A curious thing happened in the final quarter hour of Tottenham’s 2-1 win over Southampton on Sunday: for 12 peculiar minutes, Shane Long was the only proper striker on the pitch.
Though Tottenham would concede a goal early in the second half, the hosts still enjoyed a lead earned in the first half.
That lead came through the combined efforts of Christian Eriksen and Dele Alli. It was the Dane who struck first with a marvelously precise effort from outside the box in the 14th minute. Dele would step up for his first ever professional penalty less than 20 minutes later to double Spurs’ lead.
Those two goals were a welcome return in the first half of Premier League football played since it was announced Harry Kane would be out for as long as seven weeks. Based on the clubs’ prior misery when Kane was out, two goals in 33 minutes was nothing short of outstanding.
If that lead was welcome, it still didn’t answer the lingering question of who exactly would attempt to fill the massive void left by Kane. Mauricio Pochettino’s first attempt at an answer came in the form of Heung-min Son. The South Korean spent his time on the pitch Sunday darting behind Southampton’s lines, and even enjoyed a fine chance on goal.
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In all though, it wasn’t quite Kane-esque — though it was never going to be. The problem is that Son isn’t a proper centre-forward. He’s pacey and his off-the-ball movement is evolving, but he lacks the physical presence of Kane or a more conventional striker.
The solution — or at least the once-upon-a-time solution — should be Vincent Janssen. The Dutchman is a striker by trade, even if he only just scored his first goal from open play last weekend. Even if his finishing is a work in progress, his ability to hold up play and own his small area of the pitch are deserving of more minutes.
Yet when Son’s time was up against Southampton and he left the pitch in the 75th minute, it wasn’t Janssen who came on. Pochettino elected to field Harry Winks in an attempt to shore up the midfield and protect the first half lead.
That meant that Eriksen and Dele were the only two proper attackers on the pitch, and Dele found himself moved forward into the more advanced role.
On its own, there is nothing unusual about that. Dele is much more of an secondary striker than he is a playmaker in the mold of Eriksen. For him to get forward and threaten goal is nothing new.
What is new is not having Kane there to split defences and create space for Dele to work in. Without someone ahead of him, Dele’s touch becomes far less lethal.
Twelve minutes is hardly a big enough sample size to rule out Dele-as-striker completely. It does do disservice to Janssen however. With Kane out, one would think Pochettino would leap at the opportunity to indoctrinate his last remainder full striker into the ways of his side.
That he didn’t suggests that he continues to lack faith in the former AZ Alkmaar man. Janssen’s struggles are what they are, but can they possibly be so bad as to rely on two non-strikers before circling back to the man bought to understudy Kane?