Tactics Board: How Harry Kane has had such an impact for Spurs
Harry Kane has gone from cause celebre to cult hero, from scoring substitute to certain scorer. Tottenham's top scorer is one of the most improved players of the season. But why is he having such an impact?
Kane the No. 10
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino initially appeared to have reservations about Kane and did not name him in a Premier League starting line-up until November. One of the reasons, perhaps, is that Kane appears to be a second striker, a position that is going out of fashion. He is often compared to Teddy Sheringham, the former Spurs forward, who used to play behind a main forward but he was not, in the modern sense, a real No. 10, who are often midfielders in advanced roles.
One of the games that seemed to change Pochettino's mind was November's 2-1 win against Everton. Both Kane and Roberto Soldado started, with the younger man charged with linking midfield and attack.
What his touch map from that day shows is how Kane followed those instructions and how much work he did in deeper positions. He hardly touched the ball inside the Everton box. However, he did contribute to Soldado's winner, robbing Gareth Barry near the halfway line before Aaron Lennon set the Spaniard up to score. Given the importance Pochettino places on a pressing game, this was a goal that epitomised his style of football: winning the ball high up the field before breaking away.
Kane had 60 touches against Everton, only eight behind midfielder Ryan Mason, the Spurs player who was on the ball the most. That level of involvement helped him establish himself in the side.
Kane the No. 9
When moved further forward, with Soldado omitted, Kane has brought some of the same qualities, the same manic energy and an incredible work rate. His touch map from the New Year's Day 5-3 win over Chelsea -- Spurs' fourth game in 12 days -- is remarkable. Whereas some lone strikers only operate within the width of the penalty area, Kane goes from touchline to touchline. Whereas some are target men, a fixed point in attack to aim at, Kane is forever on the move.
Again, that suits Pochettino. His Southampton side had a rather slower striker, in Rickie Lambert, but the veteran had a tendency to drift to the left to free up space in the middle for the advancing Jay Rodriguez. Kane does something similar, allowing either Christian Eriksen or Nacer Chadli to cut infield and, as they are two of the four top-scoring midfielders in the Premier League, it makes sense to play to their strengths. Crucially, too, his presence as a No. 9 allows Pochettino to pick another attacking midfielder and play a genuine 4-2-3-1, with Eriksen, Chadli and one of Andros Townsend, Erik Lamela and Lennon operating behind Kane.
Kane the tackler
As mentioned earlier, part of Kane's appeal to Pochettino surely lies in his work rate. While a 'forward's tackle' has become part of the footballing vocabulary, he is a tackling forward. Even when playing as a lone attacker he has shown he can win the ball in deeper positions and then burst into the box. A pitch map of his successful tackles -- and he wins 62 percent of those he attempts -- indicates he can dispossess opponents on either flank and in the midfield, but in keeping with the Pochettino ethos, especially in their half, to put Spurs on the front foot.
The Kane-Eriksen relationship
One of the criticisms of Spurs over the last 18 months is that ever since they made eight signings in the summer of 2013, they have had plenty of players without really being a team. There have been too few of the kind of relationships around which a successful side is constructed.
Now they seem to have one. It is not a strike partnership, though both have struck regularly, but an alliance of attacker and attacking midfielder. The player who has found Kane with most passes this season is Eriksen. The player who Kane has picked out most often is also Eriksen. There have been three games this season -- against Hull, Swansea and Leicester -- when both have scored. Eriksen's only assist was for Kane's goal at the Liberty Stadium. The Englishman won the free kick the Dane scored at the King Power Stadium.
A pass map of Spurs' 2-1 win at Swansea, showing the positions the players were in when they aimed for Kane, is revealing. Eriksen picked out Kane nine times that day, more than anyone else. The former Ajax player started on the left of midfield but, as a right-footer, he wanders infield. His movements are reflected in the dots nearer the touchline and in the No. 10 area.
Second in the list of those who found Kane at Swansea was right back Kyle Walker and this, too, is typical. While Spurs have not had a regular right-back this season, Vlad Chiriches, who occupied the role in November's win against Everton, was similarly quick to look for the striker.
A penalty-box poacher who can strike from distance
A map of Kane's 16 goals for Spurs this season suggests he is two players in one: a penalty-box poacher (which, given the struggles of Soldado and Emmanuel Adebayor, is something they had missed) and a player with the capacity to score from distance.
A quarter of his goals have come from outside the penalty box. They include his free kick winner against Aston Villa and his first in the 5-3 win over Chelsea. They indicate Kane is an all-rounder. One criticism of him is that he didn't appear to have a particular area of expertise. Now that might be reversed: perhaps there aren't any obvious weaknesses in his game.
His close-range finishes are partly the product of his aerial ability. Perhaps his best goal, however, was his second against Chelsea, with the assured turn and fine finish from 17 yards. It is something of a theme of Spurs' season. Chadli scored from a similar position against Chelsea as well. So did Eriksen against Swansea.
The other common denominator is that all are right-footers coming in to shoot from inside-left channel. A right-sided centre back facing Spurs has to be at the top of his game -- and Chelsea's Gary Cahill had arguably his worst match of the campaign when Kane and Chadli struck while in his channel.
Richard Jolly covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Twitter: @RichJolly.