Harry Kane: Is he Britain’s finest since Gareth Bale?

With back to back hattricks in the final 2 games of the 2016-17 Premier League season, Harry Kane made the golden boot his own for the second season running. In arguably the toughest league on the planet, this is no easy feat and to do it having missed 915 minutes of action through injury speaks volumes about the quality of his game. He has scored against almost every single team he has come up against in the Premier League including big names like Chelsea, Manchester United,Manchester City, Arsenal. Unfortunately I have not been able to watch too many live games of Tottenham Hotspur this season. So I have relied on the goal compilations to find out patterns in his movements which have helped him become such a prolific goalscorer for three seasons running.

Fox in the box movement

Most of the goals Kane scores are from the area around the 6 yard box. It is no surprise that Pochettino has built this team around Harry Kane. With no dearth of creative talents in the Spurs side, Kane has been assigned the responsibility of scoring goals by being at the right positions at the right time. Judging by his stats, he has done an excellent job. 

From the wide areas and right halfspaces, Eriksen and the Spurs right back(Kieran Trippier or Kyle Walker) are mainly tasked with the responsibility of delivering outswinging balls around the edge of the 6 yard box. Because of the outswinging nature of the cross, it is difficult for the opposition GK to come out and meet the cross. Moreover, this also enables the crosses to reach Kane’s preferred right foot. Thus, a common trend in Spurs final third attacking play is for Kane to attack the 6 yard space as soon as Eriksen or Trippier get the ball unmarked in the right wing or the right halfspace. 

Here Kieran Trippier finds himself unmarked in the right wing. Kane knows what is coming next. He rushes to meet the outswinging cross at the edge of the 6 yard box.

Kane’s desire to meet Trippier’s cross pays off as he somehow manages to connect with the cross and score.

Eriksen finds himself free in the right halfspace and picks out a sublime outswinging cross into the edge of the 6 yard box.

Kane knows where Eriksen will deliver his cross and goes on to meet it and score.

If the initial cross does not find Kane and someone else wins the header at the far post, he looks to head it into the path of Kane who already stations himself at the edge of the 6 yard box for a tap in. 

A Spurs player wins a header at the far post and heads it into the 6 yard box for Kane.

Kane scores .

A crucial component of Spurs’ gameplay is the advanced positioning of their fullbacks. Often a diagonal switch from the central midfielders sets one of the fullbacks(Walker and Rose or Trippier and Davies) free. The fullbacks often hit a low first-time square pass into the path of Kane who begins his run into the penalty spot as soon as the switch is made. His strength comes in handy in shrugging of the defenders and meeting the pass on such occasions for a simple tap in.

As soon as the switch to Kieran Trippier was made, Kane makes his run into the penalty box.

Trippier easily finds Kane with a square pass leading to a goal.

Effective long shotsApart from being a fox in the box, Kane also has another dimension to his game. He has the ability to pick up the ball in deeper zones in the left half space and score from long range. This aspect comes in handy when teams sit deep and opt to let him drop deep without marking him. Kane is very capable of making a yard of space in deeper zones by cutting inside and often unleashed powerful instep shots from those zones. He has scored some vital goals against deep blocks. 

Kane finds himself a yard of space in the left halfspace.

With no one closing him down effectively, he lets one rip with his instep from distance and finds the ball in the bottom corner of the goal.

Game intelligence 

Tottenham are one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the Premier League. A lot of credit for this goes to manager Mauricio Pochettino who has coached his players brilliantly. Kane is one of the players who reflects the excellent work done by Pochettino. His understanding of the game phases is excellent and he knows when he has to drop deep and when to run in behind. Like most elite centre forwards to have played the game, Kane has the ability to make space for himself in close spaces. He does this by peeling off from the CB marking him. As a result of this movement, he finds himself in a side-on position which makes it much easier for him to get a shot in compared to when he is facing his own goal. 

Also, this movement often allows him to get on the end of through balls from Spurs’ creative midfielders like Alli,Eriksen and Son. 

Notice how Kane peels off from his marking CB in this offensive transition for Spurs. He makes this movement before the pass reaches Alli who subsequently finds him running free on goal with a through pass.

Kane’s movement before the through pass enabled him to go 1 versus 1 with the Goalkeeper and we all know what happens after that.

