Champions League final: Why the decision to start Harry Kane ultimately proved irrelevant for Tottenham

Spurs did not lose because they started Kane. They lost because Liverpool are a better team – it’s as simple as that

Miguel Delaney
Madrid
Sunday 02 June 2019 08:53
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Klopp speaks of his 'relief' after Liverpool's Champions League win

For all the back and forth about the rights and wrongs of the Harry Kane decision, only one thing is certain – bar the final result.

No one will have considered it anywhere near as deeply as Mauricio Pochettino. And that’s before the game.

“I promise, my decision involved a lot of analytics, all of the information,” the Tottenham boss insisted after the Champions League final. “I don’t regret my decision.”

It is also why Pochettino shouldn’t be overly criticised for that decision, either.

Sure, it might not have been his best, it didn’t work – but he was really in a no-win situation, unless he won.

The reality is that had Pochettino actually started with Kane on the bench and still lost, he would have just got the same questions and criticisms from the other side.

That is how fraught the situation was for him. That is exactly why there was so much to consider. And that is before you get to the potential political cost of dropping your most valuable player for your club’s biggest ever game, but it is genuinely true that Pochettino does not let such issues influence him. That’s just outside colour. He does what he feels is best to win the game.

Some conclusions from the game should be similarly addressed.

Spurs did not lose because they started Kane.

They lost because Liverpool are a better team, on much better form, and who have not lost 13 league games this season.

That is something made all the starker by how bad the game was. It really illustrated there was no deeper meaning to it, no hidden insight, no more sophisticated reason.

Liverpool just won because they were better, and that superior quality was always going to show when the application of quality was so low.

Secondly, Kane was not great, but he wasn’t awful either.

What people will naturally remember was that he was the player beaten to the ball by Virgil van Dijk, in the passage of play that brought that penalty decision and that crucial opening goal.

This does bring one fair criticism. A striker generally has to be at the top of your game to get anything off Van Dijk or he will just dominate – but this isn’t completely what happened.

He didn’t totally dominate Kane. Kane actually got the better of him at least twice, if not more.

Harry Kane looks on after defeat in Madrid

For one such moment, he held the Dutch centre-half off, and then instantly put Son Heung-Min through. It was just one of those nights when the Korean was having one too many clumsy touches.

For another, and probably Spurs’ best moment of the game, he pulled Van Dijk out of position to release Christian Eriksen with a touch for the playmaker to then unleash one of the passes of the game with a through-ball to Son. The Korean, again, couldn’t quite maximise it.

And this was another point. Kane didn’t really look any more jaded than any other player.

It meant he didn’t really have service, either.

In turn, that made him look even more mobile and drew even more focus on him from Liverpool’s defenders, as well as everyone watching. It meant Kane stood out all the more when it maybe it wasn’t warranted.

It still warranted a fair question, but then Pochettino gave a fair response.

“It’s not a drama. It’s just a decision.”

And it’s probably one he’d make again. That says as much as anything, even on a night when Kane didn’t do much.

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