When Harry Kane equalised for Tottenham in the 18th minute against Southampton two weeks ago, it seemed inevitable that he would go on to bag another and claim his 100th English Premier League goal; joining a rarefied list of footballing greats headed by Alan Shearer and including the likes of Thierry Henry, Wayne Rooney, and Emile Heskey. What made it seem inevitable was not the fact that Kane had scored 10 goals in his last 6 games, but rather, 2 more obscure statistics.
First, this season, Kane very rarely scores just the one goal. In fact, if you exclude August (a month famously atypical for the Tottenham man), Kane has scored 0 goals in 41% of matches, 2 or more goals in 41% of matches, and just the solitary goal in 18% of matches; an incredible statistic that perhaps warrants further examination at a later date. And secondly, of the 26 existing members of the EPL 100 Club, 4 scored their landmark goal against Southampton – the team Tottenham were facing that day. This works out at 16%*; a disproportionately high figure considering the number of teams that have played in the competition. No other team has been the victim of the landmark goal more than twice. But going against all the stats, Southampton held firm, and delayed Kane’s inauguration into the elite club for a little longer.
Premier League goal number 100 eventually came from the penalty spot in the 94th minute at Anfield. In a big game, in a big moment, Kane stepped up to save Spurs (we’re conveniently ignoring the missed penalty just minutes earlier). It typified the forward who has become the talisman for both club and country, but is this reputation warranted? Four days earlier, Tottenham and Kane had taken on Manchester United and a certain Romelu Lukaku. A man who it may surprise readers to know is almost certainly going to be joining Kane in the Premier League 100 club at some point this season. His goal scoring prowess tends to be viewed in a lot less favourable light than Kane’s, with it often claimed that he goes missing in big games.
Which brings me to the point of this article. At the start of the season, I analysed – based on goal scoring data from last season – which players could be classified as “flat track bullies” (scoring most of their goals against poorer teams), and which could be classified as “big game players” (scoring most of their goals against good teams). Here, it was found that the average league position of the teams Lukaku scored against was 12.52 (21st easiest out of 30 players analysed), whereas for Kane, it was a marginally better 12.28 (18th easiest). Cavani, Messi, Ibrahimovic, Ronaldo, and Aubameyang were classified as big game players (headed by a very surprising number 1), whilst Sanchez, Aguero, Morata, Salah, and Neymar made up the flat tack bullies. But that was last season. What does the data show when we look across a career…specifically, the careers of the 26 greatest goal scorers in English Premier League history?
*Matt Le Tissier is removed from the calculation, given that he scored all of his EPL goals for Southampton, thus, it is (25/4)*100, and not (26/4)*100.
The same process was followed as for the original article back in August. The scores indicate the average league position of the opponents of whom the players scored all their goals against; thus, a lower score is better, as it reflects a team finishing higher up in the table. The only exception to this was that for the goals scored by Harry Kane, Romelu Lukaku, and the still-active members of the 100 club this season, the league positions that were used were based on the table as of the conclusion of week 23. Clearly, this will not be the same come the end of the season; however, it is as good an estimate as anything to help predict where Kane and Lukaku (and others like Aguero, Rooney, Defoe, and Crouch) will rank in the order of flat track bully or big game player. Oh, and purely at the request of a friend, the data for Cristiano Ronaldo – another player often claimed to disappear when it matters most – has also been included (he has currently scored 84 EPL goals).
So is Lukaku a flat track bully? Well if he is, then you need to put Harry Kane in that category too. The average league position of the opponents that the Man United man scores against is 12.17; good for 21st in the 100 club. Just behind him is the England and Tottenham star, with an average of 12.19. There’s nothing in it. But if you want to say Lukaku goes missing in big games, then you need to say the same for Kane.
In the table above, the numbers in brackets indicate where they rank in the EPL 100 club in terms of all-time EPL goals scored.
The two names at the top of the list – Darren Bent and Matt Le Tissier – are perhaps a little surprising, but there may be an explanation for this. These two players were, with all due respect to their teammates at Charlton, Sunderland, and Southampton, the best attacking players at their clubs by a considerable distance. Thus, if anybody was going to score against the top teams with the best defenses, it was going to be them. By contrast, Robbie Keane and Frank Lampard – players at the bottom of the list – were surrounded by the likes of Berbatov, Defoe, Drogba, and Anelka; teammates just as capable as themselves at scoring in big matches.
Subjectively, at least from my own personal opinion, the two “biggest game players” in the analysis are Steven Gerrard and Didier Drogba. Liverpool’s 2005 Champions League triumph and 2006 F.A. Cup final win is all the evidence you need for the former, whilst Drogba’s Wembley record, as well as the small part he played in Chelsea’s 2012 Champions League win, are enough to close the case for the latter. But subjectivity is what I hate. The data here – which only includes Premier League goals scored – supports the argument for Gerrard, but less so for Drogba.
On the other hand, I was never one to agree that Lukaku was a flat-track bully, but I did – until about 3 seasons ago – believe that Ronaldo disappeared in big games. Again, the data, whilst not exactly showing either to be big-game players, should hopefully silence the critics of the past and present Man United forwards.
Maybe it’s because it’s United. Maybe it’s because of the high transfer fee paid for him. But it seems a little harsh that Lukaku is tarnished with the reputation of only being able to score against the poorer teams. There are at least 7 other players that are statistically more of a flat-track bully. And one of them is Harry Kane.
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