Tottenham boss Mauricio Pochettino admits he is not prepared to risk the long-term fitness of key trio Harry Kane, Dele Alli and Mousa Dembele despite his side’s Champions League hopes dangling by a perilous thread.
Two defeats at their adopted Wembley home have left Tottenham in a precarious position; failure to beat Monaco at Stade Louis II on Tuesday coupled with Bayer Leverkusen defeating CSKA Moscow will make it impossible for Spurs to reach the tournament’s knockout phase.
It could prove a daunting assignment for the north Londoners against a side who have not lost a home Champions League group-stage match since coming unstuck against Rangers in 2000.
Yet with a clash against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge lurking at the weekend, Pochettino appears content to gamble with the club’s European prosperity in a bid to preserve the fitness of a triumvirate that has been struggling with injury of late.
“We have to be clinical in how we pick the starting XI because we have a lot of games ahead,” said Pochettino. “This is the most important but we have Chelsea on Saturday and the level of the players is very important.
“Our selection will be if the players are fit or not, can play 90 minutes or not. We must assess players like Kane, Dembele and Alli. Can they play 90 minutes without risk in the next games? And it’s only that. We have one day less than Monaco because they played Friday.
“It’s a very important day to assess and see if the players are fully recovered. If we believe there’s some risk to play from the beginning they can play on the bench and have an impact.”
All three trained yesterday, although Kane only made his return from seven weeks out with an ankle ligament injury during the north London derby earlier this month, while Alli and Dembele have been troubled by knee and foot problems respectively.
Spurs sit third in Group E, four points adrift of leaders Monaco and two behind Bayer Leverkusen, and are already without Erik Lamela, Toby Alderweireld and Ben Davies, none of whom have travelled to France.
Pochettino, meanwhile, has urged Tottenham to box clever against Leonardo Jardim’s outfit, who sit second in Ligue 1, three points adrift of leaders Nice, and have won their previous two matches by an aggregate score of 9-0.
“It’s a game we must win and we must find the way how,” added the Argentine. “We have in front of us Monaco, a very good team we know that. But there’s more than 90 minutes to play. We always want to win.
“It doesn’t mean take more or less risks. Try to be clever and follow the plan, try to win after 90 minutes, that’s our challenge. It’s all about balance in football. Not about taking risks or not taking risks.”