X

Kane and Alli Face New Challenges to Recapture Magic of Tottenham's 2015-16

Thomas CooperFeatured ColumnistSeptember 5, 2016

Harry Kane and Dele Alli warming up before Tottenham Hotspur's recent 1-1 draw with Liverpool. Both played decently enough but are still figuring out how to recapture last season's form.
Harry Kane and Dele Alli warming up before Tottenham Hotspur's recent 1-1 draw with Liverpool. Both played decently enough but are still figuring out how to recapture last season's form.JUSTIN TALLIS/Getty Images

If Tottenham Hotspur had ended up winning the Premier League title last season, Kane/Alli might have been ranked as a creative combination to rival Lennon/McCartney in their supporters' eyes.

The often thrilling effectiveness of their collaborations and individual spotlights were integral to a challenge that took them agonisingly close to glory.

Getting anywhere near creating a comparable body of work in their own field to match The Beatles' legendary songwriters would mark them as all-time greats for Tottenham. Such lofty goals are unlikely to be on the minds of Dele Alli and Harry Kane right now, though. The more pressing issue is figuring out how to reignite the magic of their 2015-16 campaign.

Alli and Kane were two of four Spurs players voted into the PFA Team of the Year last season. Unfortunately the campaign would end sourly, with Alli getting suspended for a clash in the game following this photo.
Alli and Kane were two of four Spurs players voted into the PFA Team of the Year last season. Unfortunately the campaign would end sourly, with Alli getting suspended for a clash in the game following this photo.Julian Finney/Getty Images

So far this time out, various factors have made it difficult for them to instantly repeat.

The chance for a final, exciting and perhaps telling burst of their linking up was denied at last season's end when Alli was suspended for the concluding three matches. A silly punch at West Bromwich Albion's Claudio Yacob was a costly show of the petulance that was just about the only blight on the Premier League first-timer's otherwise stellar year.

Kane scored a game later against Chelsea, but Spurs were unable to maintain their lead and the eventual 2-2 draw ended their title hopes.

Up until then, their presence in Mauricio Pochettino's attack had been at the heart of so many great moments.

Suffering a goal drought at the beginning of the season, the eventual Premier League Golden Boot winner Kane was still working well for his team-mates. Against Leicester City that August, his perseverance in midfield led to Nacer Chadli crossing for Alli to score his first goal for the north Londoners.

The teenager's impressive transition from League One football with Milton Keynes Dons to top-flight football only gathered momentum from there.

His first starting appearances were in central midfield alongside Eric Dier (another partnership and friendship of note). After Mousa Dembele so impressed there in an October game against Liverpool, Alli was moved forward into attacking midfield. From there, he and Kane really started to strike up an understanding.

Alli's first assist for Spurs' frontman owed something to fortune. In a 4-1 thrashing of West Ham United, his own shot was blocked but ended up bouncing to Kane, who turned and fired home.

The sight of the two operating either in conjunction or just nearby in close quarters would become a familiar one. It epitomised Spurs' aggressive hunting of possession, their fluidity in attack and the boldness of individuals taking responsibility for making opponents uncomfortable and uncertain.

Take a snapshot of the various stages of the north Londoners' season from the autumn onwards, and you would invariably see Kane and Alli in action.

After a brief stutter in early December, both scored in a 2-0 win over Southampton that set Tottenham back on track heading through Christmas and into the new year. The midfielder bravely sent forward his striker for the first and within minutes was benefiting from his fellow attacker's distracting run for the second.

Fast-forward to early March and a north London derby with big top-four implications, and the two are pressuring Arsenal's Per Mertesacker deep in his own half. Alli stole the ball off the defender and back-heeled it to Kane, who proceeded to curl in a brilliant lead-taking goal that prompted a roar that nearly lifted the roof off White Hart Lane (a few more like that this season could help save costs with the stadium's ongoing redevelopment).

WyScout

Spurs were pulled back and drew 2-2 with the Gunners, but the point still proved useful in keeping alive the team's title chances come April.

Alli and Kane's work in a 4-0 win over Stoke City that month was arguably their best of the season, each netting a brace in a sparkling demonstration of what the team were capable of.

"The way we play and the way we've been playing all season means we're going to create chances," Kane said a month earlier when speaking to Tottenham's official website.

"It’s important to have confidence and the self-belief that when you step out there, you expect things to happen and expect to play well," Alli told TottenhamHotspur.com a little later on. "It's important not to get carried away, look to keep improving and make next season even better."

Making 2016-17 better will require them overcoming some challenges.

