THE signs were everywhere, telegraphed in fact, all over the pitch. Harry Kane was lost at the wrong end of the pitch. He was born in Tottenham, but he’s made for Liverpool.
His goal felt like an epiphany, a volley smashed through the hearts of Spurs fans and into those around Anfield. His goal explained so much about the Kane paradox. How has that man managed to score 25 English Premier League goals in that team? That’s how. It was right there. One remarkable finish from a rare, decent cross was enough to tilt a game that did not deserve to be tilted.
Until Kane scored, Spurs were awful. No surprises there. Ever since Antonio Conte conducted his unfiltered exit interview at a press conference, his former charges have moved neither Heaven nor Earth to vindicate his every word.
But Kane stopped Spurs from being abysmal. Together, they form part of a warped equation. The sublime Kane plus the awful Spurs still equals European qualification of sorts. Probably. There are no mathematical certainties at Tottenham. Except Kane.
But there were other signs, as the engrossing narrative edged towards the inevitable twist, i.e. Kane should eventually join Liverpool in the summer. Before Kane’s goal, Virgil van Dijk had cleared Son Heung-min’s effort off the line. Kane had put the South Korean through on goal. Moments before that, Kane had stalled in possession, for ages, before being mugged by Mo Salah. Anfield laughed. The away end winced. No further evidence was required.
Kane had never appeared more isolated, more out of place. Like an Oscar winner taking a dreadful movie for an easy pay cheque, he looked around to find no one else of his calibre, a fine wine among flat lemonades. His team-mates offered no movement or initiative. Only Salah was on the same wavelength. If only both forwards were on the same side.
Jurgen Klopp had to see it. The signs were on his side, too. When the Liverpool manager marvels at the metronomic consistency of Kane – one chance, one volley, one goal – he sees what the Reds could be. When he tolerates Darwin Nunez, like a well-meaning father indulging a son with two left feet, he sees who the Reds really are.
Nunez may yet become the forward relied upon to provide the calm, impudent finishes put away by Luis Diaz and Diogo Jota at Anfield, but the window of opportunity seems to be shrinking. In a must-win encounter, he wasn’t allowed to participate until the 73rd minute.
The Uruguayan's most significant contribution was to lose Richarlison at a free-kick. Nunez’s studs came close to removing the Brazilian’s head, but only Nunez lost face as Richarlison scored.
Significant upgrade over Nunez?
Maybe that’s unfair. Nunez has teased Liverpool with fleeting glimpses of his undeniable power and attacking presence. He’s a lump up front, no doubt, but occasionally shows the finesse of a lump of wood. Time and patience may fix that, but such qualities are rare in a season where a genetic anomaly has already scored 50 goals in his debut campaign. At 22, Erling Haaland is a year younger than Nunez.
And maybe that’s an unfair comparison, too. But what’s fairness got to do with elite competition? The only striker that comes close to Haaland’s striking efficiency is Kane and he’s going to finish another stellar effort with nothing but a club goal-scoring record and some patronising back slaps from suited executives in the boardroom. That’s unfair.
Of course, fairness and justice are two different things. If Kane is going to do justice to his genetic talents, he’s going to join Liverpool. There will be other flirty suitors, with Manchester United likely to be fluttering their eyelashes, but the Red Devils still represent the most volatile option. An attractive partner, to be sure, but one that could either take over the dance floor or throw up in the corner. It’s impossible to tell with United.
Klopp’s Reds offer stability to a stable striker of simple tastes. Kane has played the reluctant ringleader at the local circus for long enough. He doesn’t need to join another at United. At Liverpool, he’ll be expected to treat Trent Alexander-Arnold’s quarterback-like distribution with the ruthlessness that it deserves. Nothing more.
Nunez can’t quite do that. He hasn’t reached the required level of adjustment. In truth, few Reds have. In Alexander-Arnold’s post-match interview, the full-back acknowledged that his two assists showcased his new infield role, but also underlined the downsides. Liverpool left more gaps than a Donald Trump legal defence. Ibrahima Konate had too much ground to cover. Andy Robertson was caught in possession too many times.
Liverpool remain a work in progress, but a finished article like Kane alleviates some of Klopp’s burden, at least for a season or two. (At 29, Kane is a year younger than Salah). Ordinarily, Klopp buys younger and cheaper, a Moneyball practice that secured every available trophy across a four-year period. But that period is over.
Manchester City’s unrivalled dominance and the uncertain futures of Nunez and Cody Gakpo do not suggest the return of a two-horse race in the near future. Klopp is rebuilding. For the first time, the Liverpool manager is between dynasties. Only Sir Alex Ferguson, Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola successfully made that leap from one title-winning era to another, but there was a more equitable distribution of resources for Ferguson and Wenger. As it stands, Guardiola’s domestic control feels absolute.
For Klopp, the quickest way to buy time is to buy goals; not expected goals that excite stats geeks, but actual goals from reliable sources. There was just one on display at Anfield. Kane can provide a bridge between two dynasties. The Reds can provide the trophies.
For most of a dispiriting contest, Kane was an incongruous sight at Anfield. He didn’t fit in until he scored. And then, he looked like a Liverpool player.
For Klopp, the quickest way to buy time is to buy goals... There was just one on display at Anfield. Kane can provide a bridge between two dynasties. The Reds can provide the trophies.
Neil Humphreys is an award-winning football writer and a best-selling author, who has covered the English Premier League since 2000 and has written 26 books.
For more football news, visit our Football page on Yahoo!