A complete forward

We have all seen how efficient Kane’s movements are. However, one cannot score by being in the right positions. The technical aspects of gameplay must be right for a player to score as many goals as Kane does. What makes Kane one of the finest is his ability to shoot with both feet as well as his head. Many a times this season, we have seen him place his shots in the bottom corner with his left foot. Such precision finishing with his weaker foot has done no harm to his goalscoring attributes. If he keeps improving, it is just a matter of time before one of the giants from Spain come calling for his signature. Till then, his presence is a gift for Spurs’ ambition to challenge for the title in subsequent seasons. 

Note: You can see all Harry Kane goals this season. Great job to whoever has made the compilation. Thanks to the compilation,I was able to come up with this article.


Why Sergio Romero is better for Manchester United than David De Gea

I know I am not going to make too many fans with the article I am about to write. I have been a fan of David de Gea since the time he arrived at Man United. Looking back now, he won us many trophies and made some key saves in every single season he has played in. The analytical side of my mind feels he is not made for the system we have been playing since Sir Alex Ferguson pulled the curtains to his illustrious career spanning 27 years. I am about to explain the reasons why I feel Romero seems a better choice as #1 than David de Gea. 

Shot-stopping or Shot-prevention?

De Gea is one of the best shot stoppers in the world if not the best. His reflexes are top class and he is as good at saving shots with his feet as he with his hands. This gives his team a huge deal of security when there is a defensive lapse and an opposition player finds himself free. However, De Gea is not the best at anticipating the next move of the opponent and often he stays flat footed on his line. This means that he invites a scoring chance for the opposition when a more proactive keeper would have prevented the shot by charging out of his line. As De Gea is not one of those proactive keepers, he is often left to save shots which could have been avoided in the first place. Romero is one of those proactive keepers who has to save very few shots because he does not stay flat footed on the goal line. This also means that the defensive line can play further up the pitch to suffocate the opposition when Romero plays. Given the amount of chances United have failed to convert this season, this could have meant a few more chances for Man United to score in crucial games this season. And who knows what might have happened with those additional 3-4 chances! 

Poor selection of passes when building up from the back

There have been many games this season when teams have tried to press Man United high up the pitch when they were trying to set up attacks from deep. Often there would be situations when the two CBs of Man United would be pressed by two opposition CFs. De Gea would be a safe passing outlet for the two CBs in such cases. De Gea would then find himself in enough time to allow a midfielder to drop deeper into the space between the two CBs. However he would often select a long pass to the wing or a hopeless punt upfield where the probability of the opposition winning the ball was much higher(especially teams like Burnley,West Brom and Watford excel in such situations). This meant a cheap loss of possession in critical phases of the game when United desperately needed a goal. 

Often a CB would make himself free when De Gea had the ball by drifting wide only to find De Gea looping it long instead of passing it to him. As Juanma Lillo says “The faster the ball goes forward,the faster it comes back”, it is no surprise that such situations often present the best scoring probabilities for the opposition. 

A safe pass to Smalling is already available for De Gea. However he punts it long and risks an unnecessary loss of possession which can lead to a counter attack for the opposition.

Romero on the other hand looks composed when on the ball. Even the long balls he attempts are delivered perfectly(trajectory as well as range of his passes are much better than De Gea). In the away game against Celta Vigo, he launched many counter attacks with his quick distribution to the Man United wingers. He imparts a different dynamic to Manchester United’s counterattacking plans. 

A description of Romero’s game intelligence. He has the option of directly going to Fellaini. But instead of aiming it straight to Fellaini, he allows his pass to drop into the space shown in the diagram where Fellaini has a greater chance of retaining the ball.

Stop the headers or intercept the crosses?

A lot of goals De Gea concedes are from set pieces. This is mostly due to his reluctance to venture out his line. Romero, on the other hand, is comfortable coming out of his line and intercepts the long balls by punching them or collecting them before an opponent player can head the cross in. This means that he concedes much less goals from set pieces. There is an occasional risk of making an error when a keeper ventures out of his line but it is not everyday that such errors happen. 

