Should Tottenham start Fernando Llorente or Harry Kane in the final?

BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11: Harry Kane, Fernando Llorente and Kyle Walkers-Peters of Tottenham Hotspur celebrate after the UEFA Champions League Group B match between FC Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur at Camp Nou on December 11, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images)
BARCELONA, SPAIN - DECEMBER 11: Harry Kane, Fernando Llorente and Kyle Walkers-Peters of Tottenham Hotspur celebrate after the UEFA Champions League Group B match between FC Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur at Camp Nou on December 11, 2018 in Barcelona, Spain. (Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images) /

Tottenham’s Harry Kane will be healthy enough to start the Champions League final, but does Mauricio Pochettino risk starting his ace when Fernando Llorente has proven so effective? 

After reading many contrasting opinions, the question of whether Kane should start the Champions League final isn’t, according to Spurs supporters, a mere formality. Tottenham’s talisman, after missing over of two months of the campaign with two separate ankle injuries, is still the club’s top goalscorer, bagging 24 thus far in all competitions.

Son Heung-Min, who is second on that list with 20 goals, also missed some time when he was on international duty with South Korea.

So why are so many people, if they have it their way, relegating Kane to the bench in the club’s most important match?

Anyone who religiously follows Spurs knows that Kane, after returning from a lengthy stretch on the sideline, takes some time to get back to his formidable best. Time heals most wounds but almost two months without game action isn’t optimal preparation for anyone, even those with Kane’s remarkable abilities.

What about Fernando Llorente?

In addition to Kane’s unavoidable rust build up, many supporters believe that Fernando Llorente should get the opportunity to finish what he started. The lanky Spaniard’s influence in the Champions League has shocked even the most ardent Llorente backers. Without his unexpected heroics, Tottenham would be watching the Champions League final from home.

His historic goal at the Etihad secured Tottenham’s spot in the semifinal, and we all know of the integral effect Llorente had in Amsterdam. The target man occupied Matthijs de Ligt throughout, creating constant havoc for the Ajax captain. Llorente challenged de Ligt for every ball, even those he had no right winning. Eventually, Llorente’s persistent and refusal to relent proved decisive.

By demanding unrelenting attention from Ajax’s best defender, Llorente provided space for Dele Alli, Son and Lucas Moura to run into, which led directly to Moura’s eventual last-gasp winner.

The 34-year-old, according to Squawka, won 13 of 17 aerial battles against Ajax, and sits atop the Champions League table in that category. Even more impressively, Llorente accomplished those jaw-dropping numbers after being introduced at the interval.

On Moura’s iconic winner, Llorente battled admirably and put de Ligt under incredible duress, the result of which will go down as one of Spurs’ most important moments in club history.

Many Spurs supporters never thought they’d utter the words, “Where would we be without Llorente?”

Yet here we are.

Does starting Llorente against Liverpool make more tactical sense?

The other argument for starting Llorente against Liverpool stems from the Spaniard’s success in Amsterdam. Would Llorente be able to occupy Virgil van Dijk like he did de Ligt? With all due credit to de Ligt, the young Ajax captain doesn’t hold a candle to van Dijk’s larger-than-life presence, and aerial prowess.

Blessed with the physique and strength of a bear, setting up a game plan to knock the ball direct to Llorente through the air plays right into Liverpool’s hands. van Dijk is tailor-fitted to deal with that type of assault, even against the obvious vertical threat Llorente provides.

Llorente isn’t as sturdy or strong as van Dijk, which renders his height and aerial prowess less effective. To be successful against Liverpool’s stingy defence, Spurs must play the ball on the floor, with pace and tempo. While van Dijk is also capable on the floor, he’s more susceptible to intricate, one-two passing.

Decidedly, it’s playing style that belies Llorente’s best attribute.

Grand occasions demand the best players

Divock Origi, who scored a brace against Barcelona, was Liverpool’s unlikely hero in the second leg of their Champions League semifinal, yet you don’t see the Reds debating whether to start him in Madrid.

So why, if Kane is fully fit – like reports suggest – are we debating whether Llorente should get the all-coveted starting nod? Sure, Llorente has been more impactful overall this season than Origi, but I can say with certitude that Roberto Firmino and Mohamed Salah play if they’re remotely fit.

The same should be true for Kane, who, when fit and firing on all cylinders, is irrefutably Spurs’ best player. A leader on and off the pitch, Kane is instrumental in every Spurs’ success, even galvanizing his side in the semifinal without contributing on the pitch.

Leaving him on the bench for an occasion so grand would not only betray the occasion, but the player himself.

Kane can change any game in an instant, no matter how grandiose the occasion or stiff the competition.

He’s a match winner whose ability to impact proceedings is often unrivalled. The Champions League final, for many players, is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and it would be an injustice of monumental proportions to reduce our talisman to a spectator, even if only for the first 45 minutes.

Next. Three ways Tottenham can thwart Liverpool's high-octane attack. dark

As we saw in Amsterdam, bringing Llorente in off the bench is an incredibly effective contingency plan for Spurs, one that should be utilized if, and only if, Kane isn’t impacting the match from the off like we know he can.