Tottenham fans perhaps hoped for something more from the contingent of players the club lent to England ahead of their friendly against Germany.
Though the team — cored by Tottenham’s Kyle Walker on the right, Eric Dier in midfield and Dele Alli in attack — held their own for much of the match, they ultimately lost 1-0.
Among the livelier sparks in Gareth Southgate’s starting XI was Dele, working diligently as he always does at the base of attack.
Though the 20-year-old has enjoyed most of his success with both Tottenham and England notched in behind Harry Kane, that is simply not an option for at least the next month.
Kane suffered a recurrence of the ankle injury that forced him to miss ten matches in the autumn. Mauricio Pochettino attempted to adjust to his star striker’s absence by leaning on newcomer Vincent Janssen and, occasionally, Heung-min Son.
The South Korean wasn’t the natural solution to the Kane problem. What success he enjoyed with Spurs prior to that came from his efforts in wider, deeper areas. In matches against Manchester City and CSKA Moscow though, Son showed that he could in fact take on Kane’s role.
It wasn’t a one-for-one switch, but it was enough of a success that Pochettino immediately turned to Son when Kane again fell injured. His latest debut in the striker role came against Southampton over the weekend, and was a quiet success.
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What might concern Pochettino almost as much as replicating Kane’s goals is how the rest of the team adapts to his absence. Son clearly can’t be asked to score at the rate of the England international, but there are goals to be found elsewhere in the squad.
The most likely player to find those goals is Dele. He and Kane thrive off one another, and it’s hardly a surprise that the 20-year-old briefly exceeded the latter’s goal haul this season.
For Tottenham to continue to thrive, Dele needs to work up that magic with another centre-forward. The match against Southampton doesn’t serve as the best example of that. While Son was inventive, he and Dele didn’t combine for any meaningful attack.
With the international break underway, it seemed as if Dele wouldn’t get another chance to adjust to a new striker until Burnley next Saturday.
Thankfully, Dele might have found an analog for Son during his time with the England squad. His runs and movement were greatly aided by the pace and direct play of Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy, in for Kane at striker. The pair worked magically together, stretching Germany’s backline vertically and horizontally while also bringing in the players around then. They might not have scored, but it was hard not to walk away impressed with this new English fluidity.
Son and Vardy aren’t exact matches, but their games are remarkably similar. They both rely on working the shoulder of the centre-back marking them. They both have a knack for getting onto the end of cleverly worked passes. They both, in a word, rely on their speed and timing to find chances on goal.
Without doubt, Vardy is the superior finisher, but if Son can cook up the same chemistry with Dele then Spurs could retain their offensive edge until Kane returns.