Because De Gea does not come out of his line during set pieces, if an opponent player gets a header in , De Gea has to stop the shot. However, these headers are often made from close range which does not give a keeper enough time to stop the shot from going in. One can then only bank on De Gea’s reflexes to save a certain goal. But more often than not, even De Gea cannot save such shots. An example of such a situation is the goal Danny Welbeck scored against De Gea at the Emirates recently. Had  De Gea come off his line to punch the cross away, he would have surely prevented a shot and the resulting goal. However,he decided to stay put and gave himself no chance to save the bullet header from Welbeck.

Romero on the other hand has found himself in such situations many times over the course of his Europa campaign. Because he intercepts those crosses before an opposition player can get to them,it does not get recorded as a save. As a result, he does not get as much glory as De Gea gets for the saves the latter makes. But if you think with an unbiased mind, both of these situations (preventing the shot and saving it) help in avoiding a goal. So should they not be equally assessed? 

Romero has had 11 clean sheets in 17 games this season having conceded just 6. It is no coincidence that he gets so many cleansheets whenever he starts. I feel he needs to be a regular starter and maybe De Gea going to Madrid may not be a disaster after all for the Red Side of Manchester.


Arsenal put an end to Man United’s unbeaten Premier League run

In a closely fought affair,Arsenal ended Manchester United’s unbeaten run of 25 Premier League games. With both sides still somewhat in the race for a top 4 spot, it was a vital win for Arsenal who find themselves battling to be in the UEFA Champions League next season having played in every season since 1999. 


Arsenal lineup

Manchester United lineup

Reactive set up from Man United

With the Europa league away leg against Celta Vigo to be played in midweek, Jose Mourinho rested many players who played on Thursday against Celta. Axel Tuanzebe found himself making his debut PL start for Manchester United. Jones and Smalling also returned to the starting lineup for the first time in months. 

As it has been against all big teams this season, Jose Mourinho set up a side so as not to concede and punishing the opposition for their mistakes after encouraging them to push up. Another interesting aspect of Manchester United’s strategy was that they did not use their fullbacks as passing outlets when in possession. This meant that they had to resort to playing vertical balls and diagonal balls hoping to find Martial running onto one of such balls. This also meant that ball retention was difficult for the central midfielders in Carrick,Herrera and Rooney against Arsenal’s midfield. Without overlapping fullbacks,United often found themselves in a position of numerical inferiority against Arsenal’s 3-4-2-1 block. As a result,it was not much of a surprise that after Mata’s cross was headed over by Rooney in the 24th minute,it took 50 minutes for United to create another chance. Rooney had a chance to slot in Holding’s poor backpass but it was more a case of Arsenal creating that chance for Manchester United on that occasion.

Manchester United’s midfielders crowded out in midfield making it difficult to retain possession. As a result,Carrick and Rooney had to resort to vertical balls over the top hoping to find Martial or Mkhitaryan.

In the defensive phases,wingers Mata and Mkhitaryan were instructed to slot outside fullbacks Tuanzebe and Darmian making a back 6 to neutralize the threat of Chamberlain and Gibbs who often found themselves in very advanced positions. But this meant that Arsenal’ s midfielders had ample time to pass in front of United’s midfield 3 of Carrick Herrera and Rooney. Sanchez and Özil always looked a threat when given such time to pick out their passes. Ramsey’s runs from deep were often left untracked by the back of Manchester United which led to some decent chances for Arsenal.

Manchester United’s 6-2-1-1 block out of possession. This meant Arsenal had enough time in the midfield to look up and create chances. Özil and Sanchez are masters of picking runs. Ramsey was a constant threat as he made some runs from deep into the channels between Jones and Smalling. Rooney,Carrick and Herrera struggled to close down in the absence of support in midfield

An example of a deep Ramsey run

Second half

The game continued in much of the same fashion in the second half. Ramsey continued his runs from deep between the channels left by United’s back line. Short of numbers in midfield,it was no surprise that one pass found Granit Xhaka with space to shoot in front of United’s midfield line which gave Arsenal the lead. A second goal from a cross by Chamberlain from the right flank killed Manchester United’s chances and gave Arsenal a faint glimmer of hope of making the UCL next season.  As for Manchester United, Jose Mourinho said that his side’s chances of finishing in the top 4 is impossible making it clear that he will be going full out to win the Europa this year to secure UCL qualification for next season.