Heart Of Football

Kane and Lukaku, scorers who whet big teams' appetites

In a league where money changes everything, what would Manchester United and Chelsea give for a striker who bangs in the goals as consistently as Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku?

Those two men have matched goal for goal with 10 each over the past nine games. They have youth. They have physical strength. They crucially have the eye for a main chance and the confidence to put away their chances.

Everton's Lukaku and Tottenham's Kane meet on opposite sides at Goodison Park this evening. It is a home game for Everton, but the form book over this season shows that Spurs have won seven games away from White Hart Lane, while Everton have lost more than they have won in their own stadium.

Last week's Christmas cracker of a scoreline at Goodison - Everton 3, Stoke City 4 - tells the story.

Maybe the Toffees' American goalkeeper Tim Howard has lost some of his agility and self-confidence as he approaches 10 years and almost 490 games behind the Evertonian defence.

What goes around sometimes comes around in football. Just look at the strikers that Louis van Gaal got rid off at United over the past year, and how United could do with a Kane, a Lukaku or a Sadio Mane from Southampton.

Understandably the team have missed Phil Jagielka's sturdy and sensible central defending since he injured a knee back in October. And any team would have missed Leighton Baines, the best left-back in England who has just returned after missing most of the season.

That has left John Stones, the defender Chelsea tried to buy last summer and will doubtless try to buy again in the January window, exposed to teams who, like Stoke and like Spurs, know how to take advantage of weakness.

If you look at the goals-against column, you see that Everton have conceded 19 goals in 10 home games this season. That is a huge Achilles' heel, the worst defensive home record in the English Premier League. And it is bound to make the eyes of Kane widen in anticipation.

But here's the potentially exciting thing about tonight's game: Spurs may have the tightest defence so far, but Everton's 22 goals in those games is the second-highest (behind Manchester City) in home matches.

If that makes it sound gung-ho and go-for-goal, it isn't quite what Everton's manager Roberto Martinez preaches. He does like attacking play, but his game is based on possession, passing and movement.

He is Spanish after all.

Spurs' Argentinian manager Mauricio Pochettino also is not as defensive a coach as that tight record of less than a goal a game conceded suggests.

His philosophy is also based on possession, but on high intensity of pressing and on seeking to throttle the opponents through relentless tempo and sharp passing. Kane is the "out ball", the end product because of his incredible energy, combined with the instinct to shoot on sight and the willingness to carry the attacking burden, sometimes all alone up front.

I'm not suggesting for one moment that it all comes down to two sharp-shooters - the Englishman Kane and the Belgian Lukaku - today.

But Martinez is willing to discuss the merits of the two. "I wouldn't swop Rom for anyone," he says. "Harry Kane has got real power and pace that makes him a very mobile striker - but if you look over the past calendar year, since January 2015, most players have dips, real highs and lows.

"Rom hasn't. He hit the perfect level last January, and it's not that he hit a good moment, he's been in a good moment for the last 12 months."

Eat your hearts out Manchester United and Chelsea. Especially Chelsea because Lukaku is another player (like Kevin de Bruyne) that Chelsea had as a teenager. Jose Mourinho let them go because he was too impatient for youth to grow into maturity.

And now Mourinho has gone, and Chelsea are on the lookout to buy a finisher to push Diego Costa, or take the weight off the Spaniard.

What goes around sometimes comes around in football. Just look at the strikers that Louis van Gaal got rid off at United over the past year, and how United could do with a Kane, a Lukaku or a Sadio Mane from Southampton.

Spurs, actually, are in the market for a striker to either complement Kane or allow him some rest. They thought they had West Bromwich Albion's Saido Berahino last summer but the deal broke down.

Tottenham's Daniel Levy and West Brom's Jeremy Peace are known as the two most stubborn negotiators in the Premier League, and the Berahino transfer broke down when the two chairmen took brinkmanship to the 11th hour, each hoping to screw the other over the transfer price.

Berahino has done himself no favours by throwing a five-month sulk and barely figuring for West Brom since then. He hasn't so much lost his top form as barely shown any form at all.

A wasting asset in a market that still has an element of human bondage. The players, even non-players like Berahino of late, are millionaires in a league made so rich that next season adds another billion pounds to the annual TV share-out.

All 20 clubs will then receive £120 million (S$251 million) each season they stay in the Premier League. Hence the transfer turnover, hence the uncertainty of this season which has turned upside down.

Spurs are shooting for a top-four finish, and even a tilt at the Premiership crown. Everton are better than mid-table implies.

Martinez believes that the unpredictability of this season has a psychological factor. "Everyone knows there's a jackpot for staying in the EPL because of the TV deal," he says. "And that's making every team try to win every match."

However, Spurs and the Toffees have something else on their horizons. White Hart Lane and Goodison Park, their homes for more than a century, are cramped and outmoded.

Tottenham need to finance a new 61,000-seat stadium, planned for 2018. Everton have talked of vacating Goodison for 20 years. Both seek American investors.

Meanwhile, United and Chelsea, clubs with more money than sense at times, will again test the claims that Kane and Lukaku are beyond price.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on January 03, 2016, with the headline 'Kane and Lukaku, scorers who whet big teams' appetites'. Print Edition | Subscribe