If Tottenham intend to play Harry Kane on the left wing, then they should have sold him to Man City. Using him out there in the home defeat to Chelsea was hopefully a one-off, but it was a strange tactical decision from head coach Nuno Espirito Santo.
The game passed without Kane scoring. Again. It passed without Kane even looking like scoring, though at least he occasionally touched the ball inside the opposition penalty area.
After three 1-0 wins in the Premier League, which briefly earned them top spot and Nuno the manager of the month award, reality has set in ahead of Sunday’s derby against Arsenal, which is now a pivotal game for both.
It is hardly a crisis yet at Spurs, who are seventh in the Premier League and just a point behind the champions City, although their fans could be forgiven for glancing at the table and seeing Graham Potter’s Brighton in fourth place. Some were sniffy about whether Potter was good enough for Spurs when they were looking for a new manager.
Following the sacking of Jose Mourinho, Tottenham chairman Daniel Levy wrote about reverting “to our core DNA of playing attacking, entertaining football”, but there is little sign of that so far under Nuno.
There are mitigating circumstances. Spurs have been unfortunate with their South American players and the Covid-19 rules, while new signings are still to bed in under a new coach and Kane’s future dominated the summer. It has been tough, but it is the hand they were dealt and it is how they cope with it that matters.
How Nuno handles Kane is key. Already it looks like it might be a long, hard season for the England captain, and three of his five goals so far have come playing for his country. Maybe that’s where he’ll find solace.
For Spurs, Kane has scored twice – in the 3-0 second leg win against Pacos de Ferreira, who are ranked the 135th-best team in Europe by UEFA, in the play-off for the new Europa Conference League. But that is it, and small comfort for a regular golden boot winner.
Meanwhile, he is surely enviously watching the exploits of Mohamed Salah, Romelu Lukaku and Cristiano Ronaldo. They are the kind of forwards he will measure himself against and, as the old saying goes, they are scoring “for fun”.
Salah already has four in the league for Liverpool and one in the Champions League, Lukaku has four goals for Chelsea, three in the league and one in the Champions League – the same as Ronaldo at Manchester United.
Kane is scrabbling around in UEFA’s new third-ranked cup competition and being shunted out to the wing at home, for tactical reasons, to try to contain Chelsea. It is hard to see where his goals will come from. Yes, in the past he has started seasons slowly and scored in bursts, as forwards often do, but the way Spurs are set up, the question has to be asked: just where is the creativity?
When will they create enough chances for Kane to score? Not in open play, it seems.
He must be looking at those three other great forwards and also at City, who have been using Ferran Torres as a central striker. They drew a blank against Southampton on Saturday, but have scored only one goal fewer than Liverpool and Chelsea in the Premier League and hit six in the Champions League victory over RB Leipzig.
Kane was the Premier’s top scorer last season with 23, and also the leading assist-maker with 14. How can he hope to reach those numbers now? Spurs finished seventh last season, so maybe if they win a trophy this campaign it will all be worthwhile. But it looks a big ask at present.
It was absolutely Levy and Tottenham’s prerogative not to sell to City. Kane is under contract, a lucrative one he willingly signed, which has three years to run. If Spurs had a figure in their heads for which they would sell the 28-year-old, clearly City did not meet it, despite offering up to £125m (€145.5m).
But Spurs also have to do right by Kane, especially if, as those close to him claim, the “gentlemen’s agreement” he had with Levy meant he could leave in the summer if they failed to finish in the top four or won a trophy. Spurs dispute this, but the fact is Kane believes it.
Mentally, therefore, he had probably left the club. It is like buying your dream home. You visualise living in it, what you would do to it, the renovations you would make … only to be gazumped at the last minute. It takes some getting over and Kane probably is still making that adjustment. It also appears that he is running less, but it is difficult to make those runs if the ball is not being delivered and the chances are not being created.
Should Spurs have taken the money? Maybe, if Nuno is their man, it would have given him the chance to fashion a team more the way he wants. After all, Spurs’ best display was their first – the win over City at home, when Son Heung-min was their focus. But Kane is there for at least another season and they have to try to make it work because it is not happening at present.
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