Football Features

Romelu Lukaku and Harry Kane: How the one-time goalscoring rivals have evolved

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:00, 13 November 2020

England will travel to Belgium at the weekend to face off in the Uefa Nations League.

The League A, Group 2 clash sees these two elite European sides clash for the second time, with England having won 2-1 at Wembley a month ago. Now the action shifts to Brussels with the winner knowing that qualification for the knockout rounds of the Nations League is at stake in this winner-takes-it-all clash.

And it is a clash that will highlight one on-pitch duel: that of the strikers Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku. Formerly rising stars in the Premier League together, they are now established and recognised world-class strikers. The best in their field. True future icons.

In their present iterations, their first match against each other in national team colours was in the aforementioned Nations League game. Kane began the match on the bench, but Lukaku started. The Belgian won and scored the opening penalty of the game, only for England to turn it around with a Marcus Rashford penalty and a deflected Mason Mount strike. Kane’s only contribution was to miss a sitter that would have made it 3-1.

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Now we have a rematch where they’re likely to come face-to-face from the start for the first time since the 2018 World Cup third-place playoff. A tournament where Kane scored more goals (six, winning Golden Boot) while Lukaku’s all-around play helped Belgium play the better football, especially in the knockout round victories over Japan and Brazil.

But what kind of form are they bringing into this clash?

What makes this showdown so exciting is the fact that both men are actually in supreme form and this will be a meeting of two of the world’s best strikers right now. Kane has been an ever-present for Spurs while Lukaku has missed a game through injury, which has also restricted his minutes on the pitch. Where Kane has missed just six of 720 available in the Premier League, Lukaku has played 441 in Serie A.

So, looking at their figures adjusted to a per-90-minute average, what do we see? Lukaku has been a more successful goalscorer. He’s averaged 1.1 goals per-90 this season from 3.1 shots, that’s a conversion rate of 33.33%. Impressive stuff, especially when one considers that none of them were penalties.

Kane meanwhile has 0.9 goals per-90, or 0.7 non-penalty goals as two of his strikes were from the spot. The English has also taken 3.7 shots for a lower conversion rate of 24.14%. When you take into account that Lukaku has been the more productive dribbler (2.3 completed take-ons per-90 compared to Kane’s 1.2) this points to a huge edge for the Belgian, right?

Wrong.

Lukaku is evolving under Antonio Conte’s tutelage to play more and more like one of his idols, Didier Drogba. That is to say, a furious force full of deft and delicate invention in and around the box. Lukaku lives on the shoulder and toward the right wing but is also becoming an impressive target man (he has 3.7 successful lay-offs this season compared to Kane’s 1.2). He is Inter’s lead forward in every way.

Kane, however, is becoming much more like his idol: Teddy Sheringham. The England captain has always had more to his game than simply goalscoring, and we’re now starting to see it. Kane is obviously a lethal striker still, a deadly force in front of goal who can run behind defences and score; but he is now also an elite creator.

Kane’s partnership with Heung-min Son is fast becoming one of the most deadly we’ve ever seen in England, and it’s bringing Kane into his own as a creative player. The Englishman has played 9.9 forward passes per-90 this season, which dwarfs Lukaku’s 5.8 because while the Belgian is always on the front line, Kane is instead dropping deep to assume the role Christian Eriksen once held at Spurs, sending deadly passes in behind defences for Son.

So naturally Kane has created 2.3 chances created per-90 this season (Lukaku averages 1.5) with an impressive 1.01 big chances created per-90. Kane also has an incredible 1.1 assists per-90; yes that’s right, slightly more than one big chance and one assist every 90 minutes he’s on the field. Once a game! Couple that with him almost hitting a goal every 90 minutes and you can see that Kane is now a complete forward, whereas Lukaku (who has zero assists and 0 big chances created this season) is evolving into more of a front-line poacher. The kind of man who, when properly supplied, will do absurd things. Like hammer in 34 goals in his debut Serie A season.

Lukaku comes into the weekend’s clash in better goalscoring form. Lukaku has 10 goals in his last 10 games for Belgium, but crucially three in three in the recent Nations League games. Kane, for his part, also has 10 goals in his last 10 games for England but he hasn’t scored for his country for an entire year. Kane’s last England goal came against Kosovo in November 2019.

Lukaku isn’t 100% fit, though. His recent injury meant that he was left out of Belgium’s friendly win against Switzerland in order to keep him fit for the Nations League showdown. Meanwhile Kane is expected to start against Belgium and by all accounts is in perfect health. How much will that impact these two strikers? Well it depends how well their teams supply them, or who England can find to replicate the runs of Heung-min Son (perhaps Marcus Rashford?).

Come Sunday, we’re sure to be in for a supreme showdown between these two striking sensations.