Kane’s Fitness A Welcome Dilemma For Pochettino
May 30, 2019
“If the final was tomorrow, I’d be fit to play. I feel good. I’m back with the team and there have been no problems so far.”
Harry Kane’s quotes on his fitness will be music to the ears of Tottenham fans. Another ankle injury threatened to completely end the striker’s season, with Kane hobbling off in Spurs’ 1-0 Champions League home win over Manchester City in early April.
And in truth, Kane’s season would have been over already had it not been for Lucas Moura’s late winner in Amsterdam earlier this month. The Brazilian has been Spurs’ clutch player in the competition, netting the equaliser that eventually sent the team into the knockout stages courtesy of a 1-1 draw with Barcelona before his hat-trick at Ajax secured a 3-2 win in the Netherlands to secure a Champions League final spot.
Now as Spurs gear up for the biggest game of the last decade, if not their history, the selection headache for Mauricio Pochettino is whether to start Kane. It’s a scenario that mirrors Atletico Madrid’s in 2014. Diego Simeone approached the final in Portugal with a fitness dilemma over star striker Diego Costa. The Spain international was forced off after just 16 minutes in Atletico’s title securing 1-1 draw with Barcelona on the final day of the 2013/14 campaign just a week before their Champions League final meeting with Real Madrid.
Costa netted 27 league goals that campaign and eight times in the Champions League, so Atletico were understandably prepared to give the striker every opportunity to prove his fitness in time for their Madrid Derby clash in Lisbon. The absence of Arda Turan, too, made things all the more difficult for Simeone, selection wise, and without the Turkish attacker, it perhaps forced his hand and despite having just a week to return, Costa started at the Estadio da Luz.
10 minutes in and Costa was withdrawn with the same muscle strain that forced Simeone to remove him from action in Barcelona. Not only were Atletico robbed of their focal point in attack, but a key sub for Simeone too. It may have taken until the 92nd minute for Real Madrid to eventually score – Sergio Ramos’ late header cancelled out Diego Godin’s first half strike – but once the game went to extra time; Los Blancos picked off their city rivals on a whim.
Now, Kane has had close to two months to get back to full fitness following his ankle injury, but there remains lingering doubts over whether Pochettino should take the risk and start the striker from the off. Time and time again, Kane has pushed his body to limit to rush back to fitness and Spurs have struggled as a result. The attack is disjointed and the player himself has been sluggish, with a rusty first touch hindering the north London side.
Pochettino will be keen to avoid a repeat of what happened to compatriot Simeone five years ago, but herein lies the issue. In Kane, Pochettino has at his disposal one of Europe’s most effective strikers. Despite making just 28 appearances, the 25-year-old scored more Premier League goals (17) than any other Spurs player, as per WhoScored.com, netting 25.4% of their total this season. He’s bagged five goals in eight Champions League appearances, including a decisive brace in the 2-1 home win over PSV in the group stages that eventually saw Spurs progress to the last-16.
It was his quick free-kick in the 2-1 loss to Liverpool in the Premier League at Anfield earlier in the season that resulted in Moura’s goal, with his quick thinking and execution to pick out Kieran Trippier that eventually saw the ball hit the back of the net. Yet in his absence Spurs haven’t fared poorly either. Son Heung-Min netted the winning goal in the 1-0 victory over Manchester City and a brace in the return leg at the Etihad Stadium on a night where Tottenham lost, drew and won in their 4-4 aggregate draw with their Premier League counterparts.
Moura, too, has become a cult hero at the club and his clutch goals have been vital in Spurs’ progression to the Champions League final. One of the three is likely to miss out on a starting spot at the Wanda Metropolitano, providing Pochettino with a real selection headache ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Liverpool. In such an injury-hit season, it’s a headache Pochettino welcomes with the Spurs boss finally able to utilise the bulk of his squad in the most important match of the campaign.
Having previously been prepared to quickly throw Kane back into the thick of the action following injury in the past, you can be sure Pochettino will do so again in Madrid and who can blame him? He has the ability to turn the game in Spurs’ favour in the blink of an eye and the pros of his inclusion very much outweigh the cons. There is the added risk that comes with selecting Kane from the off given Saturday would mark his first game back following another serious ankle injury, but in these high stake games with no room for sentiment with a spot in the history books 90 minutes away, you play your best players, of which Kane is one at Spurs.