Harry Kane hopes the latest Spurs fightback can be a turning point

hrsarry Kane put it as the pros usually put it: heavy on understatement, a disappointing lack of drama. “There were some words said by a few people,” said the Tottenham striker as he reflected on what happened at half-time when his side trailed 1-0 in Marseille, their Champions League hopes hanging in the balance.

As always, it was easy to read between the lines, to feel the emotion of the moment, the frustration, possibly even the anger. For once again, for the sixth game in a row, Spurs had not appeared in the first half.

Kane said the gist of Tuesday night’s message was the need for greater aggression and intensity. With Antonio Conte stuck in the stands as he served a ban for his red card against Sporting last week – the manager going through all sorts of internal travails – it was left to his assistants, Cristian Stellini and Ryan Mason, to provide direction. Captain Hugo Lloris too.

In the lifespan of a season, there are always turning points, or at least the desire to locate them, and this certainly felt like one. Spurs brought the aggression on the restart, pressing higher, making runs ahead of the ball, taking charge and playing like they meant it.

The game swung when Clément Lenglet headed home Ivan Perisic’s free-kick in the 54th minute and despite a couple of late scares, Spurs were valuable for their win and progress as group leaders, secured by Pierre-Emile Højbjerg’s last-gasp breakaway. Had they lost, they would have been pushed into the Europa League.

Clément Lenglet equalizes in Marseille to start Spurs' comeback
Clément Lenglet equalizes in Marseille to start Spurs’ comeback. Photo: Chris Ricco/Uefa/Getty Images

Once again, radical turnarounds after focused half-time chats have become the new normal at Spurs. They beat Everton in the middle of last month after going in 0-0 and after blowing out Manchester United they almost got something against Newcastle after trailing 2-0 at the break. They came back to draw against Sporting, after trailing 1-0 at half-time, and were unlucky not to win before storming back to beat Bournemouth on Saturday, trailing 1-0 at half-time and then 2 -0.

The problem has been an inability to balance caution with risk and Spurs found it particularly difficult on a wild night in Marseille when they knew a draw would have been enough to qualify, likely as runners-up. It’s often said that the end of the first half is the worst time to concede, but Chancel Mbemba’s 45th-minute header may strangely have been a good thing for Spurs.

“It’s always difficult to come away from home in a tough atmosphere, knowing that a draw will get you through,” Kane said. “It’s never easy to come out and go full throttle because you can go 2-0 down in 10 minutes and then you’re in a hole.

“We have to find a balance between dropping and pressing. Right now we are just losing and sitting too deep. In the second half we went man-for-man and took a bit more risk. We just have to find a little more patience when we drop and then be able to get out of the deep block and push. That’s what we’re trying to do but we’re not doing it quite well enough.”

Kane talked about how there was no panic at halftime, in part because the team had been there earlier and more often than they would have liked. He stressed the importance of not going 2-0 down, as they had against Newcastle – lessons were learned from that, he said – and there was a point to Spurs’ excellent resilience, a legacy of the late and much-loved training coach. Gian Piero Ventrone.

“We’re a team that always feels like we’re going to get chances, especially in the second half of games when teams get tired,” Kane said. “Training wise we are a really strong team so we feel we can always come out strong in the second half.”

It sounded a bit reductive on one level and it even brought to mind Muhammad Ali’s rope-a-dope strategy. Are Spurs giving their opponents a false sense of security and luring them in to knock themselves out? It’s game management but not as we know it.

The main thing was that it worked against Marseille and Kane can feel a spring in his step ahead of the World Cup in Qatar which starts on November 20. He will carry England’s hopes as captain and talisman.

Kane was brilliant in the second half against Marseille, although he knew he should have put away one of his chances. You could feel it in his sad smiles. He was a strong outlet, got his team up the pitch, linked the play with lovely passes and drove into the box.

Pierre-Emile Højbjerg celebrates with Harry Kane after scoring a late winner that Spurs almost deserved.
Pierre-Emile Højbjerg celebrates with Harry Kane after scoring a late winner that Spurs almost deserved. Photo: Tottenham Hotspur FC/Getty Images

“It was really important [to reach the last 16] just before the WC, he said. “If we had gone out, it would have been a real sting because you know you come back from the World Cup and play the Europa League and it’s just not the same feeling.”

Kane returned to the night before the Marseille tie when local ultras set off fireworks over the Spurs hotel and tried to disrupt them. They exploded at 1:30 a.m. and 4:30 a.m. “We expected it,” he said. “We were told that the fireworks might happen. I woke up on the first part but the second part – I was fast asleep luckily.”

Rivals have been warned. If they’re going to take shots at Kane, they need to make them count. Because he’s coming back. The Spurs are coming back.

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