The international break has struck Tottenham again, this time claiming the scalps of Vincent Janssen and Christian Eriksen. Potentially Mousa Dembele too has been affected in training, with both he and Harry Kane returning to White Hart Lane as they attempt to get back to full fitness. It’s a reminder of just how badly Spurs have been affected by injuries and key players missing games this season. And also a reminder of just how lucky they were the season prior.
A look at the players that have been absent for Tottenham this season is rather startling. Kane, Alli, Eriksen, Lloris, Alderweireld in particular, Lamela, Walker and Dier. They missed just 18 games for the duration of 2015/16, and have already been unavailable for a combined 15 this term; just a quarter of the way into the season. That is the core of the team, all of the most important and influential components. The ones that form the backbone, the spine and both the creative and defensive forces that help Spurs to be the team they are at their best.
You could not realistically expect the amazing run of injuries from last year to carry through. But you could also not expect to be so badly affected. Where last season Spurs had a set 11 or 12 players that could be relied upon in the Premier League to back up wee after week and perform. This time around it’s been a different story; a new starting eleven every week, combined with the pressure of Champions League mid-week. The injuries have taken their toll, and it’s shown in the performances.
Alderweireld and Kane at the back and front of proceedings have been the most telling absentees. Without Alderweireld’s direction and leadership, his composed nature and pinpoint passing in particular have been missed. That his creativity is perhaps the aspect that has been missed most of all says a lot about both he and the limitations of the rest of the Tottenham side from a creative point of view. Those long balls across the pitch to pick out a teammate with precision and bring about a chance at goal. The ball before the goal, or the one that leads to an assist. The number of them that he provides is astonishing for a centre back. He simply can’t be replaced, as we’ve seen, and this creative element is in the same class and style as Chelsea have seen with the renewed David Luiz. As a centre half, having that component to your game is a luxury but so very much an important one.
Much like Alderweireld, Kane cannot be replaced either. Certainly not by a player finding his feet at the level in Janssen. Quite simply, players who score 46 goals in two seasons of Premier League football are not easily replaced. There just are not many of them, and is the missing of Kane an undervalued aspect simply because he is English? In the same period of time that Kane scored his 46 goals, England teammates Jamie Vardy (one excellent season) and Daniel Sturridge (eternally injured) managed 41 between them. And yet there remain question marks over Kane and his influence or suitability to starting for England. Okay, the Euros weren’t great…but why?
Sometimes the raw data doesn’t lie, and in Kane’s case it’s quite obvious how important he is to Spurs. Can you imagine a Tottenham side going 700 minutes without scoring from open play with a fit Harry Kane leading the line? I’m happy to put my neck on the line in saying it simply wouldn’t happen. The evidence is there. It’s why Pochettino has tried, mostly in vain, to change things up and come up with alternatives to the goal scoring malaise, brought on almost entirely by Kane’s absence.
It could be argued that Kane and Alderweireld are the two most important pieces to the Spurs puzzle. With them missing, the whole thing falls apart. The puzzle simply cannot be finished, literally and figuratively. That Gareth Southgate has sent Kane back to Hotspur Way probably resulted in Pohcettino doing star jumps. Get Kane and Alderweireld fit, and even with the injuries to the latterly ineffective Eriksen (though very effective for Denmark) and arguably their best player in recent times (Dembele), there is suddenly a way through and back into contention.