Harry Kane is Champions League class but jury still out on Tottenham

Chris Bailey 12/02/2018
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Harry Kane added another clipping to his scrapbook after vanquishing Arsenal in Saturday’s derby, but towards the front, there are a few spare pages waiting to be filled.

If scoring goals is all that Kane cared about then it’d already be full to the brim. It’s just all a little too similar at the moment.

What the world’s best striker truly wants is a picture or two of him with a toothy grin and a trophy in his hands that isn’t a golden boot or another personal trinket.

If he doesn’t accomplish that desire with England – ha! – then Tottenham are his only outlet. And he may just begin to realise the futility of that if Spurs do not make an impact in the Champions League over the course of their round-of-16 tie with Juventus.

If Europe’s most lethal striker draws a blank and Tottenham tumble out at this stage there will still be no questions of his class.

Spurs fans like to joke that he’s a ‘four-season wonder’, given the long-held expectation by the cynics that an unremarkable lad from Essex must surely run out of steam before long. Well, he runs on renewables, given the 131 goals he has so far scored in a lilywhite shirt by the age of 24.

The question marks instead linger over a section of north London that starts in Wembley and ends back at White Hart Lane.

Spurs, as far as first XIs go, are the match of most in the world. Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele and Harry Kane; no team would want for a more solid spine. Christian Eriksen, Son Heung-min and Dele Alli, on his day, pack some mighty fine muscle up front too.

It is the greatest team in Tottenham’s history that has yet to win anything. But therein lies a warning – the second-greatest team in Tottenham’s history, in which Ossie Ardiles, Chris Waddle and Clive Allen tormented defenders 30 years ago, never won anything either.

This current incarnation has stuck together for longer and though from one side the future looks promising, the other looks worryingly murky.

Tottenham cannot compete with Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid et al in the financial stakes yet, thanks to the efforts of Mauricio Pochettino, they can afford to not afford and still keep hold of their coat-tails.

A bigger problem is their new stadium, which in theory will generate more revenue but in the short-term threatens to bog  progress down.

According to reports late last year, projected costs have spiralled from an initial £400m to £1bn and chairman Daniel Levy will have to rely on a mix of advance hospitality sales, naming rights and debt to cover the increased burden.

It can only mean less money available to strengthen the squad and in a world in which Manchester City can buy a defender that they don’t really need for a cool £53m in January, this is not the time to be frugal.

TURIN, ITALY - FEBRUARY 12: Harry Kane of Tottenham Hotspur speaks to the media during the press conference at Allianz Stadium on February 12, 2018 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Mark of a Champion: Harry Kane has scored six times in the Champions League already this year.

Meanwhile, Kane is happy. With a caveat. When asked what Tottenham must do to keep him that way recently, he stated: “I’ve always said: keep progressing, keep getting better, we want to start winning trophies. That’s the aim, as long as the club keep doing that then, yeah I’m happy here.”

For a team that last lifted silverware a decade ago, any trophy would surely be a start. The League Cup may be a poxy little trophy in some people’s eyes but to Kane, a first senior trophy of any kind would be fulfilling. What happened this year? A 3-2 loss at Wembley to a rudderless West Ham in the fourth round, a game that Kane was ‘rested’ for.

Even beating a minnow in the FA Cup has proven a struggle this season. Newport County, a team three tiers below Tottenham in England, were eight minutes away from knocking them out before Kane’s intervention. That goal probably won’t make the scrapbook.

From Newport to Turin on Tuesday. Juventus have kept 15 clean sheets in their last 16 matches and it is not a challenge that will faze Kane.

After all, he was made for this stage – now what about Tottenham?

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Man City have nothing to fear in Champions League as Basel are no longer a bogey side

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Basel in training on Monday ahead of their Champions League date with Manchester City.

St Jakob-Park is an arena to make Premier League clubs shudder.

Bloodied noses have been given to them with abandon in the Champions League by Basel, a side capable of regularly making light of the financial disparity at play when the English are in town.

Manchester City are the latest moneyed opponents to head to Switzerland for Tuesday’s round-of-16 opener. Are the omens still so negative, or have this bogey side lost their lustre?

