Salvage Kane or sell him, Conte: Neil Humphreys
Spurs striker looks like a weak link in tighter line-up under new Italian boss
TOTTENHAM HOTSPUR 0
With just over 10 minutes to go, Tottenham Hotspur raced clear on a rare counter-attack against Everton. Harry Kane gathered possession. Son Heung-min sprinted ahead, waiting for the simple pass to arrive.
It never showed up.
Kane's distribution was awful. The chance was squandered and Spurs' 0-0 draw at Everton last night underlined the intriguing paradox for their new manager.
Antonio Conte, the master of the quick-fix, needs to salvage a drifting Kane or perhaps move him on. Currently, Tottenham's best player looks a weak link in a tighter line-up.
Conventional thinking suggested that Manchester United won the battle, but lost the war against Spurs last month. They gained three points, but missed out on Conte.
The greater club persevered with a less than stellar manager and the lesser club ended up with a superior boss. But there's an additional twist in this absorbing tale.
Despite their shortcomings, United still boast an otherworldly striker in Cristiano Ronaldo, the patron saint of lost causes, while Spurs are stuck with the lumbering Kane.
Against Everton, there were distinct echoes of his performances for both Nuno Espirito Santo's Spurs and Gareth Southgate's England. Kane drifted away from the box. He wandered wide. A burst of pace was missing.
He was, in essence, a spare part in a line-up that currently lacks the depth to carry passengers. Conte's plan will not allow it.
Interestingly, the Italian adopted a template not too dissimilar to the one employed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at Manchester United, but execution is everything.
In the Manchester Derby, the Red Devils' 3-5-2 felt like the latest, improvised fire-fighting exercise from a manager making it up from week to week.
As expected, Manchester City simply passed their opponents aside.
But Conte is no stranger to three central defenders. Indeed, he introduced the model at Chelsea and was rewarded with a title. Again, execution is everything.
Spurs are obviously a work in progress, but they scarcely resembled the static training cones of the Nuno era. With three at the back, Emerson Royal and Sergio Reguilon were encouraged to advance. The latter should have scored as half-time loomed, but sent Kane's whipped cross over the bar.
But the peripheral centre forward struggled. Again. Old habits die hard. He continued to drop too deep, too often, as if Nuno was still in the dugout, demanding a retreat.
Conte needs a dynamic, totemic presence up front, otherwise Son and Lucas Moura will run into narrow, blind alleys, as they did against Everton.
In fact, Moura bulldozed his way through the middle with the subtlety of a tank in a dense forest on a couple of occasions, perhaps frustrated at the lack of options further afield.
But the tactical balance and attacking adventure were obvious improvements on Tottenham's collapse against United. Their 3-4-3 encouraged the wing-backs to push into their opponents half, with Oliver Skipp and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg more productive.
And yet, a relatively drab contest only underlined the magnitude of Conte's task. After an hour, Spurs had failed to muster a shot on target against lacklustre opponents.
Everton had lost their previous three league games and clearly missed injured duo Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Abdoulaye Doucoure.
The Goodison Park natives grew increasingly restless, particularly when VAR (video assistant referee) rightly overturned a penalty after Hugo Lloris tapped the ball away from the onrushing Richarlison.
A ragged contest culminated in one substitute hitting the post (Spurs' Giovani lo Celso) and another seeing red for an awful tackle (Everton's Mason Holgate).
But a goalless draw was an appropriate result with Kane never looking likely to add to his single league goal for the season. It's a major concern for the new manager.
Conte has a defensive structure to build upon. Now, he needs one of those legendary quick-fixes to rebuild a shattered striker.