Chelsea will do well to watch out for Tottenham Hotspur’s Harry Kane
It is easy to forget, given how the game turned out, but until Eden Hazard put Chelsea ahead against Tottenham Hotspur at Stamford Bridge at the beginning of December, Spurs had looked by far the better side.
Harry Kane had headed against the bar and his direct running was unsettling a Chelsea side who seemed a little bewildered by the ferocity of the pressing to which they were being subjected.
Typical Spurs, you may say, flattering to deceive, threatening achievement for 19 minutes and then collapsing to a 3-0 defeat. There might be some truth in that dismissal.
Last season, under Tim Sherwood, Spurs adopted a highly unusual formation at Chelsea, had played well and had then capitulated after going behind after 57 minutes, to eventually lose 4-0.
But that defeat at Chelsea came off the back of a promising 2-1 home win over Everton and, since then, the improvement in Spurs’s performances has been marked.
They are far from the finished product, but there are signs that Mauricio Pochettino has begun to instil in them his style of play.
They are unbeaten in their past five league matches and thrashed Newcastle United to reach the League Cup semi-final.
Key to the improvement has been Kane, that rarest of beasts, an English striker who has come through a club’s academy and established himself as the main forward in that club’s first team.
Kane has been held back a little, perhaps, for being so associated with the mania of the Sherwood regime – although, as it has turned out, all of the players Sherwood promoted from the academy have thrived in the first team.
Kane, also, just does not seem that much like a footballer, or at least not one from this decade.
With his neatly parted hair and oddly old-fashioned way of speaking, it is as though he has wandered in from the wrong studio, an extra from a First World War film who has inadvertently ended up in a modern action movie.
You would not give much for his chances if the whistle blew and they all had to go over the top.
In the modern game, his “local-ness” is a bit incongruous, too – he was born in Walthamstow, about six kilometres round the North Circular from White Hart Lane.
Fans perhaps took to him initially because he was a novelty figure and because he so evidently relished his opportunity, but there is now real substance behind his popularity.
He has scored 15 goals this season, at age 21, and even though only five of his goals have been scored in the Premier League, he has been the man who has led Pochettino’s press.
That makes it sound as though all he offers is energy and enthusiasm but, gradually, his intelligence and technical ability are beginning to emerge.
Late on in Sunday’s draw with Manchester United, for instance, he received possession on halfway and drove at the United back line.
Players broke to his right and it raised the question as to why he had not spread the play.
But then Ryan Mason surged through on the blind side and, delaying cleverly, Kane slipped a perfectly weighted pass to him.
It was a move that showed great awareness and great composure, and it augurs well.
Kane has already unsettled Chelsea once, but he has grown as a player even from a month ago. Remarkably, he stands as one of the few obstacles remaining on Chelsea’s path to the title.
Pardew exit may do little to improve Newcastle’s fortunes
After a season of remarkable restraint, New Year’s Day begins with three Premier League clubs either under new management or seeking a manager.
The most intriguing of those situations is at Newcastle, who will face Burnley at St James’s Park under the guidance of John Carver, appointed as caretaker for the second time.
He won his one previous game in charge of Newcastle, against Blackburn in 2004, but four defeats in five and two defeats in three in similar stints at Sheffield United, do not bode well.
There was something slightly odd in the way, after all the rancour, Alan Pardew’s departure from Newcastle came – with him as the reigning manager of the month and with little more than a nod and a handshake.
For once it really did feel like “mutual consent” as he accepted the offer from Crystal Palace.
He was the easy focal point for the frustration of Newcastle fans at the club’s lucrative state of stasis, a situation that was not helped by his preening and erratic touchline behaviour.
He may have gone, but the structures of the club remain: a transfer policy designed to make money rather than create a great team and a stadium as a giant advert for Mike Ashley’s sportswear enterprise.
There is widespread relief that Pardew has gone but the future may be even bleaker.
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Published: December 31, 2014 04:00 AM