What has happened to Tottenham Hotspur?
In a matter of weeks, Spurs have fallen headfirst out of the title race and been plunged into the deep end of a top-four battle.
After losses to both Burnley and Chelsea, Spurs somewhat steadied the ship with a 1-1 draw against Arsenal. However, on Saturday, with manager Mauricio Pochettino in the stands, serving the first of his two-game ban for an altercation with referee Mike Dean, the club fell to a 2-1 defeat to Southampton at St Mary’s.
Having taken the lead through Harry Kane, the back-four took leave of their senses to allow Yan Valery to equalise, before James Ward-Prowse smashed home a free-kick to give the relegation candidates all three points.
The result against Southampton will perhaps have hurt more than any other; Spurs were well on top in the first half and could have been out of sight at the interval. Instead, they went in with a goal advantage and seemed to conspire to throw it away through a combination of terrible decisions and poor game management.
Now they sit only a point ahead of Arsenal, three in front of Manchester United and four clear of Chelsea. There is a very real possibility that Tottenham could end the season in sixth.
This after challenging Liverpool and Manchester City at the top of the table for so long.
The problem, and it is an unpopular one to point out, is the return of Kane.
Now, this is not to say that the England captain, the winner of the World Cup Golden Boot and perhaps Spurs’ best striker in a generation is by any means a harmful presence. Not at all.
But his return has coincided with a severe drop-off from Son Heung-min, who was playing some of the best football of his career when Kane was injured. Trusted as the focal point of the attack, the South Korea international scored in every Premier League game that Kane missed, helping his side to victories over Watford, Newcastle United and Leicester. He has not scored since the Englishman was restored to the line-up, nor has he provided an assist.
Christian Eriksen, too, appears to be in the midst of his once-a-season run of dismal form; he, too, was last involved in a goal when Kane was injured.
Perhaps, then, the problem is expectation.
Pochettino does not alter his formation all that much, his system tends to remain the same regardless of the personnel on the pitch. Kane has routinely been on the field when Son has enjoyed a fantastic performance, ditto Eriksen.
Yet their dips come at a time when they are not being relied upon to provide the spark. The problem with Kane is the inverse to that of many players: it is not that he isn’t good enough for the team, it’s that he’s actually too good.
Kane has come back in and scored against Burnley, Arsenal and Southampton. He is half-fit, that much is plain to see, but he continues to score goals at a terrifying rate of knots.
Those around him, then, are all too happy to sit back and watch. Perhaps it is not even deliberate, perhaps this is a subconscious attitude that even Son, Eriksen and others are not aware of.
But Tottenham do appear to have a team-wide inferiority complex. They believe, whether they want to or not, that Kane is their saviour, the player through which everything good must be funnelled.
This works more often than not; Kane has ridiculous scoring statistics and relishes big games. But this season, there has been a notable downshift from those around him since his return.
Eriksen and Son perhaps believe they no longer need to produce the goods with Kane in the team, so good is the striker.
The opposite, of course, is true. Kane cannot do it all on his own.
A trip to Anfield looms large on the horizon following the international break, which means a clash with a Liverpool team that boasts perhaps the most fluid and coherent front-three in England.
Pochettino has to solve the riddle and ensure that Son, Eriksen et al are reminded of their responsibilities. If they leave it all up to Kane, he runs the risk of burning himself out, and with that comes the likelihood of a slide down the table at the worst possible time.