Leicester City fell to Tottenham Hotspur by a score of 2-0 at the King Power under the lights on Saturday night. The Leicester defense limited Spurs to only two shots on goal, but they both found the back of the net as the attack sputtered and was unable to create any chances of note over the entire 90’.
Since we’re now a week into December and we see this every week, I’m going to stop saying that Claude Puel “rang in the changes” or anything like that. I’ll let you know when the starting XI remains the same, as that will be the more notable event. City lined up with Kasper Schmeichel between the sticks behind a back four of Ricardo Pereira, Wes Morgan, Jonny Evans, and Ben Chilwell. City started the match with a midfield three of Nampalys Mendy, Vicente Iborra, and Wilfred Ndidi. Demarai Gray and James Maddison set up as wide attackers with Kelechi Iheanacho leading the forward line. Perhaps the biggest news on the teamsheet was the return of both Harry Maguire and Rachid Ghezzal. Might we be seeing a stable starting lineup in the near future? We live in hope.
City came out of the gates with both pace and purpose. The Foxes appeared to line up in a 4-5-1 in defense, shifting to a 4-3-3 when they had the ball. Leicester moved the ball patiently around the back, waiting for the visitors to commit too many players forward, and then playing long balls over the top. Iborra put Ndidi in on the edge of the area, but the Nigeria man’s half-volley was ballooned wildly over the goal. Evans found Chilwell all alone on the left flank, but his low cross was just cleared by Jan Vertongen before the lurking Iheanacho could get a foot to it.
By the quarter hour mark, Spurs calmed the game down a little and started to work the ball into the Leicester half with Dele Alli’s involvement growing with each possession. There were several nervy moments with the England man skipping through the area, the defense unable to stop him, but Alli unable to find an opening to shoot.
It was anything but one way traffic, though, as the Foxes continued to look more likely to score. Gray was a constant menace on the right, playing one-twos with Ricardo and Maddison but City could’t find the final ball to unlock the defense and get a clear look at the goal. At the other end, Captain Morgan twice made absolutely goal-saving blocks to keep the game level.
Games like that and people look at the negatives, Wes Morgan was quality...... #lcfc— Mark Newman (@newmanLCFC) December 8, 2018
For all the action, the first shot on goal wasn’t registered until deep into the one minute of time added-on. Unfortunately, it resulted in heartbreak for the Foxes. Son Heung-Min picked up the ball on the left side of the Leicester box and just drifted towards the centre. Mendy left him to Evans, who wasn’t quite able to keep up, and the Republic of Korea international fired in an unstoppable curler to give Spurs a 1-0 lead at the half.
Both sides started the second period unchanged as the Foxes hunted for an equaliser. In the early going, in was hearts-in-mouths times for Leicester fans followed immediately by heads-in-hands time for their visiting counterparts. Schmeichel cleared the ball directly to Alli, who set Song free on the left, but Morgan got back for yet another block when the Londoners really ought to have doubled their lead.
City finally got their first shot on goal when Gray cut in the from the left, but his low effort was easily saved by Hugo Lloris. Puel decided it was time to throw the dice, sending on Marc Albrighton and Rachid Ghezzal for Iheanacho and Iborra. The change in personnel meant a change in formation, with Gray moving up top in the familiar 4-4-1-1 shape.
Unfortunately, it was Spurs who took advantage of the change. Tottenham broke down the left and found Son on the right side of the six yard box. He had approximately one half hour to pick out a pass, and he chose well. He found Alli unmarked at the back post. Schmeichel got a hand to the England man’s header, but couldn’t keep it out of the back of the net.
The next 15 minutes or so saw Leicester create some furious motion in attack, but with nothing resembling end product. The lack of a proper centre-forward may have had something to do with it; Gray showed a lot of energy, but not the sort of runs into the box you need when crosses are flying in. In the meantime, Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino sent on a couple of his reserve players, Christian Erikson and Harry Kane, to try to see out the game.
How in the hell have the club come to a position where we’re calling for Maguire to come on up front? We’ve dropped the ball massively in terms of lack of strikers! #lcfc— Marky Mark (@mnorman1985) December 8, 2018
If it was good enough for Martin O’Neill, it should be good enough for us now. #MattElliott
On 77’, Puel made his final throw of the dice, sending Shinji Okazaki into the fray for Mendy. The frenetic pace of the action increased (which, if you know anything about Okazaki, comes as no surprise), but chances were still at a premium. City finally got their first dangerous-looking shot on goal on 87’ when Ghezzal cut in from the right, but it was easily covered by Lloris. Exhaustion set in and, while there were numerous shots and a tremendous amount of effort, there was no way through the Spurs defense.
As is becoming typical for Leicester City, it was a really odd game. The scoreline makes it look comfortable for Spurs which is one of those half-truths you often see in football. City certainly failed to create clear-cut chances and never really looked like scoring. But, at the other end, Spurs only had two shots on goal but wound up scoring on both of them.
Wes Morgan looked more like “Wes Morgan of old” than “old Wes Morgan”, stopping several attacks that looked as though they would result in good chances. I’m probably in the minority here, but I thought Ndidi was quite good minus the “shooting wildly from distance from positions that would make Messi think twice”. Both Ricardo and Chilwell got forward well, but there was no one to get on the end of their crosses and cut-backs
I’m going to indulge in a little editorializing here (Editor’s note: When have you not, Jake?): It’s infuriating any time we lose to Tottenham, but more so when they show us so little respect that they rest two of their key players. Even without Maguire and Jamie Vardy, Spurs were there for the taking and we just ran out of ideas in the final third. The lack of a tall striker who can get on the end of crosses is has gone from “puzzling” to “concerning”. If there’s anything we should look for in January, it should be adding another dimension to the attack.
The defeat leaves the Foxes on 22 points through 16 matches, good enough to remain 9th on the table. We travel back to London to face Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park next Saturday, and then host Manchester City in the League Cup on Tuesday.