Football Features

Harry Kane’s role change for England & Spurs explained

By Harry Edwards

Published: 14:30, 24 March 2019

As has been the case with many positions in modern football, the role of the centre-forward has changed.

In most cases, a forward can no longer get away with just scoring goals and instead have to earn their place in teams with involvement throughout the pitch.

The top-scoring centre-forwards in each of Europe’s top five leagues this season have also chipped in with at least four assists each, and play important roles in helping their teams defend.

Harry Kane has never really been a traditional No.9, often dropping deeper to bring his team-mates into play. But this season though it feels as though the Tottenham Hotspur man is playing a completely different role.

Pochettino’s Kane

At Spurs, Mauricio Pochettino has been playing Kane as the spearhead of his attack, but also deploying two attacking players just behind him.

This gives Kane the freedom to drop almost into the role of a No.10 to be more creative, with the ability to thread the ball through the tightest of gaps on occasion – joining Christian Eriksen as being a dangerous creator when required.

But as he’s still Harry Kane, one of the most potent strikers in the past five years, opposition defenders cannot risk not following him around the pitch. As a result, Kane opens up space for his fellow attackers to move into – something Son Heung-min has particularly benefitted from this season.

Kane’s ability to play deeper also comes from his understanding with Dele Alli, with the pair often combining to score this season.

Their interchangeability is at the heart of their partnership with Alli making the runs ahead of Kane, allowing the forward to drop into the No.10 role and move the ball about the pitch with an eye to create.

In the Premier League this season, Kane has created 29 chances for Tottenham, a record bettered only by Eriksen and Kieran Trippier. Still playing with a forward’s mindset, Kane has averaged 1.16 chances created per 90 minutes, though this is an improvement on his 0.96 last season.

Kane has also recorded four assists from these chances created, at an average of 0.16 per 90.

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England’s Kane

Obviously Gareth Southgate has been paying close attention to Tottenham, as he has been designing his England formations with Kane in mind.

At the World Cup last summer, Southgate played a 3-4-2-1 formation with two attacking midfielders in behind Kane, ensuring the Spurs man could drop deeper without harming England’s chances of scoring.

But, despite England reaching the semi-finals, this didn’t quite work out as the Three Lions were heavily reliant on Kane’s goals.

However, Southgate’s switch to a 4-3-3 has brought positive changes and allows Kane to play as he enjoys for both club and country.

Instead of relying on two players coming in from behind him, Kane can now drop deep knowing England’s wingers will be ready to exploit space left – almost in a false nine role.

There was a perfect example of this in England’s recent 5-0 win over Czech Republic in which Kane played a beautiful ball to Jadon Sancho, who set up fellow winger Raheem Sterling for the opener.

Kane did have fewer touches of the ball than any other England player to start the game, but it was his time off the ball which was effective in allowing Sterling and Sancho to enjoy their time on the wings.

It’s also no coincidence that Tottenham team-mate Alli was also on the pitch, knowing where Kane likes to take the ball, being pushing forward himself.