Originally published on SpursStatMan.com
First let me state that I’m not concerned about Harry Kane. He’s not a one-season-wonder, a flash in the pan or any other hyperbolic term that will be slung at him should his current goal drought continue much longer. His all-round game is good, his link-up play and work-rate are excellent, and he’s still finding the right positions with regularity. I do think, though, that Pochettino could help him out just a little.
Inverted wingers are pretty much the norm these days, with a few exceptions. Even Stoke are doing it, which is how you know it’s properly trendy. In most sides, the wide-forwards are expected to cut inside and look for shooting opportunities or to exchange passes with the striker. There are plenty of good reasons for this, and the lack of width the system can create is meant to be compensated for by attacking full-backs, who bomb forward and tend to stay close to the touchline.
The above is Pochettino’s favoured pattern of play. Whether it’s Chadli, Son or N’Jie from the left or Lamela or Townsend from the right, Spurs’ wide players generally cut inside when they receive the ball in a wide position, and if ultimately a cross comes in, it’s more likely to be from an overlapping Rose, Davies or Walker. That was very much the case against Liverpool on Saturday, and it really wasn’t creating much in the way of chances, which came more from pressing the opposition back four into mistakes.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the inverted winger idea, and it is a system that largely served Tottenham well last season. However, I think a little more flexibility in this area might go a long way to getting Harry Kane back on the score-sheet. Think back, perhaps, to Lamela’s goal against Manchester City. Right-footed N’jie was playing on the right wing, and after a neat trick to beat the fullback, he put in an early cross for the Argentine to convert.
They key word there is “early”. In the pattern of play I mentioned earlier, by the time the fullback has made their overlapping run, received the ball and is in a position to get a cross in, the opposition defence has had the chance to gather players into the box and suffocate the lone striker. When a winger gets the ball, beats his man and puts a cross in early, the defence isn’t afforded that luxury, and the striker is far more likely to get a clear-cut opportunity.
Apologies in advance for harkening back to the days of Lennon and Bale, but on the right and left respectively they would beat the full-back and drive crosses across the six-yard box multiple times a game. None of Crouch, Defoe or Pavlyuchenko were anything more than decent Premier League strikers, and none had the all-round game of Harry Kane, but they scored frequently because good chances were created for them. While the current wingers can’t replicate the quality of the wing-play seen back then, the amount of goals Kane would score with that kind of service is frightening.
So, what is the proposal? Mix it up a bit. Play Townsend on the left, on occasion. Play Son or N’Jie down the right, sometimes, even if it’s for twenty minutes here and there. Let them utilize their pace to the greatest effect and put early crosses in for Kane to convert, especially on the counter-attack. It need not be the primary tactic, but it should certainly be a weapon in the team’s – forgive me, an arrow in the team’s quiver.