Had he not been suspended for the aforementioned Chelsea game, Alli might have made a positive difference. But what partly led to the punished incident was the frustration at Spurs' struggle to break West Brom down.

As well as he and Kane did for so much of last season, there were days and periods when they were stunted.

Up against resistance-focused opponents, they and the likes of fellow attackers Christian Eriksen and Erik Lamela found their passes intercepted, runs read and their own touches and awareness lacking their usual zip.

Kane played in a slightly deeper role against Crystal Palace (and for most of the Liverpool game) as manager Mauricio Pochettino deployed him up front with new signing Vincent Janssen.
Kane played in a slightly deeper role against Crystal Palace (and for most of the Liverpool game) as manager Mauricio Pochettino deployed him up front with new signing Vincent Janssen.Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Pochettino has been looking to address that early on this time around.

Both Alli and Kane started the opener, a 1-1 draw with Everton, in the usual 4-2-3-1 formation, but the former made way at home to Crystal Palace a week later. Ostensibly because of illness, it also allowed the manager a chance for a further look at how Kane fared alongside newly signed striker Vincent Janssen.

The Dutchman had done well off the bench against Everton and put in another good shift against the Eagles. But there was not such an immediate development of an understanding with Kane that Pochettino was tempted to leave Alli out again the next Saturday for Liverpool.

He had come on and done well against Palace as Spurs eventually grabbed a winner when Kane set up Victor Wanyama.

Matters were made more convoluted facing the Reds, though, when early in the first half, Alli was moved into a deeper role after Dier was switched to right-back to cover for the stricken Kyle Walker, and Janssen brought on up front.

Alli reiterated his usefulness as an option in the thick of the engine room but was not able to do anything differently himself in making Kane and Janssen more in sync (albeit it was going to be tough going against Jurgen Klopp's strong Liverpool side regardless).

Just what Alli and Kane do from here for Tottenham is now also subject to how Pochettino incorporates other new signings Georges-Kevin Nkoudou and Moussa Sissoko. Others like Eriksen, Lamela, Josh Onomah and Heung-Min Son will all be eager to stake their own claim for more substantial minutes.

The two Englishmen's attempts to re-establish a connection in a changing Spurs outlook are also entwined with international pressures.

Kane started England's 1-0 World Cup qualifying win at Slovakia on Sunday, back leading the line after playing a little off Janssen at club level. Alli did not start but came on as a substitute in the 64th minute.

Another scoreless afternoon will have done little to silence Kane's detractors following a summer tougher than most in the setup experienced. He should have done better with a first-half cross from club-mate Walker but otherwise did as much as he could with minimal help around (his battles with Martin Skrtel did lead to the centre-back getting sent off).

Alli can sympathise. His not starting was a consequence of the same Wayne Rooney-shaped problem that undermined Kane.

The captain was largely nowhere to be seen in areas where he might have brought the man up top into the game.

England were notably better when Alli came on and provided an energetic and quicker central presence, the 20-year-old playing with more assertiveness than he had at Euro 2016 when he was more deferential to the veteran Rooney. Kane saw more of the ball higher up the pitch than he had in the first hour altogether.

WyScout

Going by his weak-willed postgame remarks, Sam Allardyce could probably learn from Alli's attempts to do his own thing.

"Wayne played wherever he wanted to," the England boss said, per BBC Sport, evoking similarly overindulging comments from his predecessor Roy Hodgson ahead of the European Championship. "He did play a little deeper than I thought he'd play, but I was pleased with his performance."

There were some typically nice passes from Rooney, and the desire of a creative player to want to get involved early in his team's buildup is understandable.

But like in the summer's tournament, there is no getting away from the fact that England are being stifled by the Manchester United man's starting, his continued involvement denying Alli, Kane and others from leading the team in a potentially better direction.

For Pochettino's part, he is unlikely to have any qualms about disappointing one or more of last season's mainstays if others are better suited to his Spurs side moving forward. The Argentinian will try and figure out what works best balance-wise, and if egos are bruised, so be it.

As it is, he is confident Kane will regain his scoring touch soon enough.

"I think it is a good thing that he hasn't scored yet, because last season he scored in Game 10 [a hat-trick away at Bournemouth] and was the top scorer in the league," Pochettino said after the Liverpool match. "I say again to do the same."

After the win over Crystal Palace, he backed Alli too.

"Dele Alli is a great player and it is clear that he will be a very important player for us this season," he said.

Tottenham are likely to be better for having Alli and Kane central to what they do. It is up to them now to do as much as they can together, separately and within new parameters to prove why once more.

          

Quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.

🚨 SPORTS NEWS ➡️ YOUR INBOX

The latest in the sports world, emailed daily.