If Tottenham are to return to the Champions League, their route may lead through Zagreb. Defeat in Sunday's North London derby left them six points adrift of the Premier League's top four with 10 games to go and when their last 10 matches have produced just 12 points.
So the Europa League assumes a greater significance. Jose Mourinho is already without one of his potent double act, with the hamstring injury Son Heung-min sustained against Arsenal sidelining the South Korean, and is taking no chances as he guaranteed he will select the other.
Spurs take a 2-0 lead to Croatia, thanks to a Harry Kane brace, but Dinamo Zagreb should expect a reunion with Tottenham's 26-goal top scorer. It represents bad news for the underused Carlos Vinicius but Mourinho said: "Kane is going to play. The game is open and it's an important game so he plays."
Son represents a different issue. Mourinho said he is not sure when the winger will be fit to feature, and Tottenham visit Aston Villa on Sunday. Yet if he does not play then, his manager suggested he should not join up with his country for their friendly against Japan.
"If a player is injured, it doesn't matter if it's a friendly or an official match,” he said. “If we get to next week and he is injured and we can prove that to the Korean football association then what can they do. If he can't play for the club, he can't play for his country."
If it offers the possibility of one club-versus-country row, Mourinho is seeking to avoid another. Before the October international break, he sought to ensure that Gareth Southgate did not over-play Kane.
England face another triple-header and Mourinho hopes Kane’s minutes will be rationed without him needing to intervene. “I believe [Southgate] has a good relationship with Harry,” he said. “I hope that in between them, without me being in the middle saying something, they can find some compromise to protect the player a little bit."
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The Portuguese is the biggest contributor to Kane’s heavy workload, using him three times in Europa League qualifiers, four more in the group stages and 38 times in total this season.
Only Son and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and have made more appearances but neither will feature on Thursday with the Dane suspended. Defender Joe Rodon, who was not named in Spurs’ Europa League squad, is also ineligible but Giovani Lo Celso, who has not played in 2021, is back in contention to add to the attacking options.
“He is a very talented player with very competitive qualities,” Mourinho said. “I don't think he has 90 minutes in his legs but he's looked very confident.”
Spurs will be favourites to reach only their fifth European quarter-final in 29 years. While Dinamo beat Arsenal in 2015, Tottenham have not lost to Croatian opposition since 1984 and have not gone out of Europe after taking a 2-0 first-leg lead since 1963-64. But by selecting Kane, Mourinho is seeking to reduce the risk of history belatedly repeating itself.