For all the brilliance of the Premier League’s foreign superstars, it’s a 21-year-old Englishman who was barely known outside north London before the season that is arguably making the most startling impact this campaign.
Forget Diego Costa, Sergio Aguero, Alexis Sanchez and Robin van Persie. Tottenham striker Harry Kane is the top-scoring player in English football this season with 20 goals in all competitions, and a first call-up to his national squad is surely just around the corner.
No wonder Spurs signed Kane up to a new 5-year contract this week.
”He just looks to me now like a real monster on the pitch,” England assistant coach Gary Neville said. ”He can do it all.”
The next defense Kane looks to plunder is Arsenal’s in the north London derby on Saturday, one of two matchups between local rivals in the 24th round of the league. The other comes at Goodison Park where resurgent Liverpool makes the short trip across Stanley Park to visit Everton.
With league leader Chelsea and second-place Manchester City facing games against struggling sides in Aston Villa and Hull, respectively, much of the focus this weekend is on the race for the other Champions League qualification spots.
Six teams, separated by seven points, are seemingly fighting for two places – and four of them play direct rivals on Saturday.
Third-place Manchester United visits eighth-place West Ham and it is fifth against sixth when Tottenham host Arsenal.
Here are some things to know about the upcoming round in the Premier League:
Kane has already shown he is no respecter of reputations this season, with his best game of the season coming against what was at the time the league’s meanest defense.
He scored twice in Spurs’ 5-3 win over Chelsea on New Year’s Day and center backs John Terry and Gary Cahill just couldn’t cope with a player who only made his Premier League debut in April last year. Two seasons ago, he was spending time on loan at second-tier teams Norwich and Leicester.
Arsenal’s defense has tightened up considerably in recent weeks, coinciding with the return from injury of France international Laurent Koscielny. Arsenal has kept four clean sheets in its last five games and is arguably the form team in the league, tied on points now with fourth-place Southampton.
However, Arsene Wenger’s team will need to be at its sharpest to keep out Kane, who has scored eight goals in his last eight league games. Arsenal will again be without Alexis Sanchez, who remains sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Tottenham will leapfrog its neighbor with a win at White Hart Lane.
STURRIDGE TO START?
Daniel Sturridge has been eased back into the Liverpool team after five months out through injury, coming off the bench and scoring in last weekend’s 2-0 win over West Ham and also being used as a substitute for the FA Cup victory at Bolton on Wednesday.
Liverpool manager Brendan Rodgers might just be tempted to start Sturridge against Everton for a game that last season’s runner-up needs to win to keep the pressure on United, Southampton, Arsenal and Tottenham above them.
A front three of Sturridge, Raheem Sterling and Philippe Coutinho would be a fearful proposition for opposition defenses in the last few months of the season.
Coutinho, the Brazilian playmaker, has probably been Liverpool’s most influential player in its seven-match unbeaten run in the league that stretches back to the 3-0 loss to United on Dec. 14.
”He will become world class in the next couple of years,” Rodgers said after seeing Coutinho score an injury-time winner against Bolton. ”Luis Suarez grew and grew in this team and I can see Coutinho falling in the same way.”
Chelsea shouldn’t have a problem maintaining its five-point lead over City this weekend – it is playing a team which has not scored a league goal in more than six weeks.
Aston Villa created an unwanted club record on Sunday, with a 5-0 loss to Arsenal extending its scoreless streak to six league games.
Villa’s tally of 11 goals is the worst in all four of England’s leagues – an astonishing 10 behind the joint second-worst, belonging to second-tier Sheffield Wednesday and third-tier Yeovil.
Chelsea is again without top scorer Costa, who serves the second match of his three-game suspension.
Manchester City plays its last game before the return of Yaya Toure and Wilfried Bony from international duty with Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations. Hull visits Etihad Stadium having lost its last three league games to slip into the relegation zone.
Next-to-last Queens Park Rangers is set to go into its home match with fourth-place Southampton without a manager following the resignation of Harry Redknapp on Tuesday.