Harry Kane and the vertical passing game

Mauricio Pochettino is using Harry Kane to be more than just a goalscorer for Spurs this season.

We had the briefest of glimpses of it last season. Mauricio Pochettino’s vertical passing game utilising runners going beyond the deep dropping Harry Kane.

How does it work?

It was a tactic Pochettino utilised with great success at Southampton and this season it’s been much more prevalent with Spurs. The centre forward comes very deep, often in to central midfield, in order to receive the ball. He then looks to play vertical passes up the pitch for others to run on to.

It pulls the opposition central defenders around and makes them choose between tracking and letting the striker go. The dragging around of the defenders or even just the moment’s indecision that it creates then opens up the space for others to fire in to.

Having played the pass the striker then has to get forward himself to get in to the box. You would think that with this system requires a centre forward with great speed in order to do this, but stamina rather than pace is the pre-requisite to cover the ground.

Case in point. Rickie Lambert was the man Pochettino used to do this at Southampton. Lambert was not quick at all, but he had excellent movement, good strength, touch and above all the ability to pick a pass. Lambert created chances, especially for top scorer Jay Rodriguez, but also got on the score sheet himself.

For Spurs, Harry Kane has been handed the role. Kane possesses good speed, but great stamina, strength, movement and the ability to pick a pass. It was in Pochettino’s first Premier League game in charge that we saw Harry Kane play this role, the 1-0 win away to West Ham.

That day saw Kane introduced as a substitute and he swung the game by dropping off the front and looking for vertical passes through to his teammates.


Harry Kane passes played, West Ham 0 Spurs 1.

After several unsuccessful balls, he finally made one pay as he found Eric Dier streaking past him. Kane dropped off the front, drawing the attention of centre back Winston Reid. Then he played a perfect pass to hit Dier in stride, allowing him to sneak in-behind and score the winner.


Harry Kane plays a vertical pass to Eric Dier on the run.

The goal was a perfect example of classic Mauricio Pochettino football, but the tactic was drastically reduced as the games wore on. Whether Pochettino didn’t think we could play that way as a team or he didn’t feel we had the necessary speed around Harry Kane is not known, but our head coach shied away from the tactic.

Back for the new season

This term the ploy has been a major part of our opening two games of the season. It took less than 10 minutes for it to work in creating an excellent chance for Christian Eriksen at Old Trafford.

Harry Kane came short and pulled a number of defenders with him. He then hit Christian Eriksen streaking past with a beautiful vertical lobbed pass to set the Dane in on the Man Utd goal.


Harry Kane finds Eriksen running beyond him.

Eriksen unfortunately chipped the chance over, but the pull effect of Kane dropping off then pushing the ball vertically up to a runner off him was highly evident. Kane looked for this pass in to or towards the penalty area often.


Harry Kane passes played, Man Utd 1-0 Spurs.

Last weekend in Spurs 2-2 Stoke this tactic was much more prevalent. Harry Kane was really dropping off in order to drag a deeper sitting Stoke team around.

We saw it in the opening minutes as he came short and looked for Nacer Chadli’s run.


Harry Kane attempts to hit Chadli Running in-behind.

He then had much more success as he again dropped off to pick up the ball, pulling Stoke centre back Marc Muniesa out with him. This created space for Ryan Mason to run in to and almost double our advantage.


Harry Kane drags out Muniesa to free space for Mason’s run.

Just before half time and this tactic would yield our second goal. Harry Kane again pulled out in to midfield, dragging the other Stoke centre back, Geoff Cameron, with him this time.


Harry Kane comes short, Davies goes in to the space created.

Kane’s peach of a lob pass found Ben Davies firing past him and in to the space left by the Stoke centre back. Davies then found Nacer Chadli to smack home a second.

Overall in the game, we can see again just how many of these vertical passes Harry Kane was attempting.


Harry Kane passes played, Spurs 2-2 Stoke.

Harry Kane goal drain?

Harry Kane dropping off like this does naturally take away from him being always in the box to finish moves off. By having to make the initial movement in to deeper positions, it does mean he has further to travel to get to goal.

Kane did make up the ground on several occasions in the Stoke match, almost scoring when the ball wound up out on the wing with Nacer Chadli. Stoke’s centre backs didn’t pick up Kane’s late run from a deeper position.


Harry Kane arrives to get on the end of Chadli’s cross.

There were quite a few occasions when the speed of our attack meant that he couldn’t though and this is the downside to the system. On the other hand, you can look at it that he is creating chances for others and we are not burdening him with being the major goal threat.

What’s more with the arrival of speedsters like Clinton N’Jie, and potentially Saido Berahino, Harry Kane will have the weapons around him to really make this tactic work.

Harry Kane and the vertical passing game

After phasing out this ploy last season, it looks as if Mauricio Pochettino is going to enforce it this.

He, Paul Mitchell and Rob MacKenzie are certainly targeting the type of players that can make it work in our recruitment drive this summer.

With Harry Kane now increasingly becoming a marked man, Pochettino wants to spread the goal scoring load around and profit from the increased attention Kane will be getting from centre backs. This kind of baiting the opposition in and then switching the play approach might make Kane’s goal contribution weaker, but the team stronger.

