In what was the biggest game in Spurs’ history, Mauricio Pochettino’s decision to start Harry Kane may have been the worst mistake of his managerial career so far. His had done incredibly well to reach the Champions League final, following a heroic semi-final comeback victory over Ajax in Amsterdam. But success builds pressure and it’s how you respond to that pressure that will define you. Unfortunately for Poch, he didn’t handle it well.
The task ahead of Spurs was never going to be an easy one, though, against a Liverpool side that is clearly stronger and possesses an attack that could blow away any of Europe’s elite. Recent history between the two sides was not favourable for Spurs pre-match either, having been beaten twice by the Reds in the Premier League earlier this season. Alongside that, the North Londoners’ form had been a bit hit and miss towards the back end of the campaign, but that was largely down to injuries. One of which was to star man Harry Kane, who had not played for several months heading into the all important macth.
So, why was it a mistake to start Kane?
In the build-up to the game, I had a feeling Poch wouldn’t be able to resist starting the England captain. And, like myself, a few Spurs fans I know thought it wouldn’t be the right decision and could cost them dearly on the day. As exected, Kane clearly wasn’t fit and everyone at the club must have known that heading into the game. It was the Champions League final, you simply cannot be taking risks on individuals. Don’t get me wrong, I think he’s a fantastic player and I do understand why there was a temptation to include him in the starting lineup.
However, they would not have made the final had he been fit – and I honestly believe that. Kane went off injured in the first-leg against Manchester City, with the score at 0-0. As soon as he went off, Son refound his form and scored the only goal of the game, edging his side into a first-leg lead. Then, the South Korean scored two goals at the Etihad – once again without Kane in the side. It is no coincidence – Son excels when Kane isn’t around.
Then you have Lucas. Poor old Lucas. He literally carried Tottenham to the Champions League final, after they had been poor for the best part of a game-and-a-half against Ajax. The man scored a hat-trick and then got dropped for Kane in the final. That simply does not happen. I understand that it isn’t an easy decision, especially when your best player is eager to play. But Lucas deserved to be in that final more than Kane and the Brazilian would’ve been full of confidence after that night in Amsterdam.
On top of all that, Virgil Van Dijk, the best defender in the world right now, and his partner at the back Joel Matip were probably rubbing their hands together when they saw that Kane was in the lineup. They had an easy night against the big centre forward, as opposed to having to deal with the pace of Lucas. Although Matip can be a weak defender at times, he deals well with balls in the air and can do a decent job against slower forwards – like a half-fit Kane.
I think, at one-nil down with twenty minutes to play, had Spurs had the option to then throw Kane on, that could have been profitable for them. But they didn’t have that option, they instead had a likely disgruntled Lucas, who deserved to start the game. For reference, Kane had 26 touches in the game (11 in the first half), made 11 passes and had one shot at goal, compared to Lucas’ two. That says everything, for me.
Like I said earlier, I understand it was a difficult decision for Pochettino to leave out your best player, in what was the biggest game in the club’s history. But when you analyse the situation closely, looking at Kane’s injury and the form of Lucas, it should have been a straightforward decision. It could be a long time before Spurs ever play a game of this magnitude again, and I thoroughly believe that playing Kane from the off was a huge factor behind the North Londoners suffering heartache in Madrid.
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