Until last week, Harry Kane had only started one of Tottenham Hotspur’s eight Europa League games this season. Throughout the group stage and even into the last 32, Jose Mourinho saw an opportunity to rest his top goalscorer, and most important player, keeping him fresh for when it mattered most.
However, the dynamic of Spurs’ season has shifted in recent weeks. A top four finish now appears unlikely after Sunday’s North London derby defeat to Arsenal, which left Mourinho’s side 10 points adrift of Champions League qualification. The Europa League offers Tottenham their last hope of pulling up a seat at the top table.
The desperation of their situation is clear in the way Mourinho has changed his stance on playing Kane in the Europa League. It’s in this competition, not the Premier League and not even the looming Carabao Cup final against Manchester City, where Spurs’ campaign will be determined a success or failure. They need their frontman on the pitch.
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Not only did Kane start last week’s first leg of the last 16 tie against Dinamo Zagreb, scoring twice, Mourinho has confirmed the 27-year-old will also start the second leg on Thursday. “Is Harry going to play tomorrow or is he going to rest?” the Portuguese said. “I answer already that he’s going to play. The game is open, it’s an important game for us and so he plays.”
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Even without Kane, Spurs would likely have the quality and experience to progress past Dinamo Zagreb, particularly after a 2-0 first leg win. But there is now a nervousness around the club. Elimination from the Europa League at this stage would thrust into focus just how underwhelming Tottenham’s season has been. Mourinho might even face questions over his own job security.
Gareth Southgate can’t be too pleased that Kane is set to play on Thursday night. After all, the 27-year-old has a history of running himself into the ground before major tournaments. This happened in the months prior to the 2018 World Cup, when Kane picked up an injury that threatened his participation. While he was fit enough to play in Russia, Kane was well below par, even as he won the tournament’s Golden Boot.
If England are to go all the way at Euro 2020, as is their ambition, they will need a fully fit, and mentally fresh Kane to lead the line. Mourinho’s decision to now start the striker in the Europa League threatens this with the Portuguese instead placing the onus on Southgate to make sure his captain is sharp for the summer.
“If we could choose, we wouldn’t like the players to play three matches but it’s not in our hands. It’s in the hands of their national team managers,” Mourinho said, referencing England’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland.
Son Heung-min’s injury suffered against Arsenal on Sunday means Mourinho is lighter on attacking options than he was at the time of the first leg against Dinamo Zagreb, but he still has Carlos Vinicius to use as a centre forward. If the Brazilian isn’t being used to ease the load on Kane, what is his purpose at Spurs?
Along with the likes of Karim Benzema, Robert Lewandowski and Cristiano Ronaldo, Kane is one of the very best centre forwards in the game at this moment in time and so it’s understandable that both his club and country managers feel they need him. However, the way Mourinho uses Kane in the Europa League between now and the end of the season will reveal a lot about his priorities and insecurities.
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