Manchester United were beaten 1-0 to little ill effect earlier this season, although the ramifications for 2011/12’s 2-1 reversal were more severe. They failed to advance past the groups for just the third time in 17 years and lost inspirational captain Nemanja Vidic to a serious knee injury he would never truly recover from.

A certain Mohamed Salah helped down Chelsea in November 2013. His – other – future employers Liverpool stuttered to a damaging 1-0 loss in October 2014 and played out a memorable 3-3 draw all the way back in November 2002.

All results to make manager Pep Guardiola take notice, despite the protective shield provided by a runaway 16-point lead in the Premier League and the European elite’s best away-win ratio of 80 per cent.

But this is not a vintage Basel. Not by a long stretch.

Emerging Switzerland defender Manuel Akanji was sold to Borussia Dortmund in January. No defenders were bought as replacements.

Instead, the clock was turned back for old boys such as Fabian Frei and Valentin Stocker – a duo last seen making little impression in the Bundesliga. A sign of desperation?

The eight-time successive Swiss Super League holders sit five points off the pace this time, trailing in Young Boys’ wake. Lugano stormed their St Jakob-Park fortress when the long winter break ended earlier this month.

The walls have also been crumbling in Europe. They have won just three of their last ten home matches, with four losses in that run.

Even if City’s superstars – somehow – come unstuck, home wins against Porto and Bayern Munich in Basel’s previous round-of-16 forays were followed by away losses to a combined score of 11-0.

Guardiola can sleep easy.

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Man City strong favourites and other talking points as Pep Guardiola's side face Basel in last 16 of Champions League

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Manchester City travel to Switzerland to face Basel in the first leg of their Champions League last-16 tie on Tuesday.

Here, Press Association Sport looks at some talking points ahead of the game.

City strong favourites

As one of the form sides in Europe, Pep Guardiola‘s men will be expected to brush past the Swiss Super League outfit. City have made easy work of the competition so far, chalking up a couple of impressive victories over Napoli and winning heavily at Feyenoord.

Their only slip-up came in a dead rubber at Shakhtar Donetsk. Since the group stage they have powered on domestically, opening up a 16-point lead at the top of the Premier League, reaching the Carabao Cup final and maintaining interest in the FA Cup. Over two legs, Basel are not expected to derail the quadruple quest.

Pep Guardiola reacts

Importance of the Champions League

The Champions League is the prize those at the top of the City hierarchy covet the most. It would plant them firmly on the European map and validate a decade’s work.

Supporters, having been slow to warm to the Champions League, do still view the Premier League as top priority but, with that title now all but secured, they are embracing the continental adventure.

A special season is unfolding at the Etihad Stadium and there is growing belief City can go all the way. They certainly look as strong, if not stronger, than any of the heavyweights remaining in the competition.

MAN CITY-TRAINING

Guardiola will not look that far ahead

Guardiola will sound a note of caution. Aside from the 2016 run to the semi-finals, the last 16 has proved sticky ground for City and the memory of last season’s exit to Monaco lingers. City were expected to progress after winning a remarkable first leg 5-3 but then came unstuck.

Guardiola views the Champions League as “the most beautiful” competition and, having won it twice with Barcelona, he will want a third crown but he insisted at the weekend that he was taking it a step at a time. “The next step forward from last season is to achieve the quarter-finals,” he said.

Pep 1

Weekend headline-grabbers the men to stop

City have match winners all over the field and Basel’s task of stopping them is an unenviable one. Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne did most of the damage in Saturday’s 5-1 thrashing of Leicester, maintaining their brilliant recent form.

Aguero’s four goals took his tally for the season to 28, with 12 coming in his last 10 games. The Argentinian appears to have responded well to recent unfulfilled talk of signing Alexis Sanchez and injury to Gabriel Jesus. De Bruyne has been irrepressible all season and his three assists at the weekend underlined his continuing brilliance.

aguero, de bruyne

Basel diminished

Basel beat Manchester United in November but have since lost two key players with defender Manuel Akanji and midfielder Renato Steffen leaving in January. They are also still to get back into their stride having lost to Lugano and laboured to victory over lowly Thun in their two matches since their winter break.

An injury to defender Eder Balanta has also given coach Raphael Wicky an extra headache.

Basel

Provided by Press Association Sport

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