Kane vs Lukaku: The duel of the in-form strikers
ABS-CBN Sports on Mar 02, 2017 04:04 PM
Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane celebrates after scoring his side's second goal during the English Premier League soccer match between Tottenham Hotspur and Stoke City at White Hart Lane stadium in London, Sunday, Feb. 26, 2017.(AP Photo/Frank Augstein)
STEVE DOUGLAS, AP Sports Writer
They are 23-year-old strikers in the form of their lives, leading the race to be the Premier League's top scorer, and blossoming after circuitous routes to the top of the game.
One is lean, hard-working and can score all types of goals.
The other has a boxer's build, has been criticized for his work rate and relies on physique over technique.
Both are model professionals off the field and highly sought-after for being so consistent at doing one of the hardest jobs in soccer.
And they are going head to head on Sunday.
Born within 77 days of each other, Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku are the priceless assets that Tottenham and Everton — ambitious clubs which recently have been just outside English soccer's established elite — want to build their futures around.
Kane and Lukaka have each scored a Premier League-high total of 17 goals, along with Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez, and have more than 20 goals for club and country this season. Kane has struck three hat tricks in his last nine appearances, while Lukaku recently scored four goals in a game.
Unsurprisingly, the match at White Hart Lane is being billed as a duel of the in-form strikers.
Kane might just have the edge in their rivalry, perhaps because he plays for a superior team with Tottenham second in the league and Everton in seventh. He made a surprising breakthrough at Spurs in the 2014-15 season, after loans spells in the lower leagues with Leyton Orient, Millwall, Norwich and Leicester, where his scoring was hardly prolific.
Now he is first choice at his local club — he has scored 20 goals in all competitions for the third straight season — and for England. Kane is striving to retain the Premier League's Golden Boot after scoring 25 goals last season, and believes he is "up there" with the best in the world on current form.
"When people have said I'm a one-season wonder, that's motivated me," Kane said. "I want to prove them wrong and I know, in myself, that I will always score."
Lukaku — a powerfully built, 6-foot-3 (1.90 meters) striker — has just tied Duncan Ferguson as Everton's highest-ever scorer in the Premier League with 60 career goals, with his tally coming in 129 games as opposed to Ferguson's 239 across two spells.
The Belgium international has also had to fight to get to where he is after failing to establish himself at Chelsea, which he joined from Anderlecht in 2011 as a seemingly natural heir for Didier Drogba. He had spells on loan at West Bromwich Albion in 2012-13 (scoring 17 league goals) and then at Everton the following season (scoring 15 league goals), before completing a permanent club-record move to Goodison Park in 2014.
Under Ronald Koeman, who was hired as Everton manager in the last offseason, Lukaku is working harder off the ball than previously, putting himself about outside the area as well as inside it. He watches DVDs of his own performances and says he spends hours watching clips of other strikers down the years such as Drogba, Thierry Henry and Samuel Eto'o.
"If you want to become one of the best world players — if you look at the like of Messi, Ronaldo, Thierry Henry — they were players who were constantly improving, constantly getting better," Lukaku said. "That's what I want to do. I don't want to peak too early."
Lukaku said he is trying not to think about his private battle with Kane going into Sunday's game.
"That's what cost me the Golden Boot last year," Lukaku said, "so for me it's just a game I want to win."
With Lukaku leading the line, Everton is the in-form team in England, having taken more points (17) in 2017 than anyone else. The Blues are within sight of the European places, six points off fourth-place Arsenal. Manchester City is the only heavyweight team that Lukaku has scored against this season, so he has a point to prove in that respect.
Kane, meanwhile, wants to back up his first-half hat trick in the 4-0 win over Stoke last weekend, when he produced two opportunistic finishes to go with a deflected free kick. That's the thing about Kane: He takes penalties, free kicks and operates a shoot-on-sight policy, so goals will always come freely.
Diego Costa (16 goals) and Zlatan Ibrahimovic (15) are the others fighting for the Golden Boot in what is proving to be a season for the big-name striker.
LIVERPOOL vs. ARSENAL
It's a match between two clubs struggling for form and confidence since the turn of the year, and the losing team at Anfield will likely drop to sixth place — behind a resurgent Manchester United.
This is the Arsenal players' first league outing in three weeks, and they won't have another for two more weeks. Liverpool has one league win in seven attempts in 2017.
LEICESTER vs. HULL
Leicester climbed out of the relegation zone by beating Liverpool on Monday but the champions could be back in there with a loss to another team battling to avoid the drop.
It's another chance for Craig Shakespeare, interim coach following the firing of title-winning coach Claudio Ranieri last week, to stake his claim for the job on a full-time basis at Leicester.
Steve Douglas is at www.twitter.com/sdouglas80