England captain Harry Kane has brushed aside concerns over his workload, insisting his early-season statistics are nothing to worry about.
That Kane found himself facing questions over his mental and physical freshness on the eve of Spain’s Nations League visit to Wembley was perhaps puzzling; he will, after all, be collecting the World Cup Golden Boot before kick-off and has already netted twice in four games this term.
But there are wider worries about the burden he carries for club and country, both of whom treat him as indispensable, and how it is shaping his game.
Six goals in Russia were enough to net him his newest glittering award but he failed to find the net in his final three games of the tournament and he has been more shot-shy than usual since returning to Premier League action.
The 25-year-old has made just 10 attempts on goal in four outings, half Sergio Aguero’s number and three shy of Tottenham team-mate Christian Eriksen.
Kane, who will mark his achievements in Russia by wearing a specially commissioned pair of golden boots against Spain, reads little into those figures beyond the fact that he may simply have become more efficient in front of goal.
“People are looking as if I’ve changed my game but I’ve scored the same number as after four games last season. Maybe I’ve become a better finisher,” he said.
“Whether it’s 10 shots or 28 shots, I’ve scored the same number. And I’ve scored in two games rather than one.
“There are always little things that people pick out of your game but I feel good, I feel sharp. That’s what important.”
Despite that self-assurance, Kane remains hungry to get even better and has been able to make a refreshingly honest assessment of his efforts in the summer.
“I think I could have done better at the World Cup if I’m perfectly honest,” he explained.
“It was great, I scored some good goals and important goals but there was stuff I could have done better as well…certain finishes, certain movements.
“To win the Golden Boot at the World Cup and feel like I could have done better is exciting. There’s a lot of improvement (to go) and I’m at a high level already.”
Tottenham have rarely found themselves able to voluntarily take their key player out of the firing line, with his nominal stand-ins Vincent Janssen and Fernando Llorente seemingly unable to match his level.
Kane has not ruled out the possibility of a mid-season rest at some stage, though, and feels Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino is open to the prospect.
“The manager is very good at managing that throughout the season,” he said.
“I feel fine now, everyone’s fresh, but there might be stages in the season where you have a dip.
“That’s where the manager comes in and you might get a few days’ break, or rested for a game.”
Brazilian coach Tite said his players are getting over the pain of their World Cup exit after securing a convincing 2-0 win against the USA.
The Selecao were dumped out of the tournament in Russia at the quarter-final stage by Belgium, with star striker Neymar only finding the net twice in five matches.
But he rolled home a soft penalty just before the break after Roberto Firmino had given Brazil the lead on 11 minutes at the MetLife Stadium in New Jersey.
Tite was quoted on UOL as saying: “It was above my expectation, it did not have brilliance at all times, but the offensive opportunities are there.
“We are getting back on top of a pain and frustration of elimination.”
Looking forward to the side’s next friendly against El Salvador on Tuesday, he said: “In the second game, there will be a greater opportunity for other athletes to start.
Opportunity of some, responsibility to perform for others.”
The pace of the game slowed down at the hour mark – with Brazil making use of all the permitted six substitutes to bring on Willian and give debuts to Richarlison and Lucas Paqueta.
And Brazil held firm despite the USA trying in vain to find space in their opponent’s half and saw out a comfortable win at the ground which will host the 2026 World Cup final.
Dave Sarachan, who took over as manager of the United States after the side missed out on World Cup qualification, said there were “hit and miss moments” for his youthful side.
He said: “I thought our coordination of trying to step out wasn’t very good in the first half, we got pulled apart a bit; I thought the second half was an improvement.
“But overall this was a great game for us to play, in these types of games playing a team like Brazil who’s arguably as good as any team on the planet, it challenges you in ways that can only improve this group moving forward.”
Head coach Roberto Mancini’s decision to start maverick striker Mario Balotelli backfired as Italy were forced to come from behind to draw 1-1 with Poland in their Nations League opener.
The supremo’s competitive bow saw him turn to his long-term acolyte, despite a glaring lack of action for Nice in the early weeks of the season. There were few surprises in Bologna when the limp 28-year-old failed to ignite a new-look Azzurri during an forgettable hour on the pitch.
It required the help of substitutes Andrea Belotti of Torino and Federico Chiesa of Fiorentina to win the equalising penalty, effortlessly converted by Chelsea midfielder Jorginho. This redemptive goal on Friday was needed to level unmarked Napoli attacking midfielder Piotr Zielinski’s first-half volley for fast-starting Poland – Jorginho lost the ball in the build-up.
Here, we analyse the poor performance of Balotelli.
Goals – 0
Assists – 0
Shots – 1
Shots on target – 0
Touches – 12
Passes – 3
Key passes – 0
Dribbles – 0
Dispossessed – 1
Balotelli’s status as a Mancini’s favourite continued when gifted a start for Italy’s Nations League opener.
This call could only be classed as an error. The undercooked Nice striker barely made a dent on the match and Italy were much improved after his second-half removal.
His only shot from the fixture was woeful and there was no chemistry with Napoli’s Lorenzo Insigne and Juventus’ Federico Bernardeschi in Mancini’s 4-3-3 formation.
The only surprise came when a clearly unfit Balotelli wasn’t hooked at half-time.
Racking up the minutes – Positives are in short supply for Balotelli after this. The only one that could be found is the fact that his 62 minutes at Stadio Renato Dall’Ara was only 14 minutes less than he’s managed for Nice throughout 2018/19.
With more minutes, his sharpness should return. This was the script during a belatedly prolific 2017/18.
Where can you begin? – Balotelli may as well have not turned up for this game. His only attempt of the match went nowhere near the goal and his lack of pressing made it an easy start to the match for Poland’s unruffled centre-backs – when he was on the pitch, at least.
His 12 touches was one less than goalkeeper Gianluigi Donnarumma. An embarrassing three passes were made during his hour on the park.
37th min CHANCE: Balotelli swivels well on the ball 25-yards from goal, but then wildly blasts over his only chance of the game.
51st min CHANCE: An inviting cross from the left appears bound for Balotelli’s head, only for West Ham goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski to snatch the ball in the air.
61st min SUBSTITUTED: A listless night is brought to an early end when Belotti replaces Balotelli. He toys with his hamstring as he walks off, although this could have been a face-saving gesture.
Mancini has consistently entrusted Balotelli throughout their intertwined careers.
For the head coach’s competitive bow, he turned – once again – to the enigmatic striker whom he gifted a Serie A-debut to at Internazionale in 2007, procured for Manchester City in 2010 and brought back from the international wilderness in May.
But if this was an exhibition of what Mancini can expect moving ahead, he needs to explore other options. Too much is at stake for the Azzurri after the shameful failure to make World Cup 2018 under Gian Piero Ventura.
Even Balotelli’s lack of competitive minutes in Ligue 1 could not account for this feckless run-out.
Belotti was more lively during his cameo. Ciro Immobile remained on the substitute’s bench, despite his continued scoring exploits for Lazio.
Something has to give, starting with Monday’s trip to Portugal.
All statistics are compiled using whoscored.com