Statistically, Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min are the second deadliest duo in Premier League history. Only Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard have combined for more goals (36) in England’s top flight than the Tottenham Hotspur pair (30), with the Englishman and South Korean ranked above the likes of Thierry Henry and Robert Pires, and Sergio Aguero and David Silva.
It’s therefore unsurprising that Jose Mourinho has very deliberately built his Spurs team around Kane and Son. While the two players didn’t combine directly in the 2-0 win over Manchester City, Son scored the first and Kane assisted the second. The way the latter dropped deep for Tottenham’s opener also created the space for the former to run into. It was, in effect, an assist without even touching the ball.
Indeed, it was Kane and Son who did the damage to City, clinching a victory to send Spurs top of the Premier League. If Mourinho is to guide his team to the title this season, it will be on the back of what his front two offer. Their partnership is the most devastating in the Premier League right now. With Kane and Son on the pitch, Tottenham always have a chance.
Initially, Mourinho appeared an unnatural fit for a club like Tottenham. The Portuguese coach had long been European football’s go-to-guy for instant results, but Spurs had, for the majority of their recent history and certainly under Mauricio Pochettino, been a project club. Mourinho burned his bridges at Manchester United after the club refused to sign him the players he wanted. Pochettino publicly questioned Tottenham’s lack of transfer activity towards the end of his tenure at the club.
Many pondered whether Mourinho would change his ways to suit his new employers. There was talk of the 57-year-old adopting a more expansive outlook on the game. It was even reported he’d hired a public relations consultant to make him appear softer in the public eye. One year on from his appointment, though, and it’s Tottenham that has moulded around Mourinho, not the other way round.
This performance provided the clearest illustration yet of how Mourinho has changed Spurs. On the face of things, Manchester City dominated this match. Guardiola’s side claimed 66% of possession. They registered 22 shots to Spurs’ four. When Tottenham’s average position was plotted at the end of the first half, every player, including Kane and Son, was inside their own half. It wasn’t much different after the break.
Tottenham, however, prepared for exactly this sort of contest. City might have controlled possession, but it was the hosts who dictated the terms, making this game what it was. Aymeric Laporte had a goal chalked off, Kevin de Bruyne had a couple of opportunities, as did Gabriel Jesus, but Spurs made themselves hard to break down and play through in a way that takes complete faith in a manager’s methods.
And yet for all that Tottenham were well drilled and well organised, the strategy would have fallen down without the individual contributions of Kane and Son and their symbiotic partnership. Without the attacking pair, Spurs would have lacked in purpose. Mourinho has shaped his team this season almost with the sole aim to give Kane and Son a platform.
They are the perfect Mourinho forwards, with Son doing so much defensive work he spent much of the match as an auxiliary right-back. Kane isn’t just a penalty box finisher, but a deep-lying playmaker, as he demonstrated with his turn, dribble and pass for Tottenham’s second goal in the win over City. Tactically, Mourinho’s attacking strategy is to give Kane and Son as much space as possible to work in. That suits them just fine.
The unique circumstances of 2020 have led many to suggest this season is set up for Mourinho’s attritional ideology to enjoy a renaissance. While there is logic in this argument, it does a disservice to the quality of the team the Portuguese has built. Most will focus on the defensive shape of Spurs’ win over City, but it was Kane and Son who again showed why Spurs are title challengers.