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Soccer

Harry Kane Is Back On His Bullshit

Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur celebrates with teammates after scoring his team's second goal during the Premier League match between Tottenham Hotspur and West Ham United at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on October 18, 2020 in London, England. Sporting stadiums around the UK remain under strict restrictions due to the Coronavirus Pandemic as Government social distancing laws prohibit fans inside venues resulting in games being played behind closed doors.
Photo by Matt Dunham - Pool/Getty Images

Sunday’s madcap, goal-filled match between Tottenham and West Ham was the weekend’s wildest game in a Premier League season defined so far by madcap, goal-filled contests. Less than a minute after kickoff, Spurs were already up a goal. Fifteen minutes later, Tottenham had increased the lead to 3–0. With only 10 minutes left in regulation, Tottenham still enjoyed that three-goal lead. When the referee blew the final whistle, the score had somehow wound up 3–3. Like I said, it was completely bonkers.

While there’s no great explanation for why exactly this Premier League season has been so preposterously high-scoring, there is a pretty clear reason why Tottenham have led the way with more goals than anyone else. And that is because Harry Kane, after a couple relative down seasons, is once again playing like a monster.

Kane had a hand in all three of Tottenham’s goals, scoring two himself and assisting the other. The Englishman’s scoring prowess is well documented, so I’d like to bring special attention to his passing, which has to be his most underrated skill. How many center forwards are capable of blasting inch-perfect bombs like the one Kane sent to Son Heung-min for Spurs’ opener? Any?

The man’s long passes look like those annoyingly accurate, assisted chipped through balls in FIFA. This season, Kane’s most impressive passing day came in the opener against Southampton, when he laid on four assists of all different types—a pair of booming super-early crosses from wide, a delicate little through-flick, and another arching dink over the top of the back line:

He’s been doing it for years:

Sunday’s assist gives Kane seven (!) for the season. That already equals his previous career high over a league season after just five matches. His assist rate will surely drop down closer to Earth as the season progresses, but there’s good reason to believe he can keep it in the stratosphere if things continue like this. His 2.62 key passes per 90 minutes is more than double his career average, and his expected assists per 90 stands at 0.65, which both imply that those assist numbers aren’t total flukes. (All numbers via Understat.)

With runners like Son, Lucas Moura, Steven Bergwijn, and the returned Gareth Bale flanking him, Kane has never had better opportunities to flex his creative passing. (God, could you imagine what this will look like if Bale is Bale again??) The West Ham game was especially instructive to that end. Kane spent almost as much time in a No. 10 position behind Son and Bergwijn, sizing up the defense in front of him and pinging killer passes, as he did in his more traditional spot jockeying with the opposing center backs. Kane’s mobility and that of his forward mates give Tottenham a forward line of terrifying versatility, one that can legitimately stand toe-to-toe with anyone else’s in the league.

Naturally, as a center forward, the goals he scores himself will ultimately determine the trajectory of Kane’s season. Luckily, the prognosis there is arguably even better than his assist numbers. Kane has scored five times already this campaign, and he’s doing so at a much more sustainable clip. He’s only barely outperforming his expected goals of 4.57, and his eye-popping shot numbers (5.03 per 90 minutes) are the biggest reason why. If you’re worried this is all a matter of this season’s small sample, you can look back to his post-restart 2019–20 numbers, where he scored seven goals in nine matches, to find even more support for the idea that he isn’t just on some random hot streak.

All of this is welcome news for fans of Kane’s unique style of excellence. In the years following his 2014 explosion onto the scene, Kane, who many doubters considered a one-season wonder, solidified himself as probably the best center forward on the planet. However, a parade of ankle and hamstring injuries over the past couple seasons prevented Kane from scaling those heights again. Especially after the hamstring tear he suffered in January of this year that would’ve seen him miss the better part of half a season, it was fair to wonder whether we’d ever see that peak version of Kane again.

On current evidence, we now know those worries were thankfully premature. Since the coronavirus stoppage, Kane appears to have regained his sprinting burst, his agility to create gaps of space in which to shoot, and his ball-striking abilities. The 2020–21 season will be tough on everyone’s bodies, what with the matches coming hot and fast in a condensed English schedule that was already the toughest gauntlet in the world, so it will be imperative for Tottenham to manage Kane’s minutes and health carefully. But at least for right now, the best Harry Kane has made his triumphant return. And when he’s at his best, there are none better.