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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.