Why Tottenham need Saido Berahino to enable Harry Kane
Paul McNamara explains why Tottenham Hotspur need to conclude a deal to sign West Brom striker Saido Berahino
Two points from their opening three fixtures is not the sort of return that anybody associated with Tottenham Hotspur would have been after at the outset of this Premier League campaign. More disconcerting than their first few results, though, is that Spurs look stale.
Indeed, following Tottenham’s first-day defeat against Manchester United, Chris Waddle, working on the game for BBC Radio 5 live, suggested that his old club had looked ‘leggy’ and devoid of pace, in going down at Old Trafford. It is a summary that could equally describe Mauricio Pochettino’s team’s displays in their two subsequent games.
On the plus side, the Argentine seems to have settled on his favoured back-four, and can rely on the excellent Hugo Lloris in goal. It is further forward, where Spurs’ problems begin. Pochettino would have been satisfied with his team’s steady development last term, the manager’s first in charge, when, after a period of adjustment to the new boss’s demands for a high-tempo game-plan, Tottenham secured a fifth-place finish.
The White Hart Lane club, however, never genuinely threatened to muscle their way into a Champions League berth in 2014/2015. After a summer of minimal investment, then, Spurs currently appear to be as far away from a prized top-four spot as they have ever been, since Harry Redknapp led the Londoners into Europe’s premier club competition in 2010.
Damningly, early evidence on the pitch backs up the theory that Tottenham are in for a tough nine months, unless their former Southampton manager is able to bolster his attacking resources across the next seven days. While Spurs are unquestionably light in midfield – a team with ambitions to compete at the high end of the Premier League is handicapping itself from the start by having to pick two from Eric Dier, Ryan Mason and Nabil Bentaleb to form its engine room – it is up front where Pochettino is desperately short of options.
Harry Kane’s 21 top-flight goals were instrumental in propelling his team towards their top-five campaign last time around.
Nevertheless, following a breakthrough season in which he ultimately shouldered a substantial chunk of Tottenham’s scoring burden, Kane is now in urgent need of support. The extent of his deeds last term, and the 22 year-old’s subsequent involvement in his country’s Under-21 team’s European Championship finals campaign in the Czech Republic, are inevitably catching up with the striker.
Kane’s form isn’t necessarily wavering, but his body is feeling the strain. And when Pochettino was forced to withdraw his golden boy, with Spurs having opened up a two-goal lead against Stoke last week, it was the prompt for a collapse that saw the Argentine’s team end the match with only a point to show for their exertions.
Kane was fit to return for Tottenham’s visit to Leicester on Saturday, but with the team’s only other authentically first-rate attacker, Christian Eriksen, absent injured from the trip to the King Power Stadium, Spurs’ dearth of striking options was thrust back into the spotlight.
Nacer Chadli (along with Eriksen, the only Spurs player besides Kane to hit double-figures for his league goals return last season), has currently nailed down a place as one of the three forwards Pochettino prefers to deploy behind Kane. Skilful but inconsistent, sometimes excellent, on occasion anonymous, the Belgian is not a player that his club would ideally wish to rely on week in, week out.
But, after Roberto Soldado’s exit for Villarreal, and with Emmanuel Adebayor plainly out of the frame, altogether, Pochettino’s hand is being forced with respect to his attacking selections. See for further evidence the Spurs’ boss’s ongoing endeavours to bring a tune from his countryman, Erik Lamela – and the reinvention of Mousa Dembele as a wide-right operator.
It is by no means all doom and gloom for Spurs, a contemporary flicker of optimism coming in the form of Dele Alli’s two auspicious cameos in his new club’s colours, following the midfielder’s summer switch from MK Dons. The 19-year-old looks to the manner born as a Premier League footballer.
In fact, in a total of less than one-half’s worth of action in a Spurs’ shirt, Alli has shown enough to indicate that he could represent one of the solutions, as Pochettino explores different avenues to conjure a goal threat from his charges this term. There was additional encouragement to be yielded in this respect from the way that the teenager capitalised on Kane’s intelligent movement, to ghost onto Chadli’s cross to prod home Tottenham’s goal in the East Midlands on Saturday.
Yet, regardless of the potential for Alli to lend a profitable contribution to the Spurs’ attack, Kane cannot be expected to go on as he is, ploughing a lone furrow, less than twelve months after he was very much the third wheel in his side’s strike-force, behind both Soldado and Adebayor in Pochettino’s thoughts.
Now, the landscape has altered to such a degree that Tottenham’s sole alternative to Kane as an out-and-out forward is the rookie Cameroonian, Clinton N’Jie, signed from Lyon earlier this month. The predicament that Spurs find themselves in has its obvious knock-on effect in the speculation that continues to surround the club: Saido Berahino’s exclusion from West Brom’s matchday squad at the weekend, for example, sparked a rush to conclude that Kane’s England Under-21 strike partner is on his way to White Hart Lane.
Nevertheless, Tony Pulis’s revelation that there are up to 15 clubs interested in luring Berahino away from The Hawthorns poured cold water on the idea that the 22-year-old’s move to north London is a done deal. Of all the player’s purported suitors, however, there can be few in such pressing need of his services.
Pedro’s scintillating debut for Chelsea, as Jose Mourinho’s team won at Berahino-less West Brom on Sunday, offered up a reminder of the galvanising effect that an enthusiastic and, principally, high-class recruit can have on any club. Berahino might be a few rungs below the ex-Barcelona attacker in terms of what he brings to the table, right now – but the Burundi born striker has the capacity to match Chelsea’s £21m capture for impact in a new environment. What’s more, if Berahino’s presence would lighten the load on Kane, both mentally and physically, the Baggies man could conceivably hand Pochettino’s troops an instant two-fold boost.
If Daniel Levy is hesitating, planning a game of brinkmanship to seal Berahino at the lowest possible price, then Spurs’ chairman is plotting a dangerous, inadvisable course. The season has barely started and Tottenham are ceding ground to their rivals. It is inexplicable that they are doing so, while still casting around for a proper support act for Kane.
Put simply, Everton, visitors to White Hart Lane on Saturday, would be perfectly happy, thank you very much, if they encounter a home team that has done nothing to supplement its attacking pool by the time the Toffees are in town.