England 0-0 Scotland: Perfect storm leaves Harry Kane looking lost as huge summer falls flat
2021 was supposed to be a defining summer for Harry Kane. Things are not currently going to plan. The 27-year-old has laboured thus far at Euro 2020 as a perfect storm of factors combine to leave England’s talisman looking flat and fatigued. He was poor as England were held to a 0-0 draw by Scotland on Friday.
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Harry Kane has set improbably high standards. Yet, his excellence means he has tended to meet them. This summer, more than ever before, he needed to maintain those standards.
Thus far, he has failed, as evidenced by his performance against Scotland in the 0-0 draw at Wembley.
There remains an unhealthy obsession with the role of captain in England, with far too much weight applied to its importance. And, yet, the significance of Gareth Southgate withdrawing Kane with 15 minutes remaining of England's stalemate against Scotland should not be understated. Kane, aside from being captain, is England's best and most dangerous player, or at least he should be.
Southgate needed a goal; he withdrew Kane. And it was justified. Southgate, in his post-match press conference, reasoned that he wanted more of a threat in behind, and, hence, he introduced Marcus Rashford. There were other ways to enhance that threat without withdrawing Kane. He was removed because the chances of him scoring were, given his performance, limited.
The Tottenham forward's pre-match warm-up foretold a lacklustre evening for the Premier League's leading marksman. He had looked lax during England's rondos ahead of the game, and decidedly off the pace - he carried that lethargy into the match. Kane is yet to have a shot on target at these Euros. More worryingly, his general contribution has been well below par.
There are a number of contributory factors to Kane's malaise.
Fatigue is undoubtedly playing a part. Kane is off the pace - incapable, it appears, of shifting through the gears or injecting any intensity into his play. However, Kane has always proven himself a consistent goalscorer, often regardless of form or physical conditioning. For example, he looked jaded for large periods of the 2018 World Cup. Yet, he won the golden boot.
Compounding Kane's issues are England's inability to create from open play. Against Croatia, Kalvin Phillips took on that responsibility from deep. It was, in fact, the Leeds United midfielder who marauded forward to create Raheem Sterling's goal.
However, against Scotland, the trifecta of Che Adams, Lyndon Dykes and John McGinn put downward pressure on Phillips’ ability to create from deep.
Therefore the creative responsibility fell on the advanced midfield three of Phil Foden, Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount. They failed to meet that responsibility. It is perhaps a function of the fact that none of those players are the creative focal point of their respective club sides. They play substantial parts in but do not orchestrate those attacking systems.
Kane's substitution, while unexpected, was not surprising
Image credit: Getty Images
It was illustrative, perhaps, that the introduction of Jack Grealish, who does hold that responsibility at Villa, gave England some - albeit limited - impetus. The Villa player demanded and dictated, and the clamour for him to start grows stronger with each match.
However, the introduction of one player cannot address what is a systemic issue - an issue perhaps contingent on Southgate's conservatism. England’s lack of creativity represents a huge problem for Kane and Southgate. It is a longstanding issue. It would not be revisionist to say that, while impressive, England's run to the semi-final of the World Cup was largely built on the back of a functional team playing beyond their means. Their set-piece excellence and Kane's deadeye in front of goal masked the limitations of Southgate's side.
Some - any - creativity behind Kane could help bridge the England captain over this slump, but he has been left wanting.
Kane's struggles may not just be physical. His club are seeping further into disarray as their search for a new manager plumbs new lows; surely their inadequacies will have hastened his desire to leave. And execution of that desire will have been served well by a strong showing at a major tournament. It would have added an exclamation point on the notion that Kane had outgrown his club.
Yet, a perfect storm of factors - his own poor form coupled with England's inability to create for him - have left Kane looking rather lost on what should have been the defining summer of his career.
However, if Kane's career has been marked by one characteristic, it is remarkable resilience. A goal against the Czech Republic could be the beginning of the reframing of his tournament, and perhaps, this defining summer. But the omens do not look good.
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