For years, Tottenham struggled to find an adequate striker to play up top before discovering their diamond in the rough, Harry Kane. Since Kane has vaulted onto the scene, he’s been a stalwart in the Tottenham attack, winning The Golden Boot in the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 seasons. However, since discovering Kane, Tottenham have struggled to find an adequate backup for him in the off-chance of injury.
The search for Kane’s backup
Tottenham brought in Vincent Janssen in 2016 from Dutch side, AZ, for £17 million. However, Jansen was a colossal flop. By the middle of February of 2017, Janssen had still failed to score from open play. Following Janssen’s first season, Tottenham quickly loaned him out to Fenerbahçe.
Then, in 2017, Tottenham bought veteran striker Fernando Llorente from Swansea City to fill the role of Kane’s backup. Llorente, although showing moments of quality, has been similar to Janssen in the fact that he has been wildly inconsistent. He’ll have moments of brilliance such as his hat-trick in the FA Cup against Rochdale. And then he’ll follow up that performance by missing sitters in his next match. For a team like Tottenham that is looking to compete on all fronts, that is simply not good enough. They need a way to consistently generate goals while Harry Kane is hurt.
Kane, with 31 goals and four assists in all competitions, is nearly impossible to replace with one man. Thus, when Kane has gotten hurt and Mauricio Pochettino has tried to replace him with one man, Tottenham’s form has dipped.
Recently it seems like Pochettino has found the solution to this problem. Instead of finding a typical striker to replace Kane man-for-man, he has been playing a front four that lacks a typical number nine. With the addition of Lucas Moura in the January transfer window, Pochettino now has five players who can fit into his attack. Erik Lamela, Dele Alli, Christian Eriksen and Son Heung-Min all join Moura as capable attacking players.
After Kane left the game injured against Bournemouth, Son played up top. The Tottenham attack looked incredibly dynamic with Son up top as he gave the Bournemouth defense a new dimension to deal with. His pace did not seem like something that Bournemouth was completely prepared for. Fortunately for Tottenham’s sake, Kane’s injury coincides with Son being in the best form of his life. Son, who seems to be enjoying football as much as anyone else in the world at the moment, has seven goals in his past five matches. When Kane missed time last season with an ankle injury, Son scored five goals in the four games Kane missed.
However, just as important as Son, are the three players behind him. Alli, Eriksen and Lamela all have a huge role to play in Kane’s absence. These three players all play with great freedom in the attack and drift into pockets of space all over the field. This movement is incredibly difficult for the opposition to deal with as the three are constantly switching with each other. Eriksen can drift out wide as Lamela moves in centrally. Or Alli can drift up top as Son moves out wide forcing Eriksen to drift in centrally again. This sort of fluidity in attack can be an absolute nightmare for opposing defenses.
Although he is not yet fully integrated into the squad, Lucas Moura’s purchase in January should also bolster the attack without Kane. Lucas provides Pochettino with a reliable player off the bench to bring in late in games when chasing a goal. He also provides a stellar option for when Pochettino wants to rotate and rest one of the other three attackers. With the addition of Lucas, Tottenham won’t be forced to play Moussa Sissoko in an attacking role as often.
What makes this season different
When Kane has gotten injured in the past, Pochettino did not have the same resources to call upon that he has today. During Kane’s injury last season, Janssen was incredibly inconsistent and ended up getting benched for Son. Lamela was dealing with an injury of his own and also could not be counted upon. In addition, Moura had not yet joined the squad. So, Pochettino was relying on Eriksen, Alli, and Son to fill in for Kane. They did decently together but were lacking the final bit of flair that Lamela and Lucas provide.
In the two games without Kane against Bournemouth and Swansea, Tottenham’s attack hasn’t missed a beat. They scored four against Swansea and three against Bournemouth, looking incredibly potent going forward in both games. In these two games, the goals have come from all over. Eriksen and Son both have two goals while Alli and Lamela each have one. But this is the key to the Tottenham attack without Kane. The goals can come from anywhere. With Kane in the line-up, teams focused on him and developed their game plan around shutting him down. However, without Kane, there is no distinct focal point of the Tottenham attack. This makes it incredibly difficult for the opposition to prepare for.
None of this should take away from the incredible player that Kane today. As arguably the best striker in the world, Tottenham are clearly a better team with Kane in the line-up. However, Tottenham are well-equiped to deal with Kane’s most recent injury. They have both the depth and quality of players to adequately account for the lack of Kane in the team sheet and should be able to avoid a dip in form without Kane.
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