Mauricio Pochettino’s managerial career has so far been determined by one night in Amsterdam, his team in Tottenham, mounting the least likely returns to reserve their place in their first Champions League final.
Against the backdrop of the full-time festivities was the figure of Harry Kane, clad in a spur suit, limping on the field, and the realization that he was still a few weeks from his recovery from a serious ankle injury.
Speculation about Kane’s fitness dominated the three weeks of coverage leading to the final against Liverpool – will Pochettino stick to the newly discovered hero Lucas Moura, or will he throw Kane back to the deepest parts?
The England captain played 90 minutes in Madrid, and his lack of meaningful presence in front set the tone for one of the darkest showcases in the history of football. Many factors have ensured that the game is not classic, but your mascot is essentially playing on one leg and with half a tank left in it will definitely not help anyway.
Now at least Pochettino and Spurs know that even when Kane starts, they can’t create a new miracle and they don’t have to wonder “what if” the best player in the club no play the whole biggest game in their history.
A small silver lining, but now the Argentine has to be brave in dealing with Kylian Mbappe’s injury.
The fast Frenchman missed the victory of PSG over Lance at the weekend with a calf injury and while he was with the team traveling to Manchester for his Champions League semi-final match with Man City, he was seen limping heavily before their flight.
He honorably saw the effects of the game with the shadow of his best player at a crucial moment before and could not take the same risk again.
Mbappe’s performance in the first match was so anonymous that many speculated that he was actually injured. Not surprisingly, these suspicions were confirmed when the dust settled.
PSG put City on the knife like no other team has done this season in the first half, circling the rings around the most tactically perceptive team in world football. Leading with 1: 0 at the half, the fans from the continent tried lyrically for the flawless game plan of Les Parisiens.
But when the chips fell in the second half, they could not hook Pep Guardiola’s side. Neymar failed to create anything out of nothing, eastern Mbape could not enter from behind.
Pochetino said the 22-year-old will have a late fitness test before deciding if he can play a role at Etihad Stadium on Tuesday, but if there is any doubt about his abilities, then the PSG boss must stand firm and keep it away from the starting lineup.
The narrow semifinals are played a lot like the fourth quarter of the NBA playoffs – the clock seems to be counting down, not up. Being able to get a burst of Mbappe off the bench to change the game is a much better scenario than must defend their lives against the bloody city of Manchester without another threat ahead.
Keeping such a superstar out of the starting XI in such a big game will obviously have a large, enlarged glass overhanging, but Pochettino is not a person with regret. He is a man with lemons in his office because he believes that they absorb bad universal energy.
Much of the burden will return to Neymar to play the role of goal scorer as well as playmaker once again, but this is the way he always thought he would be – his team, his responsibility. Honor there is to make the right conversation to save the PSG season.
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