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PLAYER ANALYSIS: Jean-Philippe Mateta and Harry Kane’s Backup

Since his title of one season wonder was successfully shaken off thanks to back to back golden boot winning seasons, there has been much discussion on Tottenham finding a player who could fill in for Harry Kane, in case of injury or England’s talisman needing a rest for a big midweek game. While I’ve never seen this as much of a priority as needing midfielders, it has increasingly become an area of concern. Kane has suffered from minor injuries for years, but an ankle injury sustained in a game against Stoke back in February 2018 has left Tottenham with a problem. Kane has always had this habit of coming back from injuries earlier than expected, but this time was different. He arrived back from injury weeks earlier and didn’t look the same. He looked slower and his shot numbers dropped from 5 down to roughly 3.5. It was clear that Kane needed a rest, but unfortunately, it was a World Cup year, and Kane was needed for his country. After playing nearly every game, he returned to Tottenham looking exhausted. His lack of sharpness continued into the season, and while he was scoring goals, he wasn’t looking nearly as impressive as he has been in previous years. After suffering another ankle injury in their 1-0 win over Manchester City, it seems the search for the Harry Kane understudy is underway.

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This isn’t a new experience for Spurs. In 2016, they signed Vincent Janssen for £22 million. It was seen as a smart investment, with the Dutchman scoring 27 goals and putting up very high shot numbers. However, the cliche of the risk involved in signing players from the Eredivisie continued, with Janssen looking short of confidence throughout the season. After a failed loan spell at Fenerbahce, he returned to Tottenham, where he has since remained and only played 36 minutes of Premier League football this season. Llorente was the next player to fill in for Kane. The Spaniard was the complete opposite in approach compared to Janssen. Llorente had played for Bilbao, Juventus, Sevilla and Swansea. It was in Wales which persuaded Tottenham to take a punt on the striker, who scored 15 goals in his only season for the Swans. He was a short term solution that could fill in for Kane when needed and have an impact off the bench. This has not worked. He has only managed a single goal in the Premier League and has shown his age, with his lack of mobility highlighting how inferior he is to Kane. In search of a new forward, multiple strikers have been linked, with Callum Wilson, Moussa Dembele, Jarrod Bowen and Maxi Gomez all being linked to the Champions League finalists. However, the player I am recommending is not any of the players mentioned, and will hopefully enable Kane to receive the rest he deserves.

The player I’m referring to is French striker Jean-Philippe Mateta. He has had a very good season for Mainz, scoring 14 goals in 34 appearances. He is one of many forwards to have a breakout season. With the talk all surrounding Jovic, Lukebakio, Belfodil and Joelinton, Mateta has gone under the radar. The 21-year-old has had a difficult journey to the top. Growing up just outside of the French capital, Mateta was playing more unfashionable clubs, like FC Sevran and FA Drancy. Unlike many of the top French talents today, he was never picked up by one of the top clubs at youth level and was playing in the third division of French football as recently as 2016. After a season which saw him score 13 in 26, Lyon signed the young striker. He failed to make an impact during his first year at the club and dropped to a tier below, playing for Le Havre, a club famous for promoting young talent like Paul Pogba. Mateta scored 17 in 35, which then persuaded Mainz to sign him for a small fee of €8 million.

Mainz have had a huge issue in regards to scoring goals. Before Mateta’s arrival, no player had scored over 10 goals since Yunus Malli scored 11 in the 2015/16 season. Last season, they were one of six sides to score fewer than 40 goals in the league, an achievement that highlighted the need for goals in the side. Mateta gave just what they needed. When you hear Mateta is a 6.3ft striker who even compares himself to Zlatan Ibrahimovic, it paints a picture of a forward who must be fantastic at holding the ball and is able to bring others into play effectively, but that isn’t the case. I’m unsure why he compares himself to the huge Swede because he is actually quite different. Mateta is much faster than you expect a player of his size and figure to be. He is very quick on his feet, constantly looking to make threatening runs in behind the opposition defenders. He is agile, being able to quickly turn and beat defenders with ease when receiving the ball. Mateta rarely ever drops deep. The Frenchman only averages 13 passes a game for Mainz. It makes the Zlatan comparison even stranger. Mateta’s only focus is on scoring goals and is very good at taking shots in good locations. Out of the 3.4 shots he takes per 90, 2.5 are coming from inside the penalty area. This is very impressive for a side that is starved of creativity. He is making the most out of the chances he is getting, and it is why I’ve found him so impressive this season. He is one of very few players who managed to match what their xG predicted and had a better expected-goals than Yussuf Poulsen and Kai Havertz, players who managed more league goals than him. It shows how good of a finisher he is, and while his xGP90 could be higher, he is the focal point for this side and seems to relish in the responsibility. His desire to chase every chance coming his way is admirable. He has been one of the best players in the league at finding space in the box and is arguably his best quality.

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While his goalscoring is solid, there are still areas that could be improved. His build-up play could do with a lot of work. While he is faster than Zlatan, The LA Galaxy striker has always been fantastic at using his technical ability and strength to help bring others into play. Mateta is currently not at that level yet. While he is a good dribbler, he can be dispossessed relatively easily when holding the ball, in hope of his teammates joining him in attack. If he could strengthen in that area, it could make him a much more well-rounded player.

So is Mateta the perfect player to help keep Kane playing at his best? I think he is one of the best who would be available. While Llorente has largely been a failure, he still offers something different to Kane. Mateta can do the same, but add that sharpness, speed and agility that Llorente never possessed during his time for Spurs. The only issue in this move would be Mateta himself, and if he would be comfortable playing fewer games, after finally playing over 30 games in a top league. It would be the player’s decision, but it would allow him to learn from one of the best coaches in the game, while also playing for a side competing for trophies. If Pochettino would be comfortable in resting Kane for more games than he usually does, it would keep Kane at his best, while ensuring he finally gets the right amount of rest he deserves. His injuries are only getting worse, and it’s time for Tottenham to start looking at a player who can succeed in that number nine position.

 

 

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