Ab­sence of tal­is­man Kane leaves strik­ing gap that no one can fill

Tot­ten­ham once again fail to show they can be a top-class team with­out their ham­strung striker

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Premier League - Luke Ed­wards at Old Traf­ford

It is the one ques­tion Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur would have loved to dodge, a chal­lenge they were des­per­ate to swerve, but the Harry Kane team have got a prob­lem which they are no closer to solv­ing after a de­feat that helped ex­pose their lim­i­ta­tions with­out him.

This is the ques­tion their ri­vals wanted to be posed. Could they cope with­out Kane? Could they pros­per with­out their best player, lead­ing goalscorer and tal­is­man? For those who sup­port Spurs it has al­ways been feared that they could not.

For oth­ers, it is the accusation to be thrown when­ever the de­bate moves on to whether a tal­ented Tot­ten­ham team will ever be­come a great one, par­tic­u­larly when Real Madrid hover in the back­ground, talk­ing about Kane and drop­ping hy­po­thet­i­cal fees of £250mil­lion into the con­ver­sa­tion.

To say Kane is im­por­tant to Tot­ten­ham is like say­ing the moon has a bear­ing on the tides. He guides, de­fines and shapes this ex­cit­ing team. He is not the sole rea­son Spurs are feared, but he is the main one.

Kane is the best striker in English foot­ball, a match-win­ner, a gamede­cider, a fig­ure­head. If in doubt, give it to Harry. If you are play­ing badly, do not worry, Harry will get a goal. Spurs have inevitably be­come reliant on him, the sta­tis­tics show that, the sheer num­ber of goals scored by the Eng­land in­ter­na­tional make him ir­re­place­able, but has it gone too far?

Not since Alan Shearer played for New­cas­tle United has a cen­tre­for­ward led the line and car­ried a team so en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, so will­ingly. He is one of their own, but maybe it is in dan­ger of be­com­ing more than that. Tot­ten­ham’s need for Kane might be bor­der­ing on un­healthy. When Pep Guardiola de­scribed Spurs as “the Harry Kane team” it was a de­lib­er­ate, slip of the tongue de­signed to st­ing Spurs. And it did. It helped spread nag­ging doubts and was de­liv­ered pre­cisely to ac­cen­tu­ate the sense of loss Spurs feel when he is miss­ing.

This was the chance to an­swer those barbed-wire ques­tions, to si­lence the doubters. Level on points with Manch­ester United, Tot­ten­ham trav­elled north with the in­ten­tion of mak­ing a state­ment, not just for this week­end, but for the rest of the sea­son.

Beat United and they would emerge as City’s main ti­tle chal­lengers. Beat them with­out Kane and so many other boxes

Inad­e­quate re­place­ment: He­ung-min Son was made to look light­weight by Manch­ester United’s de­fend­ers

would be ticked. They failed. Kane can­not stay fit all of the time and one-man teams do not tend to win the ma­jor prizes. Last au­tumn, Spurs lost an in­jured Kane for 10 games and won just four of them, one of which was against Gillingham in the League Cup. It was a dip that ar­guably cost Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino’s side a ti­tle chal­lenge, help­ing to harden per­cep­tions that Spurs are English foot­ball’s nearly team.

We do not know how long Kane’s “mi­nor” ham­string in­jury will keep him out. The trou­ble­some thing about ham­string in­juries is they of­ten come back. Spurs can­not rely on a speedy re­cov­ery and they can­not bank on it be­ing a one-off.

They had made con­tin­gency plans. Po­chet­tino signed Fer­nando Llorente from Swansea in the sum­mer with these mo­ments in mind. A striker who could com­pete with Kane, but more real­is­ti­cally, of­fer spe­cial­ist cover. The Spa­niard was su­perb in a strug­gling team last sea­son and would be an up­grade on Vin­cent Janssen, who failed to slip into Kane’s shoes last term. Yet Llorente did not start at Old Traf­ford. The like-for-like re­place­ment was left on the bench, with Hueng­min Son pre­ferred through the mid­dle and Moussa Sis­soko, Chris­tian Erik­sen and Dele Alli of­fer­ing sup­port.

For most of the first half, Son ran around after the ball like a man chasing a £20 note in a gale. United’s de­fend­ers fan­cied their chances of steal­ing it from him too. A foot in there, an in­ter­cep­tion here, they made him look light­weight.

The Spurs fans were well aware of their man’s ab­sence too. When they chirped up with a chant from the away sec­tion to be­rate Romelu Lukaku for fall­ing over to win a free-kick, it was to sug­gest he was just a “s--- Harry Kane”. It be­trayed their sense of loss, their un­cer­tainty. Singing about an in­jured player is not a good sign.

Spurs oc­ca­sion­ally looked threat­en­ing, but they did not have a pres­ence in the area. They played like a team search­ing for an itch on an am­pu­tated limb.

With­out Kane to look for, they did strange things. Sis­soko tried to shoot from 35 yards when he has never scored a goal from that dis­tance in his Spurs ca­reer. As for Alli, he looked lost with­out his part­ner in crime, pass­ing the ball straight to Ashley Young on the edge of the United area one minute, rolling a weak shot into the arms of David de Gea from a tight an­gle the next, be­cause he could not see any­one in a white shirt to pass to.

When balls came into the area, United dealt with them com­fort­ably, and even when De Gea spilt a rou­tine cross from Ben Davies at the feet of Alli, he could only tee up Sis­soko, who got his feet in a tan­gle and scuffed an ugly ef­fort wide.

Tot­ten­ham were good, they held their own, but they did not ever look like scor­ing, their best chance missed late in the sec­ond half when Erik­sen’s pass found the run of Alli but he tick­led a vol­ley wide. Tot­ten­ham still look like a team who need Kane and there­fore a team who will be the nearly men again.

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