Tottenham will be banking on more Harry Kane heroics at the start of a potentially season-defining week against Chelsea after their talisman fired England to a dramatic last-gasp victory at Wembley.
Kane scored the winner at Tottenham’s temporary home last weekend to relegate Croatia in the Nations League and exact some revenge for England’s semi-final defeat to the same opponents at the World Cup.
“He is the best goalscorer in the world… his hold-up play, as well as the goals he brings, is critical,” said England manager Gareth Southgate after England clinched a place in the Nations League Finals.
“He is so hungry to lead the team even further.” But while England have built on their progress in Russia, Spurs have suffered the after-effects of a demanding summer for most of Mauricio Pochettino’s squad.
Kane is one of just three Spurs players not to have picked up a muscle injury from Tottenham’s 12-strong World Cup contingent, nine of whom were involved on the final weekend of the tournament less than a month before the new season began.
Despite battling fatigue and fitness concerns, added to the uncertainty over when the club’s new stadium will be finished, Pochettino has admirably kept Spurs on track for a top-four finish for the fourth straight season.
Maurizio Sarri has rightly earned rave reviews for his 18-game unbeaten start to life as Chelsea boss.
Yet, should Spurs inflict Sarri’s first defeat, they will leapfrog Chelsea into third, thanks to their impressive start to the Premier League season.
That run has been built on relentless consistency against the lesser lights of England’s top tier. By contrast, Tottenham have been found wanting against better opposition.
Liverpool and Manchester City have already won at Wembley, as have Barcelona in the Champions League to put Spurs’ chances of reaching the last 16 in serious danger.
– Arsenal date –
After Chelsea, Pochettino’s men must beat Inter Milan in midweek to retain any hope of Champions League progress, before facing Unai Emery’s rejuvenated Arsenal for the first time in the North London derby next weekend.
With a good week, Spurs can re-establish themselves as top dogs in London, having finished above both Arsenal and Chelsea for the first time in 23 years last season, and move above Inter into second place in Champions League Group B.
Pochettino has rightly praised his side’s resolve, resilience and spirit in recent weeks, which contrasts so sharply with Spurs sides of the past, recently labelled as “spineless and soft” by former Manchester United captain Gary Neville.
Yet Spurs remain heavily reliant on Kane’s goals.
Despite early season concerns over his own post-World Cup fatigue, the England captain has scored 10 times in 16 club appearances this season and only Sergio Aguero, Eden Hazard and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang have more than Kane’s tally of six Premier League goals.
However, when Kane does not score, Spurs struggle. Four of Tottenham’s five defeats in all competitions have come when the World Cup’s Golden Boot-winner has failed to find the net.
Spurs teammate Erik Lamela said earlier this season that Kane could not shoulder the goalscoring burden alone, adding: “All the attacking players need to score.”
In stretching every sinew to turn home the winner as time was running out last Sunday, Kane sparked scenes of wild celebration that Southgate said he had not witnessed since Wembley reopened more than a decade ago.
Now his club needs more moments of Wembley magic to keep them afloat before they can settle into the comforts of a new home.