Lucas Moura’s performance in the Champions League semi-final win against Ajax may just have given Mauricio Pochettino the biggest selection dilemma of his career.
Thinking ahead I don’t envy Poch having to pick the XI for the final. On one hand, wanting to show loyalty to the players who got you there… on the other, Kane & Winks have to start with Aurier pushing too. Most of these lads won’t ever be here again. Man, that’s tough!
— Chris Miller (@WindyCOYS) May 9, 2019
The three-week gap between the end of the Premier League season and the Champions League final has been hugely significant for Spurs because it has provided some first-team contenders with the opportunity to get fit, namely: Harry Kane, Harry Winks and Serge Aurier.
Mauricio Pochettino’s team basically picked itself for Ajax. Under normal circumstances, if Pochettino were to select his best team again, Winks would come in for Wanyama and Kane would come in for Lucas.
We can talk about the merits of Aurier over Trippier too, particularly given the obvious threat of Sadio Mané and his history against Trippier, but the Spurs manager has remained pretty loyal to Trippier throughout a very poor season for him and so one would expect that to continue.
Pochettino has a strong preference for getting his best or ‘most ready’ players onto the pitch in any shape possible.
His theory is that whether Spurs play four at the back or three at the back, three in midfield or two in midfield, one up front or two up front, the tactical plan is broadly the same: the same ‘Juego de Posicion’, the same pressing triggers, the same numerical overloads, the same focus on creating vertical passing lanes.
Fitness and game-readiness are important to Pochettino. He views fitness as not just a physical thing, but a mental thing too. Players returning from injury have to feel right, have to be able to trust their bodies. It was Winks, in fact, whom Pochettino said this season needs to ‘accept’ a little bit of pain.
#thfc Pochettino on Harry Winks' ankle: "It is a chronic injury. He needs to adapt and understand and accept that he needs to play with this little bit of pain. For a young player it is difficult to accept that because you want to feel 100% and not feel anything in your body."
— Ben Pearce (@BenPearceSpurs) September 13, 2018
Pochettino believes in ‘energia universal’. In auras. In Brave New World, Guillem Balagué paraphrased him as saying “I’ve had the ability to notice something powerful that you can’t see but does exist.” Pochettino has Jesus Perez, his Assistant Manager, an expert in conditioning, for analysing players’ physical readiness. But he will also want to feel, or to even see something intangible in them before he will start them.
Then there is the question of meritocracy. Lucas Moura could not have done any more in the Ajax game to guarantee himself a start in the final.
To outsiders, the idea of him not starting, having scored a hat-trick to see his team through, would be absurd.
And yet it would most likely have to be at the expense of Son Heung-min, the club’s Player of the Season (as voted by the fans), or Harry Kane. Our captain, our talisman, our best player. The best striker in <insert ‘the Premier League’/’Europe’/’the world’ here>.
This is the biggest match of our modern history and to leave Kane on the bench, 75 per cent fit or otherwise, would be one hell of a call.
Team shape will be the final factor. Though I’ve just said it’s not Pochettino’s priority, it will be playing on his mind.
While he’s not got the measure of Jurgen Klopp yet, he will have been encouraged by his team’s performance in the last meeting of the two sides in March.
Spurs lost due to a freak last-minute own goal, but had performed largely well in a game we approached in a hybrid formation.
We played in a lopsided 3-5-2 with Vertonghen behind Rose on the left, meaning that Davinson Sanchez started. This was at a time when the squad was more depleted and so this may have simply been an example of getting the ‘most ready’ eleven out at once.
Indeed, adding Sanchez or Juan Foyth into the team would be at the expense of an attacking player and, as we’ve seen, finding one attacking player to drop to the bench is problematic enough.
So, for me, the selections come down to: Trippier or Aurier, Son or Lucas, Winks or Wanyama. And I think we will go with the following: