One of the big team selection questions heading into Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final was whether or not Mauricio Pochettino would name Harry Kane in his starting eleven.
The striker hadn’t played a single minute of action since suffering an ankle injury against Manchester City in the quarter-finals of the competition.
Nonetheless, Kane started, Liverpool won 2-0 and the 25-year-old was completely ineffective throughout the 90 minutes.
Despite his obvious importance to Spurs, it was a big risk to start a player who hadn’t featured for almost two months and Pochettino may come to rue taking that gamble when analysing his team’s performance against the Reds.
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On the chalkboard
The England international was rather obviously isolated from his supporting teammates early in the match against the Liverpool defence, swamped by the towering Virgil van Dijk and Joel Matip, who capably kept him subdued all night.
Kane managed to make just 26 touches of the ball. That’s less than every single other player on the pitch who completed the 90 minutes and demonstrates just how little the striker managed to threaten the opposition.
When you consider that, as a team, Spurs dominated time on the ball with almost 65% possession, Kane’s isolation becomes even more stark.
Spurs simply couldn’t find the penetrating passes that would allow Kane to turn the Reds’ defence, with the striker himself showing little urgency to make the runs or find the space to receive them.
Rather shockingly, Kane managed to take just one shot across the 90 minutes and that came in injury time with the match already well beyond Spurs.
On the pitch with the express intent of scoring goals, that kind of contribution just isn’t good enough.
It may say less about Kane’s ability than his fitness but Pochettino knew the context in which the striker was being selected and ultimately it’s a call he got badly wrong.
What should Poch have done?
The obvious alternative would have been starting Lucas Moura in the match.
The industrious Brazilian would have had more of a presence in the final third, with more movement and more guile in possession.
He did in fact inject a bit of life into Spurs’ game when he came on in the second half for Harry Winks.
Having famously scored three goals in the semi-final against Ajax, everyone knows he can produce on the big occasion and surely he would have been a better choice to take the match to Liverpool from the start, with Kane able to play the super-sub role if needed.
Kane is a talisman in the Spurs squad and having been the driving force of Spurs’ progress over the last few seasons it would have been as difficult decision to not play the striker as it was to start him.
However, it’s a manager’s job to put the best team on the pitch at a specific moment in time free of emotion and other baggage.
Kane wasn’t fit, he wasn’t effective and the Spurs manager deserves the criticism for playing him.
Everyone who follows Spurs will be considering what might have been if Pochettino had gone with the different option.
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