EPL

Kane and Son: Can the Premier League's once dynamic duo recapture their vitality?

By Sports Desk December 04, 2021

Football is never "an easy game" and Harry Kane should have known better.

Football is a game that takes even the most level-headed through the emotional wringer and Harry Kane can be forgiven.

Take your pick, but it was not so much tempting fate as giving fate a firm kick in the nethers when Kane suggested he was on easy street on this very same weekend last year.

Of course, fate was bound to kick back, but what a vengeance it has taken.

Spurs sat giddily on top of the Premier League after a 2-0 north London derby win over Arsenal on December 6, 2020. It was their first game back in front of fans, albeit just 2,000 of them, at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium since the pandemic struck in March.

Talk was of a sustained title tilt, Jose Mourinho had a glint back in his eye and seemed to have his magic touch back, and the Harry Kane and Son Heung-min combination was poised to break all records.

"They are working like animals, with all due respect to animals, I love animals," Mourinho said of his front two.

A year on, so much has changed.

What happened that day

The basics are these: Kane created a glorious 13th-minute opener with a pass through for Son, the finish a delight. England captain Kane netted a similarly impressive second on the stroke of half-time following a pass from Son. Arsenal had almost 70 per cent of possession but could not make it count.

Kane became the all-time leading scorer in derbies between the teams, with his 11th goal against Arsenal taking him past Emmanuel Adebayor and Bobby Smith in the history of the rivalry. The goal was the 250th of his career at club and international level, with 202 of those having come for Spurs, 32 for England, nine for Millwall, five for Leyton Orient and two for Leicester City.

Spurs could celebrate having won consecutive derbies against Arsenal for just the third time in the Premier League, after a 1992-93 season double and wins in April and November of 2010.

They were on a high, and the fanfare was loudest about the Kane and Son combination.

Their spectacular start to the 2020-21 season had seen them register an astonishing 11 direct combinations for goals – where one of the pairing has the assist and the other scores – in the opening 11 games of the season. That took them to 31 goal combinations in total during their time together at Spurs, just five short of the Premier League era record, held by Chelsea greats Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard. They had overtaken Arsenal's Thierry Henry and Robert Pires (29), Manchester City's David Silva and Sergio Aguero (29) and Tottenham's own Teddy Sheringham and Darren Anderton (27).

Kane's assist was his 10th of the season, and no player has ever reached double figures for Premier League assists in fewer games from the start of a Premier League season. The only player to match Kane in that regard has been Mesut Ozil for Arsenal in the 2015-16 season.

These were dizzying heights and Kane, speaking on Sky Sports, said of his Son alliance: "When I'm passing him through and he's cutting inside and whipping them into the top bins it is an easy game for me."

What could possibly go wrong?

Between them, Kane and Son were making Mourinho's job look easy. A haul of 24 points from 11 games meant Spurs led Liverpool on goal difference. They had taken seven points from their previous three games: against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.

In January, the deadly double act reached 13 direct combinations for the season when Kane crossed for Son to put Spurs 2-0 up during a 3-0 win against Leeds, and that matched a Premier League record set by Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton in Blackburn Rovers' 1994-95 title-winning campaign.

The record fell outright in March when Son crossed for Kane to put the seal on a 4-1 home win over Crystal Palace.

Since then? Just two more direct combinations for goals have been recorded by the pair. The once red-hot connection between Kane and Son has gone cold.

Mourinho was sacked in April and Tottenham plodded in seventh, the rot having set in with a grim toll of seven defeats in the 13 league games that followed the victory over Arsenal.

They spluttered through the opening stages of the 2021-22 campaign too, with Mourinho's supposedly permanent successor Nuno Espirito Santo shown the door after only 17 games and four months at the helm. A 3-1 defeat to Arsenal hardly helped his cause.

It has taken the appointment of Antonio Conte, on a reported £20million-a-year deal, to right the good ship Spurs, with back-to-back wins over Leeds United and Brentford lifting the team to sixth going into the weekend, surprisingly within touching distance of West Ham in fourth.

So what now? Can Conte revive former glories?

Kane and Son are edging closer to that Lampard and Drogba record, but their progress towards the target has been more sloth-like than swashbuckling.

They have 35 direct goal combinations now (Son to Kane 18 times, Kane to Son 17 times), and there remain flickers of life in that partnership.

It was Kane's probing forward pass that freed up a sprinting Sergio Reguilon to centre for Son to slot Spurs' second goal in the 2-0 win over Brentford on Thursday. That was Son's 75th Premier League goal.

