Harry Kane returns to spark Tottenham victory against West Brom
When Harry Kane is missing Tottenham play like a team without a brain. Everything feels more coherent when he is on the pitch. Son Heung-min comes alive on the left wing, hunting opportunities and giving defenders nightmares. Everyone grows in stature and, with a crisis brewing in the background, it was easy to see why José Mourinho decided to gamble on Kane’s fitness, bringing him back less than a fortnight after the England captain injured both ankles when Spurs lost to Liverpool.
In truth there is little to learn in victory over a side as bad as Sam Allardyce’s West Brom, who look doomed to relegation already. But this much is clear: if Spurs are to qualify for the Champions League they need Kane fit. As Pep Guardiola once said, this is the Harry Kane team. They toiled in his absence, mustering zero invention as they fell to three consecutive defeats, and were lively on his return, dismissing West Brom with ease.
The transformation was down to Kane, who tormented his markers with slippery movement and brought others into play with perceptive passing. The striker operated a shoot-on-sight policy and, though his finishing was rusty in the first half, he eventually punished West Brom, coolly opening the scoring before Son clinched the points.
There were even signs of more ambition from Mourinho, whose caution has been holding Spurs back, although it would be wrong to read too much into victory over limited opponents. The concern is that Mourinho reverts to type for tougher matches, leaning on an unconvincing defence. After all this was something of a free hit. The prospect of all-out defence from West Brom opened the door to a more adventurous approach from Mourinho, who moved Tanguy Ndombele back to sit alongside Pierre-Emile Højbjerg in midfield and handed a first league start since 26 October to Lucas Moura.
There was welcome adventure in the line-up after Mourinho’s tactical cowardice against Chelsea, plus a hint of desperation to Kane’s swift recall. The problem, though, is that Spurs are not merely reliant on Kane for goals; it is that their entire attacking plan revolves around him. He is their best goalscorer and their most incisive playmaker. The difference with him back was stark.
Kane was not at his sharpest during the early stages, his first touch heavy at times, but Spurs were at their sharpest with him on the ball. There were signs of his threat when he dropped deep to release Son with the kind of sweeping pass that Carlos Vinícius never provided against Chelsea.
West Brom retreated and Kane spent most of the first half finding his range. He grazed the woodwork following persistent work from Serge Aurier and Érik Lamela – the latter impressive after replacing Steven Bergwijn on the right – and twice scuffed efforts with his left foot before using his stronger right to bring the best out of Sam Johnstone, who also made a point-blank save from an Aurier header.
“What made me really happy was that commitment,” Mourinho said. “I’m happy because of that. Then we did very good things in terms of the football we played. Yesterday Harry was training perfectly normal. A player of his level has the experience to make his own decision.”
West Brom, who gave a debut in midfield to Ainsley Maitland-Niles, offered nothing in attack. Although Mbaye Diagne forced Hugo Lloris to claw a header off the line just before half-time, the flag probably would have gone up for offside.
That was about as interesting as it got for West Brom, who lie 11 points below Burnley in 19th place. Although they reached the interval unscathed, they were never going to hold out. They have won once and conceded 30 goals in Allardyce’s first 11 games in charge; while they lack quality, their negativity is entirely pointless at this stage. “We put some quality in the box and Mbaye seems to be able to get on the end of it,” Allardyce said. “But until we sort it out at the other end we’re going to make life difficult for us.”
Spurs kept pressing at the start of the second half, Kane releasing Son, who fired at Johnstone’s feet. A goal felt inevitable and it arrived when Højbjerg sliced West Brom apart in the 54th minute, threading a gorgeous pass to Kane, who placed a calm finish low to Johnstone’s left.
Four minutes later Spurs caught West Brom on the break, Moura surging through the middle and waiting for the perfect moment to release the ball. Support arrived and the Brazilian found Son, whose shot was too powerful for Johnstone.
West Brom were out of their depth, despite Diagne having two goals disallowed for offside. Spurs cruised to victory and, although Gareth Bale was an unused substitute again, the story was Kane inspiring their revival.