With Harry Kane likely done for the season and Dele Alli nursing a broken hand, Tottenham has another set of obstacles to overcome to achieve its goal of remaining a Champions League club.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino had described Tuesday’s Champions League game against Manchester City as the most important match of his managerial career. The victory, then, was presumably the biggest win of his career, inaugurating, as it did, Tottenham’s new stadium with a memorable night and giving Spurs a realistic chance of progressing to the Champions League semifinals for the first time since 1962. But it was a win that came at a serious cost, with Harry Kane suffering a "significant" ankle injury that will likely keep him out for the rest of the season and Dele Alli breaking a bone in his hand.
It’s not just this season’s Champions League Tottenham has to worry about. For Spurs, perhaps more than any club, it is essential they are playing in the competition next season–which means either winning it this season or finishing in the top four of the Premier League. The finances, already, are strained with the investment in the new stadium, so tight that Tottenham this season became the first club in Premier League history not to sign a player over the course of an entire year. It needs the revenue the Champions League brings, and it would feel very hollow if, in its first full season, the new stadium were to be a stage for the Europa League.
Tottenham’s record without Kane this season is actually remarkably good. Spurs have played 36 games with him in the starting lineup, winning 58% and losing 33%; in 12 games without him, they’ve won 75% and lost 17%. Such statistics always have to be treated with a degree of caution, not only because of the relatively small sample size, but because Kane is often rested against smaller teams in the domestic cup competitions. When he missed seven games in a row from mid-January through injury, Spurs had a relatively straightforward run of fixtures, although that spell did include the 3-0 home win over Borussia Dortmund in the Champions League.
Kane, after all, has scored 17 goals this season and set up four–and that’s without considering his indirect influence, the way he draws markers away from Tottenham’s other forwards. He will be missed. But what those 12 games without him show is that Tottenham is not reliant on him. Fernando Llorente may be creaking though the autumn of his career, but Son Heung-min has a happy tendency to step up when Kane is not there. Not only did he score the winner after Kane had gone off on Tuesday, but he had scored in each of the previous four games Kane had missed.
It’s striking that the run of five Premier League games without a win that saw Spurs’ title ambitions disintegrate came immediately after Kane returned. In part that was probably because he was still feeling his way back to full fitness, but it may also have been a psychological issue of other players subconsciously reacting once he was back.
There is a longer-term worry as well. Kane has developed a habit of sustaining ankle injuries. He has never been lightning fast, but there is a danger–as what happened to Alan Shearer–that he will eventually lose a little mobility. Certainly the fact this is a recurring problem suggests Spurs’ need for high-class backup.
Alli's situation is less of a concern. Although Tottenham has won 69% of games when he’s started this season as opposed to 55% without him, a hand injury is much easier to deal with. He may even be available for Saturday’s game at home to Huddersfield, although if there are any doubts at all, it’s surely not worth risking him against the Premier League’s last-place club, especially not with the second leg of the Champions league quarterfinal coming up next week.
The other good news for Spurs is that none of their three rivals for third and fourth in the table are entirely convincing. Chelsea, currently a point above Spurs in third but having played a game more, is wildly inconsistent and still has to play Liverpool and Manchester United away from home. Arsenal, a point behind Spurs in fifth, has a dreadful away record, and four of its final six games are on the road. Manchester United, two points further back in sixth, has lost four if its last five in all competitions and must still play away at Everton and at home to City and Chelsea.
Spurs, by contrast, after an away game at City, have a relatively straightforward run-in. They should still take third, but the susceptibility of Kane’s ankles is a longer-term concern.