Manchester City might be steaming ahead in the Premier League table, having scored at least 10 goals more than any other side, but no players have scored more goals than Tottenham’s Harry Kane and Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku.
A glance at the Premier League top scorers’ chart shows an eclectic list of players. In addition to the two above, Sergio Aguero, Alvaro Morata, Gabriel Jesus and Raheem Sterling have all got six or more goals. All are very different types of players. And the same is true for Kane and Lukaku.
At some point, the Spurs star seems to have made a transformation from being a number 10 at youth level to becoming thought of as a Shearer-esque number 9. His finishing was his stand-out quality when he broke into the first team, but his evolution over the past few months has been stunning. After another lean August, Kane has been in spectacular form, but last weekend’s victory over Liverpool at Wembley showed yet again that he is about more than poaching goals, with his backtracking, link-up play and even his ability to assist his teammates for goals on display.
Romelu Lukaku is a different sort of striker. Unlike Kane, who seems comfortable in deeper areas, the Belgian is at his best leading the line by running in behind defences. No one would doubt his quality, but his impact on games seems to come, quite often, from his ability to finish chance.
Conversely, it’s this uncanny knack that makes Lukaku like Kane. It’s not just his finishing ability or his obvious power that allows him to steal the show with goals, it’s the fact he makes the right runs. Like they did with Kane initially, people confuse the end product – the finishing, the getting into good positions – with the intelligence to run behind in the first place.
But when they meet at the weekend – a showdown where second meets third and, potentially, where it’s Manchester City who could emerge as the real winners – expect Kane to be the more effective player. Certainly if Jose Mourinho lines his team up anything like he did at Anfield last week.
Why? Because the whilst Kane benefits from being able to drop deep to help his teammates back up the pitch, aiding in the transition and taking part in the build-up play, Lukaku’s abilities running in behind defences make him United’s penetrative edge. And when Mourinho plays in a similar way as he did last week against Liverpool, sitting deep and – supposedly – looking to spring counter-attacks, then if Lukaku drops deep, there’s simply no way out.
What that does is it gives Kane the ability to change games by getting on the ball and making things happen, even when his team aren’t playing well. But for Lukaku, he has to rely on his teammates to provide him with service. If they don’t, it looks like he goes missing. And that’s led to the criticism that he can’t do it in big games. Yet, logically, it’s more likely that his midfielders will find it more difficult to control the bigger games than the smaller ones.
This weekend, Lukaku really needs his midfielders to find the form that they had before the international break. And if they don’t, he might once again fail to affect a big game. The difference is that, this time, he’ll be directly compared to Kane, with whom he’ll share a pitch. If he doesn’t get the service – or if Spurs win the midfield battle – that won’t be a nice comparison for the Belgian.