A few short years ago, it would have been ludicrous to suggest Tottenham Hotspur were in a slump if they were still in contention for a place in the knockout stages of the Uefa Champions League and three points off the top of the Premier League table.
It is difficult to deny that Mauricio Pochettino’s men are going through a sticky patch at present, though. Wednesday’s 1-0 defeat by Bayer Leverkusen made it six games without a win in all competitions. Of even more concern is the fact that they have failed to score a single goal from open play in each of their last five outings.
An injury sustained by Harry Kane in September has not helped in that regard. The England international scored 28 goals last season, three fewer than he managed in 2014/15. He also acts a focal point for Tottenham’s attack, intelligently linking the play and combining with teammates, as well as dropping deep and allowing midfield runners to break beyond him.
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Kane stayed fit long enough to play all but 50 minutes in the Premier League last season, which was just as well given that Tottenham had no like-for-like replacement waiting in the wings. The £17 million (Dh77m) signing of Vincent Janssen from AZ Alkmaar in the summer provided them with an alternative option for this year, but while the Dutchman can be forgiven for taking a little longer to settle than his new employers would have hoped, he has evidently not had the desired impact in Kane’s absence.
Tottenham’s poor form, however, cannot be explained solely with reference to their leading striker’s unavailability; nor that of Toby Alderweireld, notwithstanding his well-earned position among the Premier League’s foremost centre-halves.
By the same token, it would be naive to expect an instant improvement in all departments if Kane makes his return in Sunday’s derby clash with Arsenal.
Tottenham’s performance against Leverkusen on Wednesday was one of the worst they have mustered throughout Pochettino’s two and a half years in charge.
The hosts — playing at Wembley rather than White Hart Lane — looked nervous from the very first whistle, sloppily ceding possession several times in the opening 10 minutes as they struggled to gain a foothold in the game.
Leverkusen also contributed to the fixture’s frenetic feel, with both teams seemingly intent on winning possession back quickly by pressing high that they did not know what to do with the ball once that end had been retrieved.
Tottenham’s switch to a 4-1-4-1 formation midway through the first half resulted in a brief upturn, but Pochettino’s side still struggled to create clear-cut chances in front of a club-record crowd.
The visitors certainly remained the more assured of the two, and it was hard to shake the feeling that a Leverkusen goal had been coming when Kevin Kampl opened the scoring in the 65th minute.
Tottenham had plenty of time to find an equaliser but rarely looked like doing so, with a significant lack of ideas in their attacking play clear for all to see.
Much has already been made of Arsenal’s poor record in November in recent seasons, but the 11th month of 2016 looks set to be even more decisive for Tottenham.
Premier League meetings with West Ham United and Chelsea could define whether their top four credentials, while their Champions League fate is likely to be decided by a trip to Monaco in three weeks.
Before all that, a shorter journey across north London awaits. Beat Arsenal on Sunday and all will be forgiven. Lose and Tottenham’s slump will take on a whole new meaning.
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