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Setting the Table: What's Wrong with Harry Kane?

Andrew M. Laird

Andrew M. Laird, the 2017 FSWA Soccer Writer of the Year, is RotoWire's Senior Soccer Editor and a fantasy football contributor. He is also a two-time finalist for the FSWA's Football Writer of the Year Award.

What’s Wrong with Harry Kane?

Harry Kane was a revelation last season, scoring 31 goals in all competitions, including 21 in Premier League play that trailed only Sergio Aguero (26) for the Golden Boot. However, Kane is scoreless through three matches this season, which has made fantasy owners, both in season-long games and daily formats, wondering what’s going on with the 22-year-old.

Kane finished fifth in the Premier League last season in shots (113) and fourth in shots on target (48), and while this season is still very young, he has dropped considerably in both categories. He has taken just eight shots through three matches, a total that is bettered by 19 other players (including Odion Ighalo, Bradley Johnson and Matt Ritchie), while his two shots on target has him tied for 36th (Crystal Palace's Bakary Sako had five last weekend alone). The added difficulty with these numbers is that if Kane isn’t scoring and his shots are limited, he’s providing little value in even daily formats because he doesn’t cross the ball much, doesn’t draw a lot of fouls and doesn’t get many assists (four last season).

Kane’s 25 percent shot accuracy (shots on target/shots taken) is well down from the 42.5-percent mark he had last season, and a lot of it is likely because teams recognize they need to start their defensive focus on stopping him rather than slowing Nacer Chadli or Christian Eriksen or August set-piece specialist Eric Dier. Kane’s production last season was incredibly special, but in the course of his career it was also very flukey. I said earlier this season that I would be shocked if Kane reached 20 goals again, not because I thought he could't do it (though that’s part of it), but also because it’s very rare for a player in the Premier League to reach that total in back-to-back seasons. Expecting a 22-year-old to accomplish that feat after one full season in the Premier League, plus playing internationally for the first time on the senior team, was always naive.

Is 15 goals possible for Kane? Sure. But I’d rather spend my FPL money on guys like Christian Benteke (£0.9 cheaper in FPL), Romelu Lukaku (£1.3 cheaper) or Bafetimbi Gomis (£2.2 cheaper).

Feed the Beast!

Speaking of Benteke, he has looked very good in a Liverpool kit the last two games after a quiet opener when he was clearly still adjusting to his new teammates. Benteke has a lot of quality skills in his game, but his best one is arguably his ability to win aerial duels, particularly close to goal. Benteke was limited at the beginning of last season as he was finishing up his recovery from a torn Achilles, but he still finished the 2014/15 season by leading the Premier League in aerial duals won with 187, 15 more than second-place Graziano Pelle despite starting only 26 matches and playing 955 fewer minutes than the Southampton striker.

Success at Liverpool was always going to involve manager Brendan Rodgers finding a way to feed balls to Benteke in the box, instead of Benteke trying to adjust to become more of a striker in the Luis Suarez or Daniel Sturridge style. Liverpool finished dead last in the Premier League in crosses from open play last season, so the addition of Benteke clearly required a change in strategy. Additionally, the purchase of right back Nathaniel Clyne only seemed to favor that strategy change, after he sent in 117 crosses last season, tying him for 12th in the entire league.

So how are they doing through three matches? Just as bad as last year, as their 21 crosses from open play rank 20th out of 20 sides (Watford leads the Prem with 66).

Benteke has legitimate 20-goal potential, but if Rodgers isn't willing to play a style that gets the ball to Benteke in the air, he'll only have himself to blame when Benteke finishes with 12.

Very Touchy

An Arsenal midfielder leads the Premier League in total touches, touches in the final third and touches in the penalty box. What’s interesting is that it’s three different players:

Nacho Monreal (303) and Aaron Ramsey (294) are second and third in total touches, while Ozil is fifth (293). Only Swansea’s Jonjo Shelvey cracks the top-5 with 294 touches through three matches.

What’s impressive about Alexis’ touches in the penalty area is that he didn’t start the Premier League opener against West Ham, a 2-0 loss for the Gunners, because he was delayed in preseason following the Copa America. However, he’s been expectedly active in his two starts, with his 13 shots ranking third in the Prem behind just Philippe Coutinho (15) and Memphis Depay (14). Unfortunately for Arsenal, their high number of touches and Alexis’ activity have resulted in only two goals -- both of which came against Crystal Palace in Gameweek 2 -- as they’ve been held scoreless in two matches at the Emirates. Making matters worse, one of the two was an own-goal, though it surely doesn’t happen without an impressive effort from Alexis.

The talk of Arsenal needing a world-class striker is only met by the demand they sign a world-class defensive midfielder, and while there was plenty of chatter about Karim Benzema, it was clear that was never going to happen. Manager Arsene Wenger looks likely to stick with his current attacking group of Olivier Giroud (tied with Alexis in shots and tied for third in the Premier League in touches inside the penalty area), Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck (knee), none of whom have the finishing power that would make you think “world class.” The addition of Petr Cech in goal was supposed to make the Gunners legitimate title contenders, but a lack of a proven goal scorer may continue to be what holds them back.