Harry Kane will start the Champions League final in Madrid on Saturday. I just can’t envisage him not walking out with the team at the Wanda Metropolitano as part of the starting XI.
However, I don’t think he should start. There is no way he will be 100 per cent fit. By which I mean his conditioning and sharpness will not be at their best. He may be able to run unrestricted, but that’s not the same.
I know he scored six in the first seven games back from injury earlier this year, including in the first game against Burnley. But for a game of this magnitude, I think Spurs need to pick their moment to use him. There was a rhythm to pretty much every big game I played in. The game starts at a hundred miles an hour when everyone is fresh and quick. In that period, you don’t get much space.
When you get into the next 30 minutes, people are tiring and stepping back a little. However, when you hit the hour mark, gaps start to appear as fatigue begins. Gaps between midfield and defence become bigger. And, crucially, this is the period of the game that is usually decisive. If I was Mauricio Pochettino, I would use Lucas Moura and Son Heung-min to run the centre-halves to death, pulling them into the channels as much as possible. Those two have proved they can score goals and how dangerous they are. Then, as the hour approaches, you can deploy Kane, either replacing Moura or Son or, if you are chasing the game, you can leave them all on. If you play it that way, you’re saying to Harry: ‘Give me everything you have for half an hour (or more if extra time). You shouldn’t have to worry about the injury. Go out there and be as intense as you want to be.”
Do you get the better of Virgil van Dijk when you’re not 100 per cent? Wait until he fatigues a bit and even up the odds. In that final half-hour, the last thing Joel Matip and Van Dijk will want to see is a fresh Harry Kane coming on.
Kane to give reds runaround?
When Harry Kane last returned from injury, in February, after a month out, he still ran further and produced more sprints than his Premier League average for the season. However, that was against Burnley and not a Champions League final versus Liverpool!
There’s no doubt the battle of the full backs will be crucial. Those assist stats from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson are phenomenal. And Tottenham must be ready for them. The last time they played in March when Tottenham lost in the last minute to Toby Alderweireld’s own goal from Hugo Lloris’s error, is a case in point.
In the first half, Spurs played a back three as Kieran Trippier and Danny Rose ended up deep in a back five. That can’t happen again. Even if it’s a back four, they need to get high up the pitch and get in the faces of Alexander-Arnold and Robertson.
I would have no worries about Rose. In the second half of the season, he’s been up there with Moussa Sissoko as Spurs’ best player. Trippier has had a lot of stick after his extraordinary World Cup. He didn’t have the best game in the first leg against Ajax and was at fault for one of the second-leg goals.
But I’ve been there when you’re playing injured. He could just tell the manager he’s not really fit and hide. But he’s not done that. Kieran has dug in all year, put himself out there even though his groin clearly isn’t right. But he will have had three weeks to get right since the end of the season. In the second half at Ajax, when he played a lot higher, you saw the best of him. Tottenham will need that.
Winks the middle man to close down Firmino
The decisions on Harry Winks and Roberto Firmino are simpler: both must play. Spurs don’t have any other midfielder who covers the ground like Winks.
There is a tactical need for his mobility. In the Premier League, 42 per cent of Liverpool’s assists have come from Trent Alexander-Arnold and Andy Robertson at full-back. So Spurs will have to ask Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier to play aggressively high up the pitch, as they did in the September meeting between the sides even though they lost, and keep Alexander-Arnold and Robertson occupied. That will leave Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld to deal with Liverpool’s front three — so they will need help from Winks and Moussa Sissoko in midfield.
I expect Firmino to play because, well though Divock Origi did against Barcelona, the Brazilian offers so much more. The dynamic of the team is so much better with his aggressive pressing but, as well as being a scorer, he drops deep to link up play. And when he drifts into those deeper areas, that’s exactly when you will need the mobility of Winks to close him down.
Pressure’s all on Klopp
October 22, 2017 saw probably the worst performance from a Jurgen Klopp team since he came to England. That was the day Tottenham beat them 4-1 at Wembley.
That day Liverpool’s back five was Simon Mignolet, Joe Gomez, Dejan Lovren, Joel Matip and Alberto Moreno. That tells you a lot. Only one of those is likely to start in Madrid and Matip has really stepped up his game since playing alongside Virgil van Dijk: no coincidence that, of course. Liverpool have gone from conceding 50 goals in the season Klopp arrived, to 42 in his first full season, to 38 in 2017-18 and now 22 this season. Even in 18 months they have improved hugely.
Still, that afternoon will give Mauricio Pochettino hope. That was Spurs at their best: pressing high, getting in your face and combining that all with superb technique. The duel between these two mangers, both absolutely at the top of their game and among the top coaches in the world, is intriguing. The biggest compliment I could give them both, is that the biggest players from all around the world want to play for them.
Of course there is that old line about not them having won anything in England. Well, Klopp won the Bundesliga twice and DFB Cup in Germany. And we all know about the financial limitations Pochettino works within.
Look at culture both have created at their clubs. That’s a rare gift only the greats have. Because of the charisma they have, their clubs are exciting and welcoming places to be. A big part of that is way they play: high-risk, high-tempo and with plenty of goals and flair. There’s nothing not to like. It certainly feels like football has moved along way since the AC Milan – Juventus Champions League final at Old Trafford in 2003 which ended 0-0. I don’t see that in Madrid!
Both of these coaches have the crucial combination of tactical and emotional intelligence. A lot of coaches have one but not the other. The best have both. Of course, you would lean towards Liverpool, given their league form and their experience last year. They will want to put that right and maybe have the extra determination to do so. But maybe there is a reason why Klopp’s team have lost six consecutive finals. Certainly there will be more pressure on them.
Tottenham are going into the unknown. They can be fearless and play with freedom. After getting just one point form their first three games, after needing PSV to win and that late Lucas Moura equaliser at Barcelona, after seeing Raheem Sterling’s late goal ruled out by VAR at Manchester City and after that extraordinary comeback at Ajax, they certainly have something to draw on in the difficult moments of the match
They will face tough times, when they’re not getting ball, when they’re under pressure and are maybe a goal down. That’s when you look at each other and say. ‘Come on! We’ve created miracles. We’ve come too far. We’ve had too many extraordinary moments to lose now.