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No, Tottenham aren't in crisis but they really do need Harry Kane back

Tottenham Hotspur didn't lose 1-0 to Bayer Leverkusen because they were playing at Wembley. There may have been some unwanted adjustments to their pre-match routine and some very minor issues in adjusting to a slightly bigger pitch (a negligible 5 yards by 2 yards, in case you're interested), but there is no curse of the national stadium despite what happened to Arsenal in 1998.

No, Tottenham lost to Bayer Leverkusen because they gave an incoherent, flawed performance that was riddled with individual errors. If they play like that at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, they will lose again and the last undefeated record in the Premier League will fall.

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A month and a day after that breathlessly impressive 2-0 victory over Manchester City, the performance that seemed to define Mauricio Pochettino's team, Spurs are still looking for a follow-up win. The debacle at Wembley on Wednesday was their sixth game without victory. If Tottenham are to live up to their own expectations of challenging for serious silverware, this run must end soon and it's fair to say that Arsenal away is probably not the fixture Pochettino would have preferred at this point.

And yet, Arsenal away offers Tottenham the chance to go into the international break on a high, having silenced their critics and redeemed themselves in the best possible manner. But for that to happen, a number of issues must be addressed.

The biggest problem is up front, where Spurs no longer seem to have a clear idea of what they want to do. The return of Harry Kane, expected by many this weekend, will be a huge boost in that regard. Kane's injury against Sunderland in mid-September didn't signal the collapse of Tottenham's form -- they won four straight games in all competitions without him -- but it has highlighted his importance to the side.

It's not simply the threat he offers in front of goal, though with 48 Premier League goals in 77 games since the start of his breakthrough 2014-15 season, that is obviously significant. Rather, this team really misses Kane's ability to enhance the players around him. Kane provides a focal point for attacks in a way that neither Vincent Janssen nor Son Heung-Min have managed to demonstrate in recent weeks.

Janssen's deceptive runs off the ball can free up space and Son's running on the ball can provide penetration, but neither man is as good an all-round centre-forward as Kane. He will thunder back toward the halfway line to win the ball in the air, deftly nodding it back or out wide before thundering back toward goal, dragging defenders with him as he goes. How Spurs needed that sort of dynamic presence at Wembley.

Moussa Sissoko came in for extensive criticism on Wednesday night, and justifiably so given the wretchedness of his display, but this was not a night for individual scapegoats. Even men who had dramatically improved under Pochettino like Kyle Walker, Eric Dier and Jan Vertonghen were making horrible mistakes from the start of the game. This was a collective failure and while the majority of the Sissoko criticism was warranted, his horrible night shouldn't obscure the wider truth that Spurs are simply playing bad football. The fact is that Bayer should have won by more.

Spurs turned in a poor team performance vs. Leverkusen but there's so much talent here that fans shouldn't worry.

Pochettino said that he was "embarrassed" by the performance. So he should have been.

Former Spurs manager Glenn Hoddle suggested that the wave of new contracts handed out to Tottenham's young players might be a contributory factor to their poor form, saying that they might have "taken their foot off the pedal." It is to be hoped this is not the case. Pochettino made his mark on this club by skilfully gutting the squad of overpaid, under-performing mercenaries and replacing them with youngsters. Modern football is in a dire state indeed if an endearing young side can be softened by wealth so swiftly, but it's too soon for conclusions like that.

All is not lost yet. Any team would miss two key performers like Kane and the injured Toby Alderweireld. As the season moves past the quarter mark Tottenham remain unbeaten in the league, though recent performances do suggest that a reprisal of that invincible season down the road is rather unlikely. But this squad is stronger than the one that faltered last season.

Sissoko was an odd signing, especially at £30 million, but if Pochettino can find a way to coax out the performances that lit up the European Championships rather than the performances that alienated fans at St. James's Park, his pace and stamina will help over the course of the season.

Victor Wanyama isn't a flawless defensive midfielder but he has steadily improved over the course of the season and offers more security. Janssen is enduring a troubled start to his career in England but his selfless display against Crystal Palace earlier this season offers hope that he can be a useful foil for Kane. And there were just flashes out on the Wembley pitch of the pace and trickery of Georges-Kevin N'koudou, the £10m signing from Marseille.

Spurs may not boast the best starting XI, especially when Kane is injured, but there's no question that they have a squad capable of fighting on two fronts and one with enough depth to give Pochettino options. Talk of a "crisis" is overblown but they do need a result of some sort on Sunday. Something to steady the ship. Something to reassure the players as much as the fans.

And it should go without saying, but they need to keep Kane fit.

Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.


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