Since the moment Lucas Moura sent Tottenham Hotspur through, the idea of Harry Kane returning from his latest ankle ligament injury to start Saturday’s UEFA Champions League final against Liverpool has been the game’s biggest question.
[ MORE: Win or lose UCL final, not much changes for Spurs ]
It will continue to dominate conversation until lineups are released at 2 p.m. ET.
Will Pochettino be tempted to call upon Tottenham’s talisman to start the biggest game in the club’s history, perhaps knowing he’s nowhere near 90-minutes fit? You’d be crazy to think not.
Whether or not he will do so, though, is a whole other (series of) question(s) completely.
[ MORE: Pochettino tight-lipped on Kane status ]
The reason Kane has dominated headlines, after missing Spurs’ last nine games from the second leg of the quarterfinals to both legs of the semifinals, has much to do with the fact that his inclusion (or exclusion, as it may be) will drastically change the shape of Pochettino’s team and game plan.
If Kane starts, it’ll likely come at the expense of Moura, the hat-trick hero that got them there, while allowing Pochettino to pick an extra midfielder — most likely Harry Winks — and play a midfield diamond behind Kane and Son Heung-min.
If Kane is starts the game on the bench, Pochettino faces a number of difficult decisions: playing a back-three or a back-four; Moura, as a wide attacker, or Fernando Llorente, as a target man up top; pushing one of Dele Alli or Christian Eriksen higher up, or leaving both of them in central midfield; Danny Rose at left back, or nominally as a left winger?
[ MORE: How will Liverpool line up for Champions League final? ]
Predictably, Pochettino has refused to tip his hand for three weeks running — quotes from the BBC:
“It’s difficult, you need to take a decision and tomorrow is another decision. We have all the information. We will use every detail to try to win.
“You can use only 11 players from the beginning — that is the most painful situation.”
It’s impossible to know which way Pochettino will go, because we’ve seen each of the above on a number of occasions this season. Sometimes it was out of necessity, due to injuries, and sometimes it was pure experimentation; both to great success, and terrible failure.
In the end, the risk of having to sub Kane off after eight minutes — as happened with Diego Costa in the 2014 UCL final — or him being wholly ineffective after missing so much time, isn’t worth the upside of having a semi-fit Kane to face the Premier League’s stingiest defense in a game that Spurs might never see again. If Pochettino enters the game knowing in advance that he’ll have to sub Kane off before 90 minutes, let alone the potential for 120 and penalty kicks, he’ll do more harm than good by selecting him.
That isn’t to say he will be able to resist the urge to do so anyway.