Tottenham’s failure to sign a back-up striker exposed as Nuno faces tough call over Harry Kane against NS Mura

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 (Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)
(Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty I)

NS Mura were founded the day after Sergio Aguero’s title-winning goal for Manchester City in 2012 but even Tottenham’s easiest Europa Conference League opponents on paper will present tough questions for under-pressure Nuno Espirito Santo.

Chief among them is who to play up-front against the Slovenia minnows tonight. Harry Kane is Nuno’s only senior striker but has started the last five matches and if he is going to be rested, surely now is the time to do it.

Kane, though, is continuing to search for peak fitness and form, with his only goals this season coming in the Conference League play-off and League Cup, so Nuno may judge this evening as the perfect occasion for the England captain to gain lift off.

But the risks of playing Kane in every game are well-established, so something has to give – before his ankles do.

The only other recognised centre-forward in Nuno’s squad is 17-year-old Dane Scarlett, a brilliant prospect but still inexperienced at this level.

Scarlett barely had a touch as Spurs went down 1-0 in the first leg of the play-off against Portuguese side Pacos de Ferreira and another delicate question for Nuno is whether starting the teenager in a much-changed team at this stage of his development could do more harm than good.

Lucas Moura and Heung-min Son can deputise up-front but, really, it is extraordinary that Spurs did not try harder to recruit a back-up for Kane, a running theme of the 28-year-old’s time at the club.

This the third season since Kane’s breakthrough in 2014-15 that he has been the only recognised centre-forward on Spurs’ books and, for all his relentless desire to play every minute, you have to wonder about the impact on his body and whether the club has, in a small way, failed him by not providing more consistent support or competition.

For all his limitations, loanee Carlos Vinicius was more than capable of delivering in the Europa League last season, directly contributing to nine goals, including three assists, in as many appearances in the competition. Spurs could have done with a similarly willing deputy this season.

Whether tonight or in Sunday’s must-win home match against Aston Villa, Kane’s chances of igniting his season may be helped by playing alongside Bryan Gil, who was one of the few bright spots from the dismal defeat at Arsenal last weekend.

The Spain winger, 20, also impressed in the EFL Cup win at Wolves and will be increasingly hard to ignore in the top-flight if he puts in another strong performance this evening.

A touchline-hugging winger who loves to get to the byline, Gil has been described as a throwback, not least because of his Beatles-like haircut and moustache combo.

"I do think [that description] has some truth," he said before the game.

"I do like playing one-on-one, I like to keep the space in the centre and I think that describes ‘old-school’ football but I think I also have adapted and I like to play inside.

"[The coaching staff] have been asking me to work hard and put a lot of effort in.

"I have been asked to gain some weight and to improve my physical condition and learn English. I am focusing on that and adapting."

Nuno, who is under pressure to improve both style and results after three consecutive derby defeats in the League, will again be without Steven Bergwijn and Ryan Sessegnon tonight.

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