When Harry Kane’s is playing, Spurs attack is a clean, organised machine. It has focus, drive, purpose and a plan. Everything in attack runs through him and all the other pieces – Alli the wrecking ball, Lamela the lightning bolt, Eriksen the surgeon, Dier the sneak attacker, Dembele the freight train – revolve around him. It’s a well oiled machine and last year its focal point earned the Premier League’s Golden Boot.
This year there were new pieces added and the machine had started to sort itself out. Unfortunately the main spring (battery?) in the Tottenham clock went out of service. As any clock without a power source would, results became erratic. For a while Heung-Min Son stepped up and grabbed the reins and all was well, even dynamic and impressive. He’d skipped a South Korean national outing to focus on Spurs and the results were prominent. But another national team break later, he’s back from the stratosphere and looking mortal. So is the rest of the attack.
The stingiest defense in the Premier League functioned brilliantly today without its current focal point, Toby Alderweireld. Given its veteran character though with rock-solid Hugo Lloris directing traffic from the back and old hand Jan Vertonghen marshaling the troops on the field, there was no problem refocusing. Veteran Dier moved in to Alderweireld’s spot and Victor Wanyama – a new acquisition working out splendidly – took Dier’s. Normal service, as one so rarely hears in London, resumed.
The Spurs attack is unfocused and lost. Erik Lamela is regressing. He tore today’s outing from the pages of 2014 with a silly booking, a lucky non-booking, and shot after shot climbing wildly into the stands. He did clip the corner but 2015’s Lamela would have buried the shot. He’s missing something this year.
Christian Eriksen was a non factor against Bournemouth. His free kicks were ineffectual and he didn’t seem to have the sixth sense he usually does that lets him see twenty seconds into the future.
The less said about Moussa Sissoko at this point the better. The elbow to Harry Arter was not only inexcusable, it was incredibly stupid. My money’s down on a four-match retrospective ban for him just like the one given Dembele last year. His one good game for Spurs was against Manchester City, when the whole squad was playing on wings of angels. He’s just not working out.
What’s missing from Spurs is an attacking focus and game plan. When Spurs are at their best, up front you have Harry Kane, who defenses must watch at all times. You have the two outside defenders, Rose and Walker, flying in and feeding the midfielders. They know their jobs well. Davies and Trippier when called upon have filled in more than adequately. The midfielders know their roles. Lamela creates havoc on the inside allowing Kane to work free; Eriksen finds the right place for the ball, and Dele Alli is there to clean up the middle. Those three working in harmony are unbeatable. With Dier and Dembele watching their backs the defense is free to patrol the home territory.
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Take one of those pieces out of the equation and you have problems.
Losing Dele last year deprived Spurs of a second credible inside scoring threat, a physical force on the field, and most importantly an intimidator, enforcer presence. We’ve seen many times that if anyone bumps or shoves a Spurs player, they can count on receiving a hard challenge from Dele. It’s as close to being an NHL enforcer as you can get in the Premier League. Losing that exposes Kane to a lot of physical harassment. Getting inside Lamela’s head is easier.
Dropping Lamela from the equation in itself isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Son can move the ball just as effectively, but what Son has in consistency, Lamela offers in bursts of brilliance. Son can be left to roam and eventually marginalised. You cannot marginalise Lamela. At some point he will either do something brilliant or brilliantly stupid, and that’s his greatest value. You can’t stick to a game plan if you’re defending against Erik Lamela. He will take your best plans, figure out a way to make you look stupid with them, and then go do it. It’s that disruptive force and cancellation of opponent’s preparation that he brings.
Losing Kane just grinds everything to a halt on the field. When Harry Kane is on his game he is the first choice to score. Period. The defense has to assume so, and he is talented enough to make them pay if left unmarked. He is also mature enough to pass off the ball, set picks for others to get open, and decoy for others to make plays. In NBA terms he’s the small forward who does everything, like a Michael Jordan or Kevin Durant. Take him off the field and there’s no sense of purpose. Kane’s overconfidence is contagious; his enthusiasm is undeniable, and those attributes carry his teammates and make them better.
Someone might step up, like Son did the past few weeks, and grab the reins. Vincent Janssen was supposed to be a capable main weapon. Either his acclimation to the Premier League is going poorly, or he’s not as advertised. Kane has his skills and drive and that elusive quantity: leadership. That’s the biggest need among the offensive regulars.
Before Harry Kane returns from his injury, Spurs need to decide who takes charge on the field and proceed confidently. The defence will keep Spurs in every game. The odd hard-work goal from Dele or stroke of brilliance from Lamela will steal a few points. If someone cannot step up and lead from the front, then Spurs will flounder until the general returns.