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Dublin: 9°C Monday 10 May 2021

Can Tottenham's world-class duo inspire an unlikely title challenge?

Harry Kane and Son Heung-min in particular have caught the eye since the season began.

Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane (right) and Son Heung-min have begun the season in fine form.
Tottenham Hotspur's Harry Kane (right) and Son Heung-min have begun the season in fine form.
Image: PA

THERE IS PERHAPS no team that has summed up the madness of this Premier League season more so than Tottenham.

Few sides have been as unpredictable and divided opinion quite like Spurs.

Various pundits’ contrasting comments in recent weeks highlight the level of confusion surrounding their prospects this term.

At the start of the season, few people were tipping Tottenham to secure a top-four spot.

After an underwhelming 1-0 opening defeat against Everton, former player Jamie O’Hara even suggested the North London club could finish outside the top 10.

A couple of weeks later, largely on the back of the emphatic 6-1 defeat of Manchester United, people like ex-manager Harry Redknapp were suggesting they were good enough to challenge for the title.

They played one dour half of football against Southampton where they managed just a single shot on target, but ended up winning 5-2. They went 3-0 up against West Ham inside the opening 16 minutes, yet somehow ultimately drew the game.

To paraphrase Eminem, will the real Tottenham Hotspur please stand up?

The attacking duo of Harry Kane and Son Heung-min are a definite asset, of course. Of all the teams in the Premier League, arguably only Liverpool have an attack on a par with Spurs currently.

As it stands, the pair have combined for 29 top-flight goals — in Premier League history, the only attacking duo with a better record is Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard (36).

Son is currently the Premier League’s top scorer this season, registering eight goals and two assists.

Harry Kane is not far behind with five goals and eight assists.

Kane’s assists record is particularly eye-catching. In recent times, and partially owing to the departure last January of Spurs’ primary playmaker Christian Eriksen, the 27-year-old has started to adapt his game and occupy a deeper role, while Son has taken on a more advanced and central attacking position.

The South Korean’s explosive pace, combined with Kane’s intelligence and ability to play defence-splitting passes, has led to a lethal combo.

The stats back up the feeling that Kane has transformed his game. In contrast with this year, he managed just two assists in all of last season, while he has already beaten his previous record of seven in the 2016-17 campaign.

Moreover, as Duncan Alexander of Opta Joe pointed out during the week, to put Kane’s remarkable tally of eight assists in six games into further context, two of the most lauded creative players in Premier League history — Paul Scholes and Xabi Alonso — never managed more than seven assists in a single season.

Yet for all the heroics from Kane and Son, they are decidedly less impressive down the other end of the pitch.

Last season, they managed just eight clean sheets. Only four teams — Aston Villa, West Ham, Bournemouth and Norwich secured fewer.

Jose Mourinho clearly realises defence is an area where improvement is needed. They signed Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in a £15 million deal from Southampton during the summer, with the Dane required to offer greater protection to the back four.

Three other defenders, Sergio Reguilón (£25m), Matt Doherty (£13.4m) and Joe Rodon (£11m) have also been among the club’s major signings.

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As a coach, Mourinho is renowned, more than anything else, as someone who makes his teams difficult to beat. They are usually well-drilled and solid at the back. Tottenham have been anything but since he took charge, though he is still less than a year into his reign at the club.

There were recent signs of encouragement, as Tottenham secured their first clean sheet of this season in Monday’s 1-0 win over Burnley. Tellingly, Mourinho made three changes at the back after the 3-3 draw with West Ham and it paid dividends.

The momentum from this result, however, was brought to a swift halt amid a surprise 1-0 Europa League loss to Royal Antwerp on Thursday.

The inept performance suggested Spurs’ strength in depth was not as considerable as some commentators had assumed. A largely second-string XI struggled to impress, with Mourinho left fuming afterwards, as he hauled off Dele Alli, Gareth Bale, Carlos Vinícius, Steven Bergwijn and Giovani Lo Celso during this uninspired showing.

“I would like to make 11 changes (at half-time),” the angry Portuguese coach said in the post-match interview. “I didn’t make five because I was afraid of a long 45 minutes without any changes to make.”

So can Tottenham, who are currently two points off table toppers Everton, do what virtually no one was predicting at the start of the season and maintain an unlikely title challenge?

Certainly, in this freakish season of the pandemic, where football’s schedule feels more relentless and unforgiving than ever, and with teams getting in minimal pre-season preparation, the chances of a surprise outcome appear greater than normal.

There are undoubtedly sizeable obstacles that could yet cause their season to badly unravel. But if Son and Kane can continue their current form, if Mourinho can definitively fix the defensive issues, and if the ostracised stars don’t have an overly negative impact on squad morale, then they might just be the best equipped side to threaten Liverpool’s dominance.

Upcoming Premier League fixtures:


Wolves v Crystal Palace (20.00)


Sheffield United v Man City (12.30)
Burnley v Chelsea (15.00)
Liverpool v West Ham (17.30)


Aston Villa v Southampton (12.00)
Newcastle v Everton (14.00)
Man United v Arsenal (16.30)
Tottenham v Brighton (19.15)


Fulham v West Brom (17.30)
Leeds United v Leicester City (20.00)

The42 GAA Weekly is here! Join hosts Shane Dowling and Marc Ó Sé as they preview Tipperary v Limerick, Donegal v Tyrone, and the rest of the weekend’s action:

Source: The42 Podcasts/SoundCloud

About the author:

Paul Fennessy

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