As if the final scoreline wasn’t enough, the underlying statistics of Tottenham Hotspur’s 3-0 home loss to Chelsea made for sobering reading, particularly with regards to the performance of Harry Kane. Widely considered the best goalscorer in the Premier League, the Spurs striker was missing in action as the North London club slumped to a damaging defeat.
In 90 minutes of play, Kane mustered just one shot on target. Worse than this, though, he failed to register a single key pass (he averaged 1.4 per match in the Premier League last season) and had just two touches in the opposition box, fewer than Chelsea central defender Thiago Silva, who made five.
Kane’s languid body language was also the subject of much post-match discussion with many questioning whether the 28-year-old’s heart and mind is still truly committed to helping Spurs move up the table after the disappointment of not pushing through a summer transfer to Manchester City.
It is up to Nuno Espirito Santo to re-energise Kane and build his Tottenham team around the striker who has scored 223 times in 342 appearances for the club. Spurs’ season could depend on whether or not they are able to get Kane back to his best, so how can Nuno get the England captain firing again?
César Azpilicueta, Thiago Silva and Marcos Alonso (all 5) had more touches in the opposition box than Harry Kane (2) during Chelsea's 3-0 win against Spurs.
He still doesn't have a Premier League goal this season. 🤦♂️ pic.twitter.com/cTEqePaVr7
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) September 19, 2021
First and foremost, Nuno must re-establish the link between Tottenham’s midfield and attack which has been badly severed over the early part of the season. The Portuguese coach has been candid enough to admit his team is currently playing with a lack of creativity, and this certainly hasn’t helped Kane.
Against Crystal Palace, Nuno fielded a midfield trio of Pierre-Emile Hjobjerg, Oliver Skipp and Harry Winks. Even with Dele Alli positioned slightly further forward, it was a decidedly conservative central unit for a match Spurs had the pedigree to impose their own game on. It was therefore unsurprising that Kane struggled, failing to register a single shot on or off target.
A big part of the problem with the game plan Nuno employed against Palace concerned his full backs and the dependancy on them to get forward. While attacking wing backs were a key feature of Nuno’s Wolves team, he has so used a back four in the early days of his Tottenham career. This restricts the level of freedom Sergio Reguilon and Emerson Royal, who both started against Crystal Palace and Chelsea, have to get forward.
As a consequence, Tottenham are stuck somewhere between the team they were under Jose Mourinho and the team Nuno wants them to be. At this point, the Portuguese coach might as well transition his side into a back three with wing backs, a shift that would at least give Spurs more width through Reguilon and Royal, both of whom are attack-minded anyway.
4 – Harry Kane has failed to score in his first four Premier League appearances of a season for the first time since 2015-16, with the England striker attempting just four shots in this current campaign. Ghosting. pic.twitter.com/VBJLFcNnCR
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) September 19, 2021
A 3-5-2 shape would allow Nuno to shore up the centre of his midfield, something he sees as crucial, and pair Kane and Son Heung-min as a front two. The duo are on the same wavelength, as they demonstrated numerous times last season, and so this would address the isolation Kane has experienced in recent matches.
Mourinho, for all his faults, recognised the importance of getting Kane and Son as close to each other as possible in the opposition half. At times last season, Spurs won matches purely through the inherent understanding between their two best attackers. Nuno has been hired to wash away the regrettable Mourinho tenure at Tottenham, but this is one thing he would be wise to retain.
Dele could be the key to Spurs playing with more drive and invention through the centre of the pitch. The 25-year-old has reclaimed his place in the Tottenham first team this season, although Nuno seems to see Dele has more of a box-to-box operator than someone who can provide a goal or assist in the final third. Indeed, he has covered more ground than any other Spurs player in each of the club’s first five league matches this season.
Chelsea are a team Dele has scored against many times in the past, but the 25-year-old offered next to nothing in an attacking sense against the Blues on Sunday. Much of this was down to the dominance of Chelsea, particularly in the second half when the introduction of N’Golo Kante saw the visitors take a grip of the centre of the pitch, but it was also down to the instruction he’d been given by Nuno to stay deep and help out on the defensive side of the ball.
📊 Dele Alli makes his 250th career League app – he has played every minute of Tottenham’s 4 PL games this season, having played only 18% of minutes in PL last season
Tanguy Ndombele makes his 1st PL start since Apr 21 pic.twitter.com/WShHfARwxy
— Sky Sports Statto (@SkySportsStatto) September 19, 2021
Given how Nuno liked his Wolves central midfielders to burst forward with the ball at their feet, it’s somewhat surprising that he hasn’t identified Dele as a player who could offer Tottenham this threat. The 25-year-old was also among the best at latching on to a raking pass from deep to drive at an opposition defence. These are traits that might solve Spurs’ current issues in attacking transition.
If Nuno can find the right balance in the wide areas and in central midfield, Kane surely wouldn’t feel the need to drop so deep to pick up the ball. This has long been a feature of the 28-year-old’s game, which is about much more than just scoring goals, but Tottenham currently need their best finisher in positions where he can finish.
Of course, Nuno has only been in place at Tottenham for less than three months. He is still working out what he has within his squad and how he can use the various qualities of his players. After the ideological whiplash between Mauricio Pochettino’s sacking and the appointment of Mourinho as his replacement, it might take some time for Nuno to impose his own ideas in their purest form.
But if Kane continues in his current vein of form, Nuno might not get the chance to truly make changes. It’s possible some at Tottenham are still aggrieved at Kane’s conduct over the summer transfer window, but the North London club must find a way to support the striker, otherwise their efforts to keep him will have been for nothing.