England’s 2-1 defeat to Iceland this summer turned a disappointing tournament into a humiliation. Having failed to top a group containing Wales, Slovakia, and Russia, England crashed out to the smallest country to ever participate in a major tournament. Iceland, with a population around 155 times smaller (323,002 as per 2013) than England (50.1 million as of 2015), got the better of one of the premier soccer countries in the world. And yet, the only goal that England could put past the Icelandic goalkeeper was a contentious 4th minute penalty.
Despite enjoying 63% possession, England was unable to convert a single chance in open play. A large portion of this blame must fall on those who are responsible for getting the ball in the back of the net. For England, this is Harry Kane. While it might seem baffling that Kane was unable to score at the Euros given that he was the golden boot winner in the 2015-16 Premier League season, his goals per shots ratio indicates that he was not the best player to lead the line. Jamie Vardy, who finished one goal behind Harry Kane last season, is a more efficient goalscorer and should have been starting up front at the Euros.
Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy each play in the English Premier League, the highest division of English soccer. Harry Kane plays for Tottenham, one of the traditional powerhouses in England. Under coach Mauricio Pochettino, Tottenham play a high tempo pressing game in which they dominate possession and work hard to get the ball back when they lose it. This tactic was highly effective last season as Tottenham averaged the third largest amount of possession per game in the league (55.3%) and took the most shots per game (17.2) out of every Premier League team.
As a result, Harry Kane was presented with many chances during the course of the season. Playing in every game of the season (38 games), Harry Kane took a total of 159 shots, 40 shots more than the next player. Scoring 25 goals, Harry Kane had a conversion rate of 1 goal in 6.36 shots. At the Euros, Kane averaged 3.3 shots per game and he played 240 minutes spread across all four of England’s games. Considering that Kane took thirteen shots in total, it is reasonable to think that, based on his statistics, one of these shots would go in. However, Harry Kane took free kicks for England, which he does not do for Tottenham. These free kicks make up some of the 13 shots Kane took, and Kane (evidently) did not make any of his free kicks. Furthermore, Kane was assigned to take corner kicks, so when the ball was played by Kane into the penalty area, where Kane scores most of his goals, he was not there to put the ball into the net. In fact, most of Kane’s shots came from outside the penalty area.
As a result, Kane simply did not have the amount of “golden opportunities” from inside the penalty box that he did on Tottenham, due to his free kick and corner kick duties, and he was unable to convert the few big chances that came his way at the Euros. Therefore, with not as many gilt-edged chances playing for England, and a conversion rate that suggests he needs more than a handful of chances to score a goal, statistics show that it is not as baffling as it may seem that Harry Kane was unable to score at the Euros.
Jamie Vardy is another English striker who was backup to Harry Kane at the Euros. Vardy only played 166 minutes, far less than Kane played. Yet statistics show that Vardy is a more efficient goalscorer than Harry Kane. Vardy plays for Leicester City, a counterattacking team that allows the other team to dominate possession. Leicester had the third lowest percentage of possession in the league last season (44.8%). Since Leicester absorbed pressure for most of the game and hit on the break, Vardy had far fewer chances than Kane did during the season, registering a mere 114 shots.
However, Vardy scored 24 goals, only one less than Harry Kane. This means that Vardy converts one shot out of every 4.75 that he takes, a strike rate far better than Harry Kane’s. In addition, Tottenham’s possession soccer means that others set up chances for Kane while Vardy, one of Leicester’s only two genuine threats, has to create for himself. Vardy also had significantly more assists than Kane during the season, recording 6 to Kane’s 1, showing that even when Vardy doesn’t score he is still capable of setting up for others.
At the Euros, Vardy was utilized primarily as a sub. This nullified his largest asset, his pace, as Vardy was mainly subbed on only when England needed a goal, and opposition defenses were sitting deep to try and prevent England from scoring, resulting in not much space for Vardy to run into. Still, despite taking 1.7 shots per game (Kane took 3.3), Vardy scored a goal at the Euros, while Kane did not. Given that Kane had a worse conversion rate than Vardy during the season, and the goals Vardy scores are more of his own making than Kane, who relies on service from others, it should come as no surprise that England struggled to score at the Euros with Kane as the main man up front instead of Jamie Vardy.
Data courtesy of whoscored.com and foxsports.com. Thanks for reading!
Written by William Seidman
Photo Credits: AP/Matt Dunham, Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images, Frank Augstein/Associated Press, Jordan Mansfield/Getty Images, Clive Rose/Getty Images