With the 2018/19 UEFA Champions League Final in Madrid is just days away, both Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino will be finalising their tactical stratagems and personnel selections ahead of what promises to be a gripping all-English tussle between Liverpool and Tottenham Hotspur.
Even the best laid plans and preparations can be scuppered by injuries to key players however, and both Champions League finalists have fitness concerns and dilemmas to contend with in the run up to Saturday’s climactic contest.
A full complement of fit and firing players would hand either side a considerable advantage going into this weekend’s skirmish at the Wanda Metroploitano, though the fitness situation at each competing club seems to change by the day.
Read our Tottenham Hotspur vs Liverpool predictions and betting tips in our detailed match preview here.
Harry Kane match-fitness concerns
Tottenham Hotspur’s talismanic striker Harry Kane said this week that he is “ready” following his recovery from an injury that threatened to end his season completely.
Kane suffered “significant lateral ligament” damage to his ankle when he slipped awkwardly during Spurs’ UCL quarter-final first leg against Premier League rivals Manchester City on April 9th this year, but now the prolific hitman looks set to return.
“I feel good. There have been no problems so far,” said Kane.
“I started to feel my way back with the team at the end of last week. This week now is to get the fitness as high as possible.
“Then it’s down to the manager. The manager will assess it and decide whether I’m ready to go or not but, so far, I feel good and ready.”
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino also shared his views on Kane’s possible availability saying:
“I can’t say he’s 100%, whether he will be available or on the bench or out, but we are so happy and positive about his progression.
“It’s so important that he feels well and we see what happens. I’m very positive about his situation. We have one week ahead to evaluate and see how he’s progressing.”
However, having not seen a single minute of competition action in over a month, Kane is likely to lack match-sharpness even if his recovery from injury is complete, and Pochettino must decide whether to gamble and start his leading scorer in one of the biggest games in Spurs’ history.
Naby Keita officially ruled out
Explosive Guinean midfielder Naby Keita has been officially ruled out of contention to feature in Saturday’s Champions League Final.
Speaking this week, Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp said:
“There’s no chance for Naby, but he’s progressing well. We will see how it will work out for him for the Africa Cup of Nations. We don’t know that yet.”
Keita was forced off in Liverpool’s Champions League Semi Final first leg defeat in Barcelona on May 1st after a collision with Ivan Rakitic, and it was later discovered that the 24-year old had picked up an adductor strain.
The former RB Leipzig star had started to force his way into the first team picture on a more regular basis just before his unfortunate injury blow, and his inclusion in Liverpool’s starting XI for their first leg Semi Final defeat suggests that he would have been in Jurgen Klopp’s plans for the Final.
Jordan Henderson replaced Keita in the Semi Final for the second leg, and put in a sensational midfield performance to help Liverpool turn the tie on its head at Anfield.
Positive news on Roberto Firmino
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp did deliver a positive update on Roberto Firmino’s race for fitness.
The Brazilian attacker missed Liverpool’s last 3 matches of the season against Newcastle, Barcelona and Wolves due to a troublesome muscle issue, but returned to full first team training in Marbella last week.
Klopp said he is prepared to deal with Firmino’s injury situation delicately however, saying:
“Bobby trained, was part of training last week and looked really good, everything was fine. Then we took him out again. He will be in training from tomorrow on again.
“All that we saw so far looked really good and he will be fine, I’m pretty sure.”
Firmino’s return would be a timely boost for Liverpool ahead of Saturday’s Final, and when the Brazilian plays, the other two members of Liverpool’s famed attacking triumvirate, Sadio Mane and Mohamed Salah, seem to excel.
The 27-year old centre-forward tops the charts at Liverpool for Champions League goals scored this season alongside the other 2 members of the fantastic attacking trio (4 goals each).
Vertonghen declares himself fit
Versatile Tottenham defender Jan Vertonghen has provided assurances that he will be fit for the Champions League Final clash against Liverpool on Saturday
The 32-year old played the full 90 minutes of Spurs dramatic Champions League Semi-Final second leg win over Ajax in Amsterdam earlier this month, though there were fears he would miss the Final after he left the Dutch capital on crutches and wearing a protective boot.
However, speaking to Belgian news outlet VTM Nieuws this week, Vertonghen allayed those fears, saying:
“I have fully trained with the squad last week. I feel good, super good,” he said. “I have a history of ankle injuries, but I was only worried for half an hour – just after the Ajax game.”
He added: “The first assessments were positive – and you have to know that our physios are always very cautious. That gave me confidence.
“Still you have to wait for the scans, but they confirmed the diagnosis. After three days I got rid of the protective boot and the crutches.”
Vertognhen’s defensive teammate Davinson Sanchez is also expected to be available after a thigh injury.