With the news that Harry Kane could be out for up to eight weeks, it’s time to look at Tottenham’s bench as well as the fixture list and figure out exactly how much we’ll miss last year’s Golden Boot winner over the next two months.
What’s the fixture list look like?
Here the fixture list does give us some good news. This is a full list of Premier League matches Kane is likely to miss over the next two months:
- @ Middlesborough
- Manchester City
- @ West Bromwich Albion
- @ Bournemouth
- Leicester City
- @ Arsenal
The trip to the Emirates is seven weeks away, so it’d be a bit sooner than the eight week time table, but it also sounds as if eight weeks is the outer edge of how long Kane is likely to be out. So it’s not out of the question that he could return for the derby. That leaves us with five Premier League fixtures to sort out: Three of them are away matches against beatable opponents—newly promoted Middlesborough, Tony Pulis’s West Bromwich Albion, and Bournemouth. The two home dates are the tricky ones as we’ll host Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City and defending champions (gag) Leicester City. It’s not an easy run of games, in other words, but it’s also not as brutal as it could be.
The Champions League ties are the scary ones, actually:
- @ CSKA
- @ Leverkusen
So that’s the trickiest away trip of the group stage plus two games against our most difficult opponent in the group. There are some mitigating factors to keep in mind here: No one really knows if CSKA is good, but we do know they lost star man Ahmed Musa last summer when the Nigerian attacker joined Leicester City. And Leverkusen have been erratic so far this season even by their standards and are without star wide man Karim Bellarabi for the rest of the season. So, again, it could be worse.
That said, due to the defeat on match day one, it’s possible that Spurs UCL fate could be largely settled by the time Kane returns for a visit to Monaco and home clash with CSKA.
What should we expect from the Spurs attack in Kane’s absence?
In the writer’s room we were talking about the indispensable players in this team and where Kane ranks in that group. Mousa Dembele is clearly the most irreplaceable, but I think Toby Alderweireld and Kyle Walker also are on a similar level to Dembele because, like Dembele, they lack trustworthy backups.
Kane is the next level down from that. Like Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela, Kane is more-or-less what you would expect if Mauricio Pochettino could go into a lab and create the ideal player for this role in his system. He’s energetic, smart in his distribution of the ball, aggressive when in attacking positions, and able to drift into wide areas in order to create space for other players (most frequently Dele Alli) in more central attacking roles. (I’ve written more extensively about the movement of strikers in Pochettino’s system elsewhere.)
However, unlike Dembele, Alderweireld, and Walker, there’s reason to think Spurs have capable backups who can slot into the lineup for Kane, Eriksen, or Lamela without wrecking our entire system. For Kane, that backup is new summer signing Vincent Janssen.
What do we know about Janssen?
Given how singular a player Kane is, the similarities between the two strikers are rather remarkable and suggest that the Spurs scouting team knew exactly what Mauricio Pochettino was looking for in a center forward. (REMINDER: If you want a good scouting piece on Janssen, go back and reread this feature from BeNe Foot.)
Like Kane, Janssen is a hard worker, capable of some clever link-up play with the attacking three, and is fairly aggressive in how he attacks the opposition. All these things made him an elite striker in the Eredivisie, as Michael Caley demonstrated with some xG/xA data he pulled over the summer:
New Spur Vincent Janssen is coming off an excellent Eredivisie season. That's good, but not a guarantee in the PL. pic.twitter.com/auiO7pCWT1— Michael Caley (@MC_of_A) July 11, 2016
If there is an area where Janssen seems to be lacking set next to Kane, it would seem (based on an extremely limited English sample so far) to be in his ability to drift into wide areas and work the ball inside. This is something of a hallmark for Kane as he routinely drifts into wide areas and looks to move into the half spaces between fullbacks and center backs.
In Janssen’s early days at the club, we are yet to see him do anything like this on a consistent basis. If he struggles to do this, it could pose problems for our attack as that advanced central area could get rather congested, which limits the space that Alli and Eriksen have on the ball and makes them easier to defend.
However, Janssen does bring a quality that Kane either lacks or has not displayed with nearly the consistency that Janssen has. Janssen is a bully. He doesn’t just chase people (which Kane does quite well), he crashes into them. Indeed, if you assume that Spurs best XI during Kane’s absence will use a front four of Lamela, Alli, Eriksen, and Janssen then Spurs figure to have the most annoying, physical, and occasionally petulant front four in all of England.
What we may see over the next two months then is an even more attritional Tottenham side than we have seen up to this time. Our space in the attacking third may be more limited with Janssen in the squad, but our ability to flat-out beat people up and wear teams down may actually go up with the Dutch striker in the squad.
This could actually work in our favor in the league, as Janssen (assuming he plays well) may actually match up quite well with both City and Leicester. Against Manchester City, it’s not hard to imagine a striker like Janssen causing John Stones no shortage of trouble. And against Leicester City we’ll have a striker who is actually capable of winning physical battles against Wes Morgan and Robert Huth on a consistent basis.
It’d be far too extreme to say that Kane’s absence is going to be a blessing in disguise for Spurs. What it might be, however, is a chance to learn quite quickly about how good the young Dutchman actually is.
There are four main points to keep in mind as we prepare for two months without our Hurrikane.
First, the league schedule isn’t terrible!
Second, the Champions League ties are vital and we almost certainly have to win two of them if we are going to advance out of the group.
Third, space in advanced central areas could be more limited with Janssen in the squad, which makes the work of wide players like Erik Lamela and Son Heung-Min indispensable. Tottenham will also rely on their fullbacks to provide width.
Fourth, Tottenham games figure to get chippy as hell on a regular basis over the next few months. Don’t be surprised if more than one of the five league fixtures ends with one team playing a man down.