been a concerning decline in his output – a clear worry for Tottenham fans. But do the analytics concur? Let’s compare his Expected Goals (xG) numbers and figure this out.
What the Analytics Tell us About Harry Kane’s Form
Here, we’re going to rely on essentially two key metrics:
- Expected Goals (xG)
- Key Passes per 90 Minutes
If you’re new to xG, I highly recommend reading this introductory guide first.
Expected Goals (xG)
I’m using Kane’s Premier League numbers here. This is primarily because not many sites track FA Cup and League Cup metrics (and those that do don’t post them publicly).
But don’t worry – we’ll compare his actual goals output to his xG starting from his breakthrough 14/15 season:
Does anything jump out to you? Good old Harry consistently outperforms his xG numbers. That’s especially prevalent during his immense 17/18 campaign when he wreaked havoc across the domestic league (still lost the Golden Boot to Mo Salah).
He outperformed his xG by 9.18 – a mind-boggling number. In simple words, he scored almost 10 goals more than he was expected to. 10! And this is after he missed 2 out of his 6 penalties.
This really does put into perspective Kane’s drop in production last season when his xG and actual numbers were pretty much in line. If you’ve ever heard of the phrase “regression to the mean”, this is as good an example as any to believe it.
We spoke about his assists not improving earlier – can some other metric perhaps disprove our initial intuition?
Key Passes Per 90 Minutes
I decided to look at Kane’s key passes per 90 minutes (KP90) since the 14/15 season. I define a key pass as one that led to a direct shot on goal. I’m not measuring the quality of the shot or the location so that’s definitely an avenue we can explore in a future article.
Did Kane’s KP90 metric increase where his goals dried up?
Interestingly, his creative streak seems to have hit a ceiling. There was no dramatic increase in his assists OR his key passes per game. He averages ~1 key pass per 90 minutes and that’s where he was last season.
There seems to a clear trend emerging when we look at these numbers. Harry Kane is going through a rough patch of form and his underlying numbers reflect that.
I’m curious to know your thoughts on this. Do you agree with the simple analysis I’ve done here? Is there something more you would look at before concluding that Kane’s form has fallen off a cliff?
We can analyze this at a much more granular level by looking at his shot chart and his heatmap. Is there any change in his off-the ball movement? What are his xG chain numbers? Where is his taking his shots from?