Can Antonio Conte get Harry Kane back to his best?
The Premier League table looks better for Tottenham Hotspur than it did a few weeks ago. While the North London club sat in eighth place at the point of Antonio Conte’s appointment in early November, Sunday’s 3-0 victory over Norwich City lifted them to within two points of the top four and Champions League qualification.
Conte has been open about the scale of the challenge he is facing in his new job, but the Italian is slowly finding answers to questions. There is a better structure to Tottenham’s play. They have a clearer shape and have claimed three wins from four Premier League games played under Conte with the likes of Son Heung-min and Lucas Moura flourishing.
Harry Kane, however, remains a problem for Conte. Widely viewed as the best frontman in the English game right now, the 28-year-old has just one goal in 13 Premier League appearances this season. Many believed Conte’s arrival at Spurs would spark Kane into life, but he has still to find anything close to his best form. Tottenham are a poorer team for it.
The 3-4-2-1 shape used by Conte as Spurs boss should suit Kane. Indeed, the England captain is the focal point of the Italian’s system with Moura and Son filling the space around him. While Kane was frequently left isolated under Nuno, the same can’t be said now. Conte has done his best to surround Kane with teammates.
Nobody could claim Kane has been a peripheral figure for Conte like he was for Nuno. He registered more shots on goal (five) against Norwich than any other Tottenham player on the pitch – double his seasonal average of 2.5 shots per Premier League game this season – and was clearly desperate to find the back of the net. Kane was languid over the early part of the season, sometimes even disinterested. Now, he might be trying too hard.
It would be understandable, possibly wise, if Conte wished to rest Kane to sharpen his instincts in front of goal. Spurs have a challenging run of fixtures on the horizon, with games against Liverpool, West Ham and Arsenal coming over Christmas and into the new year. They will need their top scorer and best player in good form.
“If I answer in an honest way, to start a game without Harry now is a bit difficult for me,” Conte said, batting away the notion of dropping Kane. “Honesty we are talking about an important player for us, an important player for all. Yeah, in this moment I am answering in this way. I hope to improve the situation, to improve the confidence of all players and to see that maybe without Harry we can cover the situation. Not in the same way, but in a way that can be good to get three points. Now in this moment, honestly, I don’t see this team starting without Harry.”
Kane’s future is very much still in question with the 28-year-old still believed to be on the radar of Manchester City. The England captain is at the point of his career he needs to be winning and challenging for honours at the top of the English and European game and he might need some convincing that he can do this at Tottenham.
The hiring of a manager with the calibre of Conte might have gone some way to convincing Kane of this but the Italian hasn’t yet unlocked the striker’s full potential. Spurs have the tools to achieve their ambitions. They have one of the best managers in Europe and one of the best goalscorers. It’s unclear if they can get the best out of each other, though.
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