In Milan, Erik Lamela mounted a timely defence of Harry Kane. Perhaps aware of the growing pressure on his teammates and the increasingly loud discussion over his form and fitness, Lamela stressed that Tottenham’s goal burden shouldn’t fall on Kane’s shoulders alone, but on every attacking player at the club.
He’s quite right. Peaks and troughs are inevitable and, just as Kane has dug Spurs out of countless holes in the past, it’s only fitting that his teammates should return the favour.
Nevertheless, the reason a discussion is taking place at all is because, clearly, the forward needs a rest. He scored from the penalty spot on Saturday but remains off-colour; at the least, a contingency must be developed to prevent this situation from reoccurring. Kane may be an ever-willing starter for Pochettino, but that isn’t necessarily in his or the team’s best interest; somehow, Tottenham need to find a way around this problem.
But how – and who?
The reason why Kane has to continue playing is because, since his emergence, the club have neglected to find a suitable deputy. The Vincent Janssen experiment was a dreadful failure and, reacting to that, Llorente was signed at considerable expense just over a year ago.
Not that he’s proven any more reliable. The suspicion is that his time as Premier League forward has come and gone. Llorente was once a monolithic presence in the air, almost undefendable in certain situations, but he is no longer that player. He may retain his height and heading ability, but his tendency to find space away from defenders and ability to pin them to the floor has greatly diminished.
More problematic though, is his lack of mobility. Pochettino’s formation depends on a single forward, but that player is typically expected to operate across the entire breadth of the pitch. At his best, a feature of Kane’s game is to equip the attacking phases as well as finishing them, often drifting wide to offer an outlet before knifing a long cross-field pass to open up the other side of the pitch to an advancing full-back or midfielder.
Include Llorente would create an obvious, direct option, but isn’t nearly enough crossover with Kane for it not to damage the side’s natural rhythm.
An obvious candidate to fill a False Nine role, Moura has the direct attributes and finishing ability to do a passable job. Despite his lack of size, he also possesses a deceptively high spring and, against expectation, does a fine job of competing in the air.
Whether he has the awareness required is another issue. He is not a particularly reliable passer, neither does he consistently release the ball at the right times. As a single forward, his capacity to beat defenders would be both a blessing and a curse, providing quick bursts of momentum but – most likely – also many more turnovers and broken moves. He’s a very versatile player, certainly, and one who can be dangerous from all sorts of positions, but that inability to recycle possession would be extremely prohibitive.
He’s an interesting foil for Kane, not an adequate deputy.
Son Heung Min
Actually, this has precedent. It seems like a very long time ago now, but Son played as a 9 against Manchester City at White Hart Lane in 2016. And, he was brilliant.
It was a slightly false economy. At the time, City had all sorts of issues between their defence and midfield and their transitions would undermine them for the rest of that season, but Son was hugely destructive that afternoon. Moura aside, he’s probably the quickest attacking player at Tottenham and that pace was a threat both behind Pep Guardiola’s defence and around its fringes.
Against opponents who play with physicality first at the back, the dynamism Son offers is certainly liable to create discomfort. His finishing, also, is an asset: Kane’s confidence in front of goal has also suffered, meaning that the chances he does get are generally being dallied over and wasted. If he shoots at all, because his shots per game average has roughly halved over the past six month.
Son is by no means a perfect player, his over-indulgence in possession would clearly be a hindrance at the top of a formation, but he has never knowingly been reluctant to shoot or to attack plausible opportunities.
Lamela doesn’t score enough goals, that much is clear. For a player of his ability, he too often over-complicates his finishes and, really, he never looks entirely natural in scoring positions anyway.
But he does link the play and he does draw a lot of fouls. Whether he could play with his back to goal or operate in a Firmino-ish role is another matter, of course, but one of the key advantages of that solution would be that – unlike the other players on this list – moving him into that position wouldn’t remove his effect from another part of the team. Taking Son away from his more familiar left-sided role has merit, for example, but it would also weaked that side of the pitch.
Conversely, if Lamela were to serve as the middle point between Lucas and Son, Spurs would retain their dynamism in those wide, flexible positions, whilst also enjoying his creativity from the centre of the pitch. He may not be a natural penalty-box player, but his range of through-balls and the disguise in his passing could be the armoury of a highly fluid attack.