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15 Responses to Harry Kane and the vertical passing game

  1. YouShubes 20th August 2015 at 5:23 pm #

    I think Poch has found his plan B. Defenders will not know whether to go with Harry or leave their anchor man to pick him up. Still think we need to use Plan A, i.e. feed Harry chances which we almost did and it would have been 3-nil vs Stoke. Do you think working Harry this hard is what led to him having to come off. Also using Harry means more space for the likes of Eriksen and Lamela to try shots from distance, or slip balls into the fullback etc,, hence why I feel Dembele may go back to the bench

    So is Clinton the Jay Rod in this tactical masterplan?

    Teddy Sheringham outside the box, Jurgen Klinnsmann inside of it? Harry has come along a long way since his Leicester days

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st August 2015 at 12:34 am #

      I think this may well be plan A going forward. It’s tough to say if working Harry Kane caused him to come off as he was supposedly injured, but it may have been a factor. He did play the full 90 at Old Traffird though, so we’ll see how it affects him.

      N’Jie will definitely play a similar role to Jay Rodriguez, whether he plays that much this soon will depend on how he develops in training. He’s far from being the finished article.

  2. PluckySpur 20th August 2015 at 5:32 pm #

    Thanks, I enjoyed reading this!

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st August 2015 at 12:35 am #

      Cheers PluckySpur

  3. gary fox 20th August 2015 at 5:58 pm #

    I agree about the tactic. Its hardly revolutionary….back in the 1950s Man City used it to great effect with Don Revie as the deep-lying centre forward as it was called. But it suits Kane and it will suit him even more with quicker better finishers around him. With a five man midfield (2 x DMs, Eriksen and two wide attackers) and a back 4 that includes two overlapping full backs, it is essntial that the DMs are mobile and cover the width of the pitch. They didnt vs Stoke, leaving our full backs exposed. Everyone blamed Lamela for the lack of cover but his role was to get up alongside Chadli not babysit Walker. Mason was too exhausted to do it and Dier and Bentaleb failed to.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st August 2015 at 12:40 am #

      You’re right Gary, it’s certainly not revolutionary, but should help spread the load of scoring around and make us less predictable to stop. Kane will be more closely marked and teams will target him, so it utilises his other skills, which should give defences headaches. A decent defensive midfielder is essential business and the club knows this.

    • YouShubes 21st August 2015 at 7:16 am #

      Dier does not have that radar/”spider-sense” that Sandro at his finest (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KMVSTXnk1p4) had in spades. Bentaleb as his passing has shown clearly doesn’t

      Can that awareness even be coached? I don’t want a Carlton Palmer player running around like a headless chicken. Given that Bender’s injuries have gone against him,will we continue the Dier experiment or should we give Milos an opportunity to show his talent?

  4. yash 20th August 2015 at 7:15 pm #

    Do you agree that this also complements the pressing play. What i mean chadli doesnt offer anything defensively while kane does. Kane dropping deep directly relates to more ball winning in midfield. Furthermore chadli has always had an for a goal but since to remedy overloading the central midfield eriksen instead of chadli goes into the box. I think this tactic would work better with chadli coming in the box which would not only add his height advantage but also clean finishing.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st August 2015 at 12:42 am #

      Good comment, Yes it should do Yash.

  5. yash 20th August 2015 at 7:15 pm #

    Do u agree?

  6. anotherwisemonkey 20th August 2015 at 11:50 pm #

    Excellent analysis. I can see what Pochettino’s plotting at the Lane and the transfer strategy looks like it will support it really well. Let’s hope we can bring in a couple more players that suit the system before the window closes!

    Do you think Kane is unlikely to win the golden boot this season? I’m not normally a gambling man but he’s 16-1 to win it, which I thought was worth a punt. However, if this way of playing means he’ll be likely to score less, I might hold fire.

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st August 2015 at 12:47 am #

      If we continue to play this way then 16/1 sounds about the right price as he’ll be a longer shot, especially if he’s not on penalties. Last season Pochettino stated with this tactic and then shied away from it, so if the results don’t come and he starts to feel pressured then he may well move away from it again and we’ll see Kane further up in the box.

      Long and short of it, it’s the right price, but if we go back to last season’s system and he’s not too far behind then there is value to be had there, but, by that time, his price should be bigger.

  7. Paulo 21st August 2015 at 8:45 am #

    Great article! It’s a shame that some of the mass media don’t seem to understand much about football… I saw it reported a couple of times that Kane had had a poor start to the season, but as far as I could tell (without having seen the games) Kane has been one of the best players…

    • Spurs Fanatic - Mark 21st August 2015 at 3:44 pm #

      Spot on, a lot of the media aren’t trying to understand football, just looking to sell papers or generate page clicks for their websites. A “Kane pain” headline and some crap about him not scoring, as that is all strikers are expected to do, gets a lot more attraction than “Kane converting to a new team-based role.”

  8. MrMike 21st August 2015 at 11:33 pm #

    Good read.