I don’t remember watching it live,” says Harry Kane of the 1999 Champions League final, which took place when he was five years old. “I did see the highlights, though. When you watch it back and see how they turned it around, it shows anything is possible in football.”

Not only a chastening reminder that Manchester United’s treble is now a long time ago, Kane’s remarks also show the Tottenham striker in typical form: straightforward and polite, smart enough to find the courteous way to answer most questions. When he fronts up to the media, as he often does, Kane is diplomatic not defensive and underneath, a motivational message: if anything is possible in football, what might Spurs achieve? It wasn’t just the goals that earned him that MBE.

The reason for Kane playing nice about a match he cannot remember is Sunday’s big Premier League encounter: Tottenham v Manchester United at Wembley. Ole Gunnar Solskjær, he of the late, late knee-slide in Barcelona, arrives at the national stadium hoping to extend his run of five consecutive victories since taking temporary charge at Old Trafford. Spurs, meanwhile, are trying to keep a four-pronged trophy hunt running for another week.

“United have been in great form and are coming off some great results,” Kane says. “They are going to be confident and they are going to have a lot of energy. They won’t have played midweek like we have. We have to bring that same energy. That’s when we’re at our best, when we’re pressing and everyone is on the front foot. That is what we are going to need on Sunday.”

One way of looking at the midweek Carabao Cup match against Chelsea is that it offered a different type of challenge for Spurs in their encounters with fellow big-six clubs. Edged out of games against Liverpool and Manchester City in the Premier League, Spurs were outgunned by Arsenal in a shooting match. But Mauricio Pochettino’s side have also turned over both Chelsea and United in a manner that suggested they were the team with the experience and honours, not the other way around.

So, on Tuesday evening, Chelsea reacted and set about Spurs as if they had a point to prove. Maurizio Sarri wanted to show they could match their London rivals in determination and physical commitment. Most observers would agree they achieved this. Chelsea also had the bulk of possession, much of it in Tottenham’s defensive third. Yet they created few real chances, Spurs were happy to play on the break and, most importantly, they still won the first leg of the tie.

If you accept that version of events then the semi-final saw Spurs playing conservatively, but as favourites, while Chelsea were the underdogs, willing to give their all for victory. It was precisely the opposite approach to that taken by Antonio Conte in an FA Cup semi-final two seasons ago – when the then Chelsea manager drew the sting from Spurs before introducing Eden Hazard late in the game to devastating effect – and it may not be the position the teams find themselves in when they come to play again at Stamford Bridge a week on Thursday. But if it was the case, it might well be the same again for Sunday’s visit of United.

“We were always the ones going into these games as the underdog but in the last few years we’ve started to turn that around,” says Kane. “Now we are going into some of these games as favourites, especially at home. It was a mature performance [against Chelsea]. We got the result and then defended as a unit. We stayed compact and tried to catch them on the counterattack.

“United have an amazing history and have won so many titles, a lot more than Tottenham have. What we have done as a team with Mauricio and the staff is to change the perception of Spurs over the last three or four years. We are at the stage now where we have a mature team. We are not young any more. It’s important we keep ourselves at this high level, at the top. I know that the teams around us know it’s difficult to play us and we have to use that to our advantage.

“United will come and try to play with a lot of energy. We have to make sure we match that. When we match their intensity, keep the ball and make it hard for them, that’s when we can do damage.”

Harry Kane scores for Spurs at Man Utd in August 2018.



Harry Kane (second right) scores the first goal to set Tottenham on their way to a 3-0 victory at Manchester United in August. Photograph: Nick Potts/PA

Kane knows full well how to do damage, of course. His arching header set Spurs on their way to victory at Old Trafford in August. That was one of just two goals in the first month of the season as he struggled to shake off the effects of a long season that bled into a the World Cup. In the past few weeks, however, he has been back to his best. Kane is once again agile enough to make defenders sweat in a sprint, strong enough to hold the ball anywhere on the field and cute enough to either draw fouls or play teammates in beyond him. He has seven goals in his last six games and his match-winning penalty against Chelsea made him the first Spurs player to score 20 goals in a season for five consecutive years.

In scoring on Tuesday Kane also surpassed Cliff Jones’s career total of 159 goals for the Lilywhites. It is sometimes hard to recognise when watching players who are making history, but Kane is at that level for club and country. Pochettino said he gave Kane a cameo in the FA Cup demolition of Tranmere a week ago as an opportunity for Prenton Park regulars to see “an icon of English football”. He wasn’t exaggerating.

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But when asked to consider his place in Spurs history, Kane was typically gracious. “I’ve seen Cliff a few times,” he says. “I haven’t seen him recently but he mentioned something on social media [about the record] which I replied to. He’s a club legend, it’s great to have that praise from him and other pros that have played for the club as well.” And how about that all-time record, Jimmy Greaves’s 266? “We’ll see. Hopefully. That would be nice.”

source: theguardian.com


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