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Victor Wanyama hitting top form at right time for Spurs and Kenya

14:58 GMT+4 19/04/2019
Victor Wanyama of Tottenham v Manchester City
The Lilywhites and the Harambee Stars could prove to be beneficiaries of a strong end to the season for the fallen midfield powerhouse

Amidst the many talking points to emerge from Tottenham Hotspur's classic Champions League quarter-final second leg against Manchester City on Wednesday, Victor Wanyama's continued revival within this Spurs side went somewhat unnoticed.

The Kenya international, restored to prominence for the run-in due to injuries and the sale of Mousa Dembele, started the rip-roaring encounter that ended with Spurs progressing to their first Champions League/European Cup semi-final since 1962.

After struggling for fitness and form over the last few seasons, following a strong start to life at Spurs, the dogged midfield man was only required for a cameo role, as a replacement for an injured Harry Winks, when the sides faced off at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium last week.

Last weekend, on his first start in weeks, and only his third Premier League start of the season, he produced a decent showing in a 4-0 hammering of already relegated Huddersfield Town.

The quality of opposition faced, coupled with a clever goal, probably embellished what was a fairly unspectacular outing for the Kenya international, but it was an encouraging performance nonetheless.

Tottenham’s domination of possession (they had 70% of the ball) meant he was given greater licence to press forward and contribute to the attack.

Wanyama did complete all of his five tackles, committed one foul all game, and capped it off with a good goal that saw him run into the space vacated by Fernando Llorente to receive an inadvertent lay off from the target man.

In truth, he didn’t particularly play well against the Citizens, but several defensive players also endured evenings to forget during a chaotic evening.

As is the case in cup competitions, the big moments decided how it panned out, and Spurs came up trumps.

Despite delivering a fairly mediocre outing on the day, with Spurs' defence routinely cut apart at times, Wanyama made two vital contributions at crucial moments in the encounter.

The first came in the 26th minute where the defensive midfielder, at full stretch, made a sprawling block to what looked like a defence-splitting Ilkay Gundogan pass to launch a dangerous attack.

He later prevented Leroy Sane dribbling through into the final third in the game’s closing stages – the score on both occasions was 3-2 and 4-3 respectively. These were thoroughly game-changing interventions.

Even though he's only strung together a couple of promising performances, it’s admirable to see the Kenya powerhouse playing regularly again, admittedly due to injuries to Winks and Dier.

Having fallen out of favour since 2016/17, the combative midfield man has been constricted by a spate of injuries, while the emergence of Winks and improvement of Moussa Sissoko haven’t helped his cause.

Similarly, the willingness of Mauricio Pochettino to utilize more formations without two holding midfielders hasn’t been in Wanyama’s favour. The former Southampton man formed a formidable partnership with Dembele, with their juxtaposed styles complementing each other, but their Argentine trainer has moved on from the pair, with the Belgium powerhouse leaving for Chinese side Guangzhou R&F and Wanyama dropping down the pecking order.

Recent injuries have played him back into the reckoning in what could still be a historic season for the Lilywhites, and one wonders whether the stars aligning for the midfielder late in the season could bode well for Kenya’s Africa Cup of Nations campaign in June.

The Harambee Stars were drawn in Group C with Senegal, Algeria and neighbours Tanzania in what, ostensibly, looks a tough run of games. They also have no set objective, according to the Spurs star, in their first sighting in the competition since 2004.

"We don't have targets, we just have to work hard game by game and make sure we can collect points," he told BBC Sport. "There's no one to underestimate because when you make it to Afcon, you have to be a good team so we are in a tough group.

"Hopefully, we can try and work hard and go through."

Despite Wanyama’s claim, and while they seemingly didn’t get the luck of the draw, the East African nation could still spring a surprise or two. The continent’s top-ranked side, Senegal, who have lost just one of 19 competitive matches under Aliou Cisse’s stewardship since 2015, may be out of reach, but an underperforming Algeria and wildcards Tanzania can be got at.

Sebastien Migne’s side conceded once in four games in qualifying, so there may be a building block heading into the tournament as they seek to go at least one better than 15 years ago by progressing from their group.

A team's talisman entering a major tournament after a successful season at his club, as opposed to being on the periphery, so Wanyama ending the campaign on a high can only be a good thing.

Victor Wanyama | 2018-19 Premier League stats

The third installment of City vs. Spurs in Saturday’s lunchtime fixture at the Etihad Stadium is hugely important to the pair’s campaigns – Pep Guardiola’s side could still win a treble, while Pochettino’s team aren't certain of a top four spot.

Persistent injuries in Tottenham’s midfield mean Wanyama could be set for a third appearance on the spin as the North London club aim to wreck City’s title bid.

Whether the tenacious midfielder will save his Spurs career from here on out is anyone’s guess, but, in the short term, club and country could be beneficiaries of his ostensible resurgence.