Back in 2013/14 when Harry Kane first began to feature in the Tottenham fold, little would Tottenham Hotspur fans realise that he would grow to become one of their most important players over the next few seasons. In 88 Premier League appearances between 2013 and 2016, he has netted 51 times for Spurs over three seasons, featured in the Premier League PFA Team of the Year twice, earned the accolade of PFA Young Player of the Year, played his way into the England senior fold and won the Premier League Golden Boot in the 2015/16 season; when the North London club finished third and qualified for the UEFA Champions League.
However, Spurs will make the trip north to the Riverside Stadium to take on newly promoted Middlesbrough without their star man. It will be only the fifth time in the Premier League since the start of the 2014/15 season that Spurs will have lined up without Kane, and in the four games in that time they have been without him they have failed to win, scoring only twice in the process. Those four games yielded one point from a possible 12, with one draw and three defeats in the absence of the England international, so can Spurs adapt to the loss of their star man to take the points in North Yorkshire?
Despite the long trip north to Middlesbrough looking like a daunting one, Aitor Karanka’s Boro are winless at home this season and were beaten by a London club in their last home outing, Crystal Palace taking the spoils in a 2-1 victory. They are also on the verge of three consecutive league defeats for the first time in three years. Mauricio Pochettino’s young Tottenham side can take heart from the fact that besides Middlesbrough having an obvious vulnerability, having conceded seven goals in the league already this season, their home form is a problem, and Spurs have the quality to take advantage on paper even without the presence of Kane.
Of course it took Kane four league games to get off the mark this season. His goal at Stoke was his first in any competition since his strike for England in a pre-Euro 2016 warm-up friendly against Turkey, but it is what he contributes away from scoring goals which will be a big miss for Spurs, and similar to last season where Kane started the season without a goal and then began a goalscoring run, he has done so this year only be disrupted by injury. Only time will tell how long Spurs will be without him and just how detrimental his absence and the loss of his goals will be to Tottenham’s season as a whole.
The man replacing the England forward will be summer signing and Netherlands international Vincent Janssen. As a run of 71 consecutive Premier League starts draws to an end for Kane, Pochettino will be hoping that the Dutchman can profit from the creativity of an in-form Son Heung-Min behind him on the left flank, as well as the influence of Erik Lamela and Christian Eriksen. Janssen is a forward with a similar work rate, and is capable of holding up the play, but he is still without a goal for Spurs and does not run the channels effectively as Kane, an aspect of his game which may be missed. Though Janssen thrives from getting into the right positions and receiving service to score goals, and with a run of games now inevitable, he will benefit from having more minutes under his belt. He took eight Eredivisie games to get off the mark for AZ Alkmaar last season before romping to the golden boot in the Netherlands, so the signs are encouraging that the Dutchman will continue to score goals in the Premier League once the first one arrives. He simply needs that platform to ignite his confidence. The players who have the ability to provide are of course around him in abundance, it is simply a case as to whether or not he can score the goals in Kane’s stead.
Nevertheless, Pochettino will be hoping his signing comes up trumps over the weekend, and he will need his players at their best again for Middlesbrough have not gone three Premier League home games without a win at the start of a season since 2000/01, where they failed to win in their first eight home fixtures. They are due a win by all accounts this weekend, and they have scored more goals against Spurs with 37 than any other Premier League club. The omens give the Boro a chance, but Pochettino will be hoping he can keep them at bay on this occasion as his side bid to gather momentum for an assault on the top four.
Spurs’ record without Kane in the last two seasons has been far from convincing, but Pochettino as well as his players will be aware that whilst they are without their star striker it is a barren record that they will need to do away with if they are to replicate or even better the successes of last season. The loss of Harry Kane, it goes without saying, is a huge blow for Spurs, but the successful clubs in the division must deal with these injuries, and this is an opportunity for the White Hart Lane club to prove that they have the quality and the depth to deal with the problem and be successful without him. Indeed with England duo Eric Dier and Danny Rose also doubtful for the clash with Boro, the depth of Pochettino’s squad will be tested as his side becomes increasingly thin. A club that in particular competes in the Champions League however, as Spurs are this season, simply has to be able to adapt and excel in such cases of adversity, and Middlesbrough although seemingly there for the taking on paper given their recent form, will prove a stern test for Pochettino’s team.
Tottenham may well be relying on Vincent Janssen as a direct source of goals in the stead of Harry Kane, but the North Londoners have more than shown already this season that their midfield is capable of chipping in with vital goals. Son Heung-Min scored a delightful double at Stoke City, Dele Alli has also been on the scoresheet already this season and Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela are both creative presences capable of contributing goals to the club’s cause. It will be them continuing to chip in and ease the pressure on Janssen stepping into Kane’s shoes which will help the new forward adapt more effectively, and that easing of pressure and feeling of playing without additional fear will only help the Dutchman excel and add more goals in Spurs’ quest to be regulars in Europe.
The outcome of Saturday’s clash at the Riverside will go some way to determining whether or not Tottenham Hotspur can consider themselves serious top four and European contenders once again, or even perhaps be in with an outside chance of the title. It is down to Pochettino’s players to stand up and be counted, and it will be fascinating to see which players in his group do just that when Spurs make the long trip to Yorkshire.
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