Tottenham Hotspur will take a slender lead into the second leg of their 2019 UEFA Champions League quarter-final against Manchester City after beating their Premier League rivals 1-0 on Tuesday night, despite losing Harry Kane to injury.
Kane was withdrawn with an ankle problem early in the second half after a clash with Fabian Delph, but Spurs rallied and took the lead when Heung-Min Son struck 12 minutes from time on home soil.
Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino provided a worrying update on Kane's chances of being fit for the second leg at Wednesday, 17 April:
City now have it all to do when the two teams meet again in eight days on at the Etihad Stadium. The Citizens will rue Sergio Aguero seeing a first-half penalty saved by Hugo Lloris, after Danny Rose was adjudged to have deflected a shot with his hand, following referee Bjorn Kuipers consulting VAR.
Kane Injury Won't Ruin Spurs' Top-4 Chances
Spurs have been here before. They know how to cope without Kane, the way they did when they won five of seven matches when the prolific No. 10 went down with an ankle injury during a 1-0 defeat to Manchester United back in January.
There's more at stake now, though, with Tottenham embroiled in a scrap for a top-four finish and a place in next season's Champions League. Spurs are fourth, a point ahead of north London rivals Arsenal and two in front of Manchester United.
Just as he did in January, manager Mauricio Pochettino turned to Hueng-Min Son, Fernando Llorente and Lucas Moura to pick up the slack. Son proved in the 78th minute how well he can answer the call.
The South Korea international's pace is a nightmare for defences, especially when combined with Lucas Moura. More than pace, Son overwhelms opposing teams with a subtle range of movement.
Few forwards have a better sense of when to ghost off the flanks into central areas or when to drop off the front and hover in the pockets between the midfield and forward lines.
Son's movement lends greater fluidity to Tottenham's attack, particularly when Dele Alli is in the mix. Pochettino didn't always have an also injured Alli to call on when Kane went down earlier this year.
Alli is more important than Kane because, like Son, he adds the element of unpredictably in the final third. He's given free rein to break from multiple angles in midfield and get beyond the frontman.
Not knowing exactly when or from where Alli will make his move keeps defenders guessing. He gave City a host of problems with his late runs.
Things are more predictable when Kane is manning the middle. City were able to zero in on the 25-year-old. Being outnumbered left Kane subjected to some rough treatment.
Alli went down holding his wrist late on, and Pochettino needs to cross his fingers the player who can make his attack tick sans Kane will be fit for the run-in.
Speaking of the run-in, Pochettino will be glad Spurs face a relatively soft run of fixtures. Aside from a trip to take on City on Saturday, 20 April, Tottenham don't face another top-six side.
Even without Kane, Tottenham will be firm favourites in home matches against Huddersfield Town, Brighton & Hove Albion and West Ham United. It means Spurs don't need to fear injuries derailing their top-four chances.
City Midfield Too Weak for CL Without Bernardo Silva
City can forget the quadruple if Bernardo Silva doesn't start the second leg. The Citizens' midfield is weak without the Portugal international's running power.
It means manager Pep Guardiola can ill-afford to be without the former AS Monaco star, even if fitness concerns dictate otherwise:
Guardiola had better hope Silva is 100 percent eight days from now. His relentless work-rate has become the key to the way City harass opponents and press the ball high up the pitch.
It's how a team generally populated with physically slight players competes in the tougher games, particularly away from home. Silva's role in this isn't lost on Guardiola:
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🗣 "To drop Bernardo Silva right now is almost impossible. It's him and 10 more players right now. I don’t know what happens at the end, but for what he’s done so far - every single game he's been perfect. Perfect." - Pep Guardiola on Bernardo. ⚽🔵 https://t.co/EELCzJ3fJE
So it's somewhat surprising Guardiola would err on the side of caution in the one tournament he would surely love to win above all else. This the trophy he was hired to bring to the sky blue half of Manchester.
It's not a stretch to say City's owners, and likely a good portion of the club's fans, would sacrifice the other two legs of an unprecedented quadruple of trophies, the Premier League and FA Cup, if they were guaranteed to win the Champions League.
Spurs will get the weekend's Premier League fixtures started by entertaining already relegated Huddersfield Town in Saturday's early kick-off. City return to domestic action with a trip to Crystal Palace on Sunday.