Leicester City fell to Tottenham Hotspur by a score of 3-1 Sunday afternoon in north London. Goals by Davinson Sanchez, Christian Eriksen, and Son Heung-Min doomed the Foxes to defeat despite a consolation by Jamie Vardy, who also missed a penalty. The scoreline flattered the hosts, who were on the back foot for long stretches of the match but managed to convert the few chances they had.
Manager Claude Puel didn’t make the wholesale changes we’ve seen in the past, but the changes he made were bold ones indeed. Kasper Schmeichel retained his place in goal behind a back four of Ricardo Pereira, Jonny Evans, Harry Maguire, and Ben Chilwell. Wilfred Ndidi sat back in a holding role, while Rachid Ghezzal, Youri Tielemans, James Maddison, and Harvey Barnes got the nod in midfield behind lone striker Demarai Gray.
Jamie Vardy has been involved in 7 goals in 7 league games against Spurs.— Ian Stringer (@StringerSport) February 10, 2019
4 goals and 3 assists.
I’m sure there’s a plan in there somewhere ♂️
The opening exchanges were wide open and may have just favored the visitors. Tielemans’ passing ability was on display, creating chances early chances for Madders and Barnes and setting Gray on his way in the most Drinkwater-to-Vardy way possible. Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris wasn’t called into action beyond turning a Maguire header over the top, but it was promising stuff from the young Foxes.
At the other end of the pitch, Spurs were finding gaps at the back of the City defense but were having no more luck getting shots on target. There was moment of concern when Son Heung-Min went down in the box and referee Michael Oliver blew his whistle, but it was to issue the Republic of Korea international a yellow card for a dive.
The Foxes were soon back to creating chances, but unfortunately, back to putting everything wide of the net as well. It was very much against the run of play that the hosts took the lead just after the half hour mark. Spurs worked a short corner to Christian Eriksen, whose cross was absolutely unplayable. Davinson Sanchez dove to get his head on it and left Schmeichel no hope of saving it.
Leicester’s reaction to going behind was positive, but not particularly effective. The Foxes continued to pepper the hoardings behind the net with shots. By the time the half-time whistle blew, City had eight shots, but only one on target. No shot was more spectacular than the one Tielemans hit right before the whistle. Firing the ball in from the left corner, it looked for all the worlds like he was going to cross the ball, but instead, his right-footed effort swerved wickedly and Lloris was forced to turn it outside the post.
Both managers kept the faith in their starting XI to start the second period. Leicester continued the pattern of having the majority of the chances but added the wrinkle of “putting some shots on goal”. Ricardo fired in a perfect cross from the right and found Gray just yards in front of goal, but the former Birmingham man’s header was directly at Lloris. Gray managed another shot from a quick turn inside the area, but it was again directly at the Spurs keeper.
The Foxes should have been level just before the hour mark. A move down the left resulted in some scrappy challenges in the Spurs’ box, the last of which, by Jan Vertonghen on Maddison, was adjudged to have been a penalty. It was, in the vernacular, “soft”. Jamie Vardy, who was waiting to come on for Gray, was sent on to take the penalty with his first touch of the match. The effort was far too close to Lloris and the France keeper was able to turn it around the post with ease.
As is often the case, the Foxes were made to pay almost immediately. Defending deep in his own half, Ricardo tried a difficult pass when a simple one would have done the trick. His effort blasted off of Oliver Skipp’s elbow and was picked up by Erickson outside the area. Spurs’ Denmark international curled his shot just inside the post, leaving Leicester’s Denmark international well-beaten and doubling the hosts’ advantage.
Leicester missed a gilt-edged chance to get back into the match just moments later. Vardy won a high ball just outside the penalty area, drew the defenders to himself, and laid it off to Barnes who was one-on-one with Lloris. The academy product’s effort forced a fine leg save from the busy keeper, his first difficult save of the evening.
The Foxes were back in the match on the 75’ minute mark through a marvelous team move. Madders worked the ball out right to Ricardo, who played a one-two with Tielemans on the edge of the area. The Portugal man sent in a low cross that split the difference between Toby Alderweireld and Lloris, which was all the room Vardy needed to score from close range.
Puel sent on Kelechi Iheanacho and Shinji Okazaki for Ghezzal and Barnes respectively in an effort to find the equalizer that looked like it just might come. Iheanacho made a fine move on the wing to create space but put his shot just wide. A corner kicked found the head of Ben Chilwell who put the shot on target but couldn’t beat Lloris.
Alas, it was not to be. A loose pass from the left was quickly turned into a Spurs counterattack. Ndidi was wrong-footed by the through ball to Son, who was off to the races. The Korea international took the ball the length of the pitch and sent Schmeichel the wrong way to restore the two goal advantage for the hosts. It was literally the first thing that Ndidi had done wrong, and the first thing that Son had done right the entire match.
This was a much closer match than the scoreline indicated. After managing only one shot on goal in the first half, the Foxes put eight on frame in the second period. Even without being awarded a questionable penalty, Leicester created more quality chances than the hosts. It’s hard to say we deserved more because “putting the ball in the back of the net” is a key component of goal-scoring and we struggled with that bit, but otherwise? This was a good performance and the result was a harsh one.
Claude Puel will come under fire for starting Ghezzal over Vardy and I don’t think that’s unfair. When the team struggles to convert chances into goals, you can question the manager’s decision to leave his most-clinical striker on the bench. However, I think he also deserves a great deal of credit for how the team performed. Six of the starting eleven were under the age of 23 and they bossed a title-chasing Spurs team for much of the match. There were glimpses today of what this club could become and Puel’s faith in his youngsters is a big part of that.
What a difference a passer makes. #LCFC go from slow and sideways to precise and penatrative.— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) February 10, 2019
Good start, this. Tielemans excellent. Playing a 4-1-4-1 helps too.
There were more standout performances than you’d expect for a 3-1 defeat today: both fullbacks looked good at both ends of the pitch, Ndidi was far more effective in a lone holding role than he has looked of late, Madders was back to his old influential self and Barnes could have had a hat trick on another day. For me, the most exciting, if not the best, performance was that of Tielemans. His range of passing and clever movement are game-changers for a Foxes side that can become one-dimensional in attack. Whatever Monaco