MADRID (Reuters) - In the extended break before Saturday’s Champions League final against Liverpool, Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino had to wrestle with one of those classic managerial dilemmas.
Whether to throw Harry Kane straight back into the biggest game in the club’s history having been sidelined for nearly two months or keep the club talisman and leading striker on the bench and go with Lucas Moura - the hero of Amsterdam.
Ironically it was Moura’s sensational second-half hat-trick against Ajax Amsterdam that not only sent Tottenham into their first Champions League final, but also extended their season long enough for Kane to recover from an ankle ligament injury.
Pre-match talk was dominated by the decision facing Pochettino.
Would he play the England skipper, scorer of 24 goals in all competitions for Tottenham this season, including five in the Champions League, from the start?
Or would he have him as a Plan B off the bench with Moura rewared for his Amsterdam heroics?
Pochettino opted for the former, clearly convinced that Kane’s reputation as one of the world’s leading strikers would give his side a psychological edge.
Sadly for Spurs fans, however, Kane looked off the pace in the first half and no threat to a Liverpool rearguard superbly marshalled by the commanding figure of Dutchman Virgil Van Dijk.
Kane, who sustained the ankle injury in the first leg of the quarter-final against Manchester City in April, did not manage an attempt at goal until stoppage time, when Tottenham were 2-0 down and already chasing a lost cause.
Brazilian Moura, overcome by emotion after the final whistle, was given only 29 minutes to try to rescue his side but in that time Tottenham livened up considerably.
Pochettino said his decision had been “all about analytics and thinking and all of the information”.
“It’s not about Harry Kane, or Moura or Son Heung-min,” Pochettino said when asked about Kane’s display.
“It was decision and after one month and a half (out) he finished the game fresh.”
Kane has proved a thorn in Liverpool’s side in the past but he looked utterly crestfallen as he stared into the middle distance on Saturday with Liverpool’s players celebrating.
It was not just Kane who Pochettino took a gamble on.
Midfielder Harry Winks had also been out for two months with a groin injury and also started.
Strive as he could to get Tottenham going, he too looked a little short of the sharpness required for such a huge game.
“We’ve got to learn from it. We did well in parts, attacking and getting forward but it wasn’t to be,” he said.
Editing by Peter Rutherford