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England’s World Cup Rests On Harry Kane’s Ankle

 • by Mark Thompson
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Goals claimed on his daughter’s life weren’t enough to win Harry Kane the golden boot, but a return of thirty league goals is still a hugely impressive achievement.

Along with Mohamed Salah, he is one of only seven men to score thirty or more goals in a 38-game Premier League season (alongside Kevin Phillips, Thierry Henry, Cristiano Ronaldo, Robin van Persie, and Luis Suárez).

While the goals – six of them – kept coming after his ankle injury in March, they were papering over larger cracks in his performance.

The drop-off

His shot output practically halved after the injury, dropping from 5.97 shots per 90 minutes to 3.08. This latter figure was still the 18th highest shooting rate in the league, but an even starker picture emerges when bringing Expected Goals into the mix.

Before his injury, Kane was averaging 0.84 Expected Goals per 90 minutes – unsurprisingly the highest rate in the league.

From his return in April onwards, however, he was putting up just 0.34 xG90. In terms of his position in the league this was a drop down to 31st, sandwiched between Steve Mounie and Glenn Murray.

Harry Kane pre- and post-injury Expected Goals comparison

The story of Kane since his injury isn’t just a sharp drop in being able to fashion chances for himself, then, but also a drop in the quality of these chances. It’s not an extreme change – going from his average shot having a 14 per cent likelihood of going in to just over 11%, but it’s a worrying development.

One part of what makes elite strikers so productive is the quality of chance that they’re able to get. Lionel Messi’s shots average 14 per cent chance of becoming a goal; Cristiano Ronaldo’s are at 15 per cent; Robert Lewandowski, a high-level poacher on a fantastic team, sees his shots average 20% likelihood hitting the back of the net.

Limping lions?

Of course, an injury to Kane isn’t just of interest because of the statistical drop-off that came in the Premier League. As England’s focal point in the attack and now World Cup captain, this statistical story has huge implications for how the Three Lions might fare in Russia.

The decision to name Kane as captain instead of Jordan Henderson may be an indication of how much Gareth Southgate expects both players to feature in the tournament.

If Kane continues in the kind of form that he ended the domestic season in, then this could cause difficulties.

England have been prone to becoming toothless in tournaments gone by – despite consistent collections of attacking talent – and the last thing that the side needs would be for their captain and principal striker to be underperforming.

Much needed R and R

On the other hand, the gap between the end of the Premier League season and the start of the World Cup may give Kane exactly the rest that he needs.

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According to former-England physio Alan Smith, the injury should be fairly easy to overcome and that Kane’s history of ankle injuries shouldn’t be a reason to fear.

“It’s not uncommon in football to have an injury of that nature,” he told Press Association Sport in March.

“I saw the incident [against Bournemouth] and that would sprain anybody’s ankle. The goalkeeper’s body weight went into his ankle, so that would have injured anyone, with or without previous history.

“It comes down to strengthening the ankle joint from the original injury.”

It’s possible that when Kane came back from injury initially, this recovery hadn’t been fully completed, and this is something that Smith forewarned against.

“The World Cup is in June so he has a great chance,” Smith continued, “subject to not doing too much too early and having a setback, but the physios will carefully prepare his rehabilitation.”

Fans up and down the country will certainly be hoping that this is the case. England’s World Cup could rest on which Kane – pre- or post-injury – they get in Russia.

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