Since the table-topping delirium after the Arsenal game last season, Son has managed 12 goals and eight assists in 38 Premier League games, while Kane has 16 goals and five assists in 36 appearances in the top flight.

These are modest totals by their standards, given that in Son's previous 38 Premier League games, up to and including that December 2020 derby, he managed 19 goals and 13 assists, while Kane's previous 36 league matches saw him grab 23 goals and 12 assists.

Son is outperforming his expected goals (xG) in the Premier League this season, scoring five goals from an xG score of 3.8, which is a good sign, but Kane's solitary strike from an xG of 3.1 must worry those with affections towards Spurs.

Kane unable? That's not what the numbers say

Kane has had an enigmatic 2021 by any standards, with doubts cast over his long-term commitment to Tottenham at one point as he looked eager to join Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. He has more recently stressed how "excited" he is about the chance to work under Conte, a proven winner as a manager.

With England, the goals have certainly flowed for Kane this year, a team-record 16 taking him to 48 in his international career, the same number as Gary Lineker achieved.

This season alone he has scored 10 in World Cup qualifiers for England, while with Spurs in 2021-22 he has hit six goals in the Conference League, including qualifying games for that third-tier UEFA competition, one in the EFL Cup and only one in the Premier League, against bottom-of-the-table Newcastle United.

Conte said in the wake of the win over Brentford: "I'm very pleased with the way that he's playing. I know the striker wants to score but we want to give him many chances to score. I think we're on the right path to do this type of situation."

Across the whole of 2021, taking all competitions and commitments into account, Kane has scored 41 goals at one every 123 minutes, which shows that he still knows the way to goal, even if there is unusually no sign of him on this campaign's Premier League top scorers' list.

Spurs' Italian boss may be capable of digging into the root cause of Kane's slump at club level, but it may take forensic examination and soul-searching to reach the eureka moment.

Or perhaps it will take a home game against lowly Norwich City. That is next on the agenda for Tottenham, this Sunday, and Kane has scored five goals in three Premier League games against Norwich, netting a penalty in all three matches.

No player in Premier League history has scored a penalty in four consecutive appearances against a specific opponent before. A penalty might be considered a cheap way for Kane to get back to scoring ways with his club, but Conte is looking for upticks in whatever form they might come.

It has been a rough old year for the Kane-Son combination, a long time since the "easy game" remark.

Perhaps the pressure of the Lampard and Drogba record is weighing heavily. Or just maybe it is high time they took it upon themselves to smash through the glass ceiling and consign the narrative of these last 12 months to history.

Related items

  • Australian Open: Barty bests Anisimova to ease through to quarter-finals Australian Open: Barty bests Anisimova to ease through to quarter-finals

    Ash Barty's dominant form at the Australian Open continued as the world number one saw off Amanda Anisimova to reach the quarter-finals.

    Anisimova shocked 2021 champion Naomi Osaka in the last round but the in-form Barty proved a step too far on Sunday.

    Barty had not dropped a set in any of her previous matches and the Australian continued that trend with a 6-4 6-3 triumph that took just 74 minutes.

    The 25-year-old missed five chances to break before she finally nosed herself ahead in a tightly contested first set when Anisimova went long.

    Anisimova made the same mistake in the next game, failing to grasp the opportunity for an immediate response, and Barty struck a forehand winner to claim the set.

    World number 60 Anisimova responded by racing into a 40-0 lead at the start of the second set, only for some sloppy shots to allow Barty to haul herself level.

    The American held her nerve though and looked to be right back into it when she broke Barty in the next game.

    Yet two-time major winner Barty hit straight back, with a missed backhand from Anisimova gifting her a reprieve, and she did not look back, holding serve before breaking again to go 4-3 ahead.

    Anisimova saved two match points in her win over Osaka, yet another overhit backhand sent Barty through to a tie against Jessica Pegula at the first time of asking.

    DATA SLAM: BARTY'S HOLD STREAK OVER

    There was one negative for Barty, who failed to hold serve for the first time in 63 games when she was broken in the second set. However, the Queenslander responded to that streak ending with a display of her title-winning quality to reach a fourth successive Australian Open quarter-final.

    WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

    Barty – 23/17
    Anisimova – 20/34

    ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

    Barty – 7/3
    Anisimova – 4/1

    BREAK POINTS WON

    Barty – 4/11
    Anisimova – 1/5

  • Burrow tired of 'underdog narrative' as Bengals topple Titans Burrow tired of 'underdog narrative' as Bengals topple Titans

    Joe Burrow is "tired of the underdog narrative" and said the Cincinnati Bengals are "here to make noise" after toppling the Tennessee Titans to make the AFC Championship game.

