Spurs' visit to Madrid gives Kane audition in front of Bernabeu faithful
"Harry the Strong" conjures an image of a red-bearded Viking king rather than a Tottenham Hotspur striker raised in North London. The front page of Marca on Monday leaves no doubt that Harry Kane is the centre of attention ahead of the match between Real Madrid and Tottenham in Group H of the Champions League.
Madrid and Spurs occupy the top of a group that has become crystallised into two tiers. Each club has won two matches, scored six goals, and conceded once.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola cheekily referred to Spurs -- who finished the 2016-17 Premier League season eight points ahead of his side -- as "the Harry Kane team." And while Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino brusquely dismissed that notion, Kane is undoubtedly his talisman. The England international has scored 15 goals in 11 matches for club and country in this fledgling campaign. In the Champions League, he's notched five of the six goals Tottenham have scored, with three of those arriving in the form of an incisive hat trick against APOEL.
Kane has been linked with a move to the Bernabeu following his scintillating start to the season. Zinedine Zidane has made no secret of his desire for another striker. Within that context, it is difficult not to categorise the match on Tuesday as an informal audition before a panel of Florentino Perez, Zidane and the Real Madrid supporters. Some Madridistas remain unconvinced that Kane possesses the quality to impose himself in the Spanish capital. A strong performance at the Bernabeu -- and in the return fixture in London -- will make the doubters reassess.
In an interview with Guillem Balague for Diario AS, Pochettino maintained that his striker's dream is to "do something really big at Tottenham, the club he's a fan of."
That dream of Tottenham doing something "really big" -- which is presumably refers to winning trophies -- must happen soon. Kane has blossomed in to one of the most potent strikers in Europe and Spurs must continue to grow at the same rate as their No. 10.
Cristiano Ronaldo scored his first La Liga goal of the season in an edgy 1-2 victory at Getafe, ending an uncharacteristic barren spell for Madrid's record scorer. Kane's consummate professionalism and constant desire to improve encourage comparison with the Portuguese forward. The two have displayed similar poise in front of goal this year with 42 goals apiece in 2017. Only Edinson Cavani, Robert Lewandowski and Lionel Messi have etched their name on the scoresheet with greater frequency.
"Perseverance has given [Kane] his place," Spurs coach Jesus Perez told Guillem Balague. "He is a pleasure to coach," glowed Pochettino.
Real Madrid and Tottenham last played each other in the 2010-11 Champions League campaign. At the time, Kane was experiencing the blood-and-thunder nature of the English lower leagues at Leyton Orient. It was his first loan spell away from White Hart Lane. Since then, his rate of growth has been exponential.
Luka Modric and Gareth Bale both played for Tottenham in that tie in 2011, when Harry Redknapp's gung-ho side lost 4-0 at the Bernabeu before seeing out a 0-0 draw in England.
The Croatian midfielder will return to the starting lineup against his former club, after Zidane continued to favour a policy of rotation in the match against Getafe. Casemiro, Isco and Raphael Varane will join Modric as the group of returning cavalry.
Isco is establishing himself as a player that Zidane can seldom afford to drop. The elegant playmaker came on as a substitute after 74 minutes against Getafe and had the effect of a layer of oil being applied to a clunky bicycle chain. Isco's most eye-catching contribution was a delicately lofted pass to assist Ronaldo for the winner, but his all-round contribution was excellent throughout the fleeting cameo.
"Cristiano has to win it, absolutely," Isco said in respect of the upcoming Ballon d'Or award, for which he has also been nominated. If he had responded with an uncharacteristically egoistic comment about his own increasing importance to Real Madrid, it would be difficult to disagree. Of course, that is not his manner. Just like on the pitch, grace is his weapon of choice.
Keylor Navas is set to reassume his position in goal having recovered from a muscle injury he sustained on international duty. If the Costa Rica international concedes a goal to Tottenham, he will become the first player to do have done so. Madrid boast four clean sheets in four matches against the Londoners.
All eyes will be fixed on "Harry the Strong", but it may well be Isco's performance that decides who seizes control of Group H.
Matt McGinn is ESPN FC's Real Madrid blogger. Twitter: @McGinn93