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Kane continues sparkling form but Alli and Tottenham struggle

It's the half way point in the season and time to take stock of the season so far at Tottenham.

Mauricio Pochettino's men have been graded and we've picked a star man, flop, key question and prediction for the rest of the season. 

Grade: B

Spurs may not have faced the best Real Madrid or Borussia Dortmund teams in recent memory but to finish the Champions League group stage unbeaten, with more points than any other club this season, is still a remarkable achievement given their lack of experience in the competition. The results against European and world champions Real were particularly seismic and leave Spurs fearing no-one -- except perhaps Manchester City -- in the knockout stages.

But in the domestic cups, they were sloppy and disinterested again, squandering a 2-0 lead to lose 3-2 to West Ham in the Carabao Cup fourth round.

In the Premier League, they have struggled to build momentum, losing at Arsenal, Manchester United and City to extend Mauricio Pochettino's dismal away record at top six rivals to one win in 18 matches. They have found it difficult to break down defensive sides at temporary home Wembley, leading to frustrating dropped points against Burnley, Swansea and West Brom.

In fact, Spurs' only standout performance in the league was the 4-1 demolition of Liverpool, which is starting to look anomalous. In spite of all that, they remain close to the top four and they usually pick-up speed at this time of year, suggesting their best form is yet to come.

Harry Kane continues to set the standard for Tottenham.

Star Man

Harry Kane. It is a little tricky to choose anyone because Spurs' players have set such high individual standards in the last two seasons, while none of the summer signings have settled yet. But even as Spurs struggle, Kane continues to produce. He looks completely at home in the Champions League and he finished the group stage with six goals from five appearances following a brilliant hat trick at APOEL Nicosia.

Domestically, he has blown hot and cold in front of goal -- although he still has 15 goals in 18 league games after Saturday's hat trick at Burnley -- but his all-round game is always improving, and his ability to spray difficult passes into wide areas is almost as impressive as his finishing.

Kane's performances are in spite of hamstring and ankle problems that have niggled him in the last six weeks or so, but Spurs' talisman and vice-captain continues to set the tone for his teammates with his tireless energy and pressing.


Dele Alli. While it feels unfair to single out a 21-year-old -- who is understandably beginning to suffer from growing pains after two years of brilliance in the Premier League -- Alli has been particularly underwhelming. He has not scored since a brilliant double in the 3-1 win over Real on Nov. 1 -- his only standout performance of the season -- and his all-round game is deteriorating with every performance. He contributed nothing to the recent 4-1 defeat at Manchester City and was replaced for the fourth game running, having previously completed 90 minutes in all but five of the previous 31 matches.

Alli has been targeted on the pitch by opponents, who have tried to goad him into a reaction with heavy tackles and jibes, most notably Ashley Young in Spurs' 1-0 defeat at Manchester United last month. He let his frustration boil over at Manchester City, where he was lucky to avoid a red card for a studs-up challenge on Kevin De Bruyne.

He has also struggled at being double and triple marked, after establishing himself as a master of finding space in and around the box on the way to 22 goals last season.

Off the pitch, he has been unsettled by his decision to change agents in the summer and by transfer speculation but whatever the reasons, he has clearly been a long way from his best.

Mauricio Pochettino & Dele Alli
Mauricio Pochettino has talked of this season being transitional as Spurs prepare to move to their new home.

Key Question

Can Spurs finish in the top four?

Pochettino began the season talking-up Spurs' title chances but he has reluctantly turned his attentions to a top four finish, with Spurs trailing runaway leaders Manchester City by 21 points after 19 games. In fact, Pochettino is increasingly painting this campaign as transitional, and he recently suggested that nothing matters apart from ensuring Spurs move into their new £800 million stadium at the start of next season as a Champions League club.

Now that his key players have had a taste of success in the competition and found their level, ensuring they qualify again for next season feels of vital importance if they are to keep the likes of Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderweireld, Christian Eriksen, Alli and even Kane at the club.

With City all-but assured of the title and United looking good for second place, it feels like Spurs are competing with Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea for two spots in the top four.

Predicted Finish

Premier League: 4th.
Champions League: Quarterfinals.
FA Cup: Quarterfinals.

When Alderweireld and Victor Wanyama return, Spurs should have enough to earn a top-four finish and their energy will surprise an ageing Juventus side in the Champions League round-of-16.

Dan is ESPN FC's Tottenham correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_KP.


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