    Rookie Evan McPherson converted a last-gasp 52-yard field goal to send the Bengals to their first Championship Game since 1988 in a 19-16 win over the top-seeded Titans, while it represented their first ever postseason road win.

    The question of "Why not us?" has been a common theme of the Bengals' postseason run but for quarterback Burrow that is a motto that is no longer relevant.

    "I'm tired of the underdog narrative," said. "We're a really, really good team. We're here to make noise."

    Burrow added that McPherson called nailing his game-winning kick.

    "He [McPherson] gave a little warm-up swing and he said, 'Ahh, looks like we're going to the AFC Championship,'" Burrow said.

    The Bengals managed to triumph despite Burrow being sacked nine times, tying the most in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era.

    But they did also manage three interceptions, with Logan Wilson getting in the way of a Ryan Tannehill pass with 20 seconds left that ultimately set up McPherson's kick.

    And Cincinnati coach Zac Taylor said there is no limit for his team.

    "This is the expectation for this team," Taylor said. 

    "This is not too big for these guys. I know we haven't been here before, but it sure feels like we have. You just see the attitude of this team and the confidence of this team that we're going to find a way to win."

    Shortly before coming in for his news conference, defensive tackle D.J. Reader was asked what the Bengals' new team motto is if not "Why not us?"

    He replied "it is us" before saying the team was motivated by what he felt has been disrespect from pundits this season.

    Reader said: "As a journalist, do you want somebody to doubt your ability to do your job? No. It's disrespectful. 

    "You gotta go out there and get it and take it. You gotta earn respect, though."

    "We're confident in us. We feel like we [are] them. We're the people. We're going out there every game, feeling like we're confident, we're the ones that need to get beat."

    Tannehill had an indifferent night for the Titans, completing 15 of 24 attempted passes for 220 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions.

    It means the Titans suffered a third straight loss on home turf as the number one seed in the AFC, while their last home postseason victory came back in 2003.

    Titans coach Mike Vrabel said: "I don't think Ryan or myself or anybody did enough to win the game. That's how it goes. 

    "It's never going to be about one person, not as long as I'm head coach, which will be a while."

  • Shanahan had a feeling about 49ers special teams in upset victory over the Packers Shanahan had a feeling about 49ers special teams in upset victory over the Packers

    Kyle Shanahan had an inkling that the San Francisco 49ers' special teams would prove pivotal in their shock divisional round win over the Green Bay Packers.

    The 49ers gained seven points on special teams and saved three on a night where Robbie Gould's walk-off field goal earned a 13-10 triumph to send San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game.

    Green Bay had led for most of the game after AJ Dillon's first-quarter touchdown but the 49ers drew level late when Jordan Willis blocked Corey Bojorquez's punt allowing Talanoa Hufanga to collect the loose ball and run into the end-zone.

    The 49ers regained possession with 3:25 to play, with the excellent Deebo Samuel helping drive them into field-goal range before 39-year-old Gould nailed his 45-yard attempt on the final whistle.

    "We thought our special teams had an advantage in this game," head coach Shanahan said. 

    "We thought they had an opportunity to possibly win us the game. And to be able to say that and to actually come to fruition was huge for those guys and huge for our team."

    Gould, who has now succeeded with each of his 20 career playoff field-goal attempts, ensured his boot stayed hot in snowy conditions at Lambeau Field and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo paid tribute to his team-mate, with a little pun thrown in for good measure.

    "I always trust Robbie. He's as good as gold, man. He always is," he said.

    Garoppolo added: "It's dangerous, man. When a team gets hot, it's dangerous.

    "So we've just got to keep this thing going, focus on next week now, and keep this thing rolling.

    "It took everything. We knew it was going to. I mean, it was just offense, defense, special teams - everybody stepping up and doing their part. I wouldn't have it any other way."

    The stars certainly seemed to align for the 49ers, who lost to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl LIV, with Jimmie Ward having earlier blocked a 39-yard field goal attempt from Mason Crosby on the final play of the first half. Had he made the kick the Packers would have led 10-0.

    Victory means the 49ers are headed to their 17th conference championship appearance, the most for any team since the conferences were forged following the 1970 merger.

    With the Cincinnati Bengals having beaten the Tennessee Titans earlier in the day, it also meant it was the first time since 2010 both number one seeds lost in the divisional round in the same season.

    George Kittle said the 49ers proved they are a "gritty" team to make it this far.

    "This team has been through a lot," the tight end said. "We've been through a lot of adversity. 

    "We've dealt with a lot. We've lost games by making mistakes. We've won games dirty. This is a gritty team. It's a salty team, and we just keep bouncing back."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.