In what has been, down the years, a fixture to treat the neutrals on many occasions, Manchester and Tottenham Hotspur provided a limp opening fixture to the 2015/16 Premier League season. A Kyle Walker own goal in the first half settled things in favour of the Red Devils, not a lot else happened, and by full-time most viewers will have been happy enough it was over. The whole match was muted, especially considering the traditions of the teams involved, and neither forward line lit up the affair with a moment of supreme brilliance.
Most striking was the anonymity of last season’s superstar Harry Kane; the 22-year old barely got a sniff at United’s goal, registering just one shot of note went tamely wide from the edge of the box. Most of the forward’s touches came near the centre circle or wide right as he was forced to drift from position in order to collect possession – out of 43 touches on the ball Kane managed all through the match, just six were in the Manchester United penalty area, most of those wide and close to its fringes, and this was starkly apparent as the game unfolded. Under Tottenham’s 4-2-3-1 setup, the England international was so obviously isolated from the first whistle to the last, that what should have been a beatable Manchester United backline was able to look solid and comfortable.
The problem for Spurs was not Harry Kane – he showed potential in flashes but naturally grew frustrated and played sloppier passes as the match wore on – but the players playing behind him. Christian Eriksen delivered a steady enough performance, operating mostly in Manchester United’s defensive half and providing a supportive goal threat, but Mousa Dembele and Nacer Chadli provided minimal bite in attack. The Belgians were a virtual no-show offensively, confined mostly to possession in their own half as they failed to provide a vital link between defence and attack that Pochettino will have hoped for. Operating as wide attacking midfielders, the creativity and involvement necessary to cause Old Trafford’s unease was never forthcoming, as Dembele provided the solitary cross between them all match. Chadli was especially uninvolved, contributing less touches and passes than any other starting player on the pitch, so it was a surprise to see him last the full 90 minutes. When Dembele was replaced on 68 minutes by Erik Lamela, the Argentine flattered to deceive much in the same way the rest of his career in England has gone thus far.
Considering the wealth of attacking options Tottenham have enjoyed in recent years, their current squad looks a little blunt on paper. Kane and Eriksen aside, there are no thoroughly inspiring names to choose from, and if the former’s rumoured move to Manchester United materialises then Spurs fans will have legitimate cause for concern this season. Removing the Englishman leaves Roberto Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor as the remaining striker options – the former is a flop entering his third season, while the latter’s best days are most probably behind him now at 31-years old – so a late and likely expensive replacement would have to be lined up. Meanwhile, if the latter is injured for any considerable length of time, then the likes of Dembele, Chadli and Lamela have so far failed to show they can be suitable replacements to his central creative role.
To state the abundantly obvious: Tottenham must keep hold of Harry Kane this season. He is too vital to their ambitions going forward, while losing him to a rivals Manchester United would incense supporters almost beyond reason. While such a transfer for one of England’s hottest young talents would undoubtedly bring in a huge fee, much like Raheem Sterling’s move to Manchester City, Kane’s influence for Spurs has been far greater than Sterling’s was at Liverpool last season. Unless a world star like Karim Benzema could be tied up to replace the fans’ hero – and that is unlikely considering Spurs cannot offer Champions League football this season – then they have to do everything they can to keep potential United interest at bay.
Instead, Pochettino should be provided the resources to recruit another top striker or attacking midfielder to add to what he has rather than replace. Another striker would provide Kane with necessary support, either from the bench or as a compliment to his skills on the pitch. While he is strong in possession and a lethal finisher, Kane showed on Saturday that he will struggle as a target man on his own without capable players alongside him – as is to be expected of anyone. Messi or Ronaldo would have struggled to feed off the scraps Spurs provided their striker at Old Trafford.
A larger, physically dominant target man is required for Kane to play off of – and this is not Pochettino’s preference – or else more meaningful quality to bridge the midfield-forward divide, is ideally what Tottenham need to bring in while maintaining the core of their current squad. Players like Andros Townsend and Aaron Lennon may return to involvement, but with a gruelling Europa League schedule to heap on to league and cup fixtures, the current Spurs squad looks especially flimsy offensively. With progress being made by teams around them, what has been a comfortable top-seven team is in danger of slipping towards the lower reaches of mid-table.[separator type=”thin”]
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