"And lo, it was said that at the beginning of every season fantasy owners would be subjected to unimaginable panic due to Harry Kane's slow start." - Genesis 7:48 (I think it says that in there somewhere.)
To quote a lovely little ditty concerning Tottenham Hotspur "it's happened again" and Harry Kane has gotten off to another inauspicious start to the Premier League season. Last season's golden boot winner is without a goal in Tottenham's first three games and though they remain unbeaten, they have two draws to their name and they've only scored three times. A far cry from their swashbuckling performances over the back half of last season indeed.
Tottenham have made some changes over the summer. Incorporating Vincent Janssen and Victor Wanyama into their side so early in the season was always bound to have some growing pains, but in the absence of Mousa Dembélé for his six game ban, a midfield featuring Wanyama and Eric Dier has looked a bit short on creativity. Despite their fantastic run Tottenham only ranked 4th in the league in expected assists (xA) last season, so losing a creative, forward thinking midfielder and replacing him with a defensive enforcer only stood to reduce that number.
They're also shooting less as a team. Almost three fewer shots per game (14.7 spg) than last season (17.3 spg) as a matter of fact. Part of that is almost certainly down to Dembélé's absence, but Tottenham as a team haven't quite hit that pack-hunting, high-pressing top gear that they have which helps lead to counters, overloads and other favorable shooting situations. They're averaging a whopping 6 fewer interceptions a game to start this season than their average from 2015/16. While their tackling numbers are slightly better (23 tpg vs. 21.1 tpg from 2015/16), those interceptions high up the pitch are crucial to Tottenham's attack and losing out on so many has taken quite a bit of sting away from their front line.
With Dembélé out for a further three games it seems likely that Mauricio Pochettino will turn to deadline day signing Moussa Sissoko to add some forward thrust from midfield at the expense of either Wanyama or Dier. This should help boost their shooting, interceptions and xA numbers as another midfielder playing further forward enhances the high press, the key component of Pochettino's attacking (and defensive) philosophy. Throw in the option of a lot more pace in wide areas from Tottenham's other deadline day signing, Georges-Kevin N'Koudou, as an alternative to the underwhelming performances of Christian Eriksen and things start to look a bit better for Tottenham going forward.
But what of Kane? Well it seems Pochettino's experiment playing him behind Vincent Janssen was a short lived one, thank goodness. Kane is a line-leader whose purpose is to score goals, not create them. Ironically, though, the Crystal Palace game where he played in a deeper, no.10 role was the only game in which Kane took any shots this season. You read that right, Kane took zero shots against both Everton and Liverpool. This may be partially explained by him seeing more of the ball in a deeper role against Palace but for a player like Harry Kane to have zero shots in two of his three games so far is unforgivable.
Service has been part of the problem but it's also true that Kane hasn't been at his aggressive, chance-snaffling best at any point to begin this season. Whether this is down to a lack of confidence or fatigue or some combination of the two is speculative at best, what is clear is that something has been weighing him down. But fear not fellow Kane owners, Tottenham play Stoke City this weekend and this is the perfect fixture for Kane to recapture his form.
Even if we were to discount the fact that Kane scored twice in this fixture last season, there are several other statistical factors that indicate this is a very favorable matchup for Kane and Spurs. First, Stoke let in more goals from shots outside the box than any other team in the league last season (15) and have allowed 19 shots from distance so far in this campaign, comfortably above the league average of 17.45. Tottenham like to shoot from distance. They're averaging 7 shots per game from outside the 18 yard box (down from their league-leading 7.9 per game mark from last season, but still...) which is the 6th highest total in the league after 3 games. In fact, one of Kane's goals against Stoke last season was curled in from the 18 yard line. Shots from distance tend to have a lower expected goal (xG) outcome, but Stoke allow a lot and concede a lot from those areas.
Bruno Martins Indi may help to close down some of those shots as a more aggressive center half, but Jack Butland is still out so Stoke will be relying on the corpse of Shay Given to stop the barrage. The Potters have also shown a worrying propensity to concede from crosses and headers in particular at this early stage in the season. As you can see with Alvaro Negredo's goal against them, Stoke tend to drop deeper defensively and don't close down on the edges of the area as much as other teams so crosses are easier to pick out (this also helps explain why they concede a lot from distance). Kane scored 5 of his 25 goals last season after getting on the end of a cross so that bodes well for him. Stoke have also conceded 2 penalties in their first three games and I'll let you figure out who Tottenham's primary penalty taker is.
The final item supporting a good Kane performance this weekend is that Stoke also looked extremely vulnerable when faced with Manchester City's high pressing at the Britannia Stadium in game week 2. The likes of Ryan Shawcross and Erik Pieters aren't exactly what you would call composed ball distributors, and when faced with the type of relentless pressure that City applied, they crumpled quite easily. Tottenham will employ a similar type of press and at this early stage you would expect it to yield similar results. Kane will be at the front of that press, with a bit more attacking support from his midfield in the shape of Sissoko, and facing a weak defense. It's time to give him the start.
Sources: Stats Zone, Whoscored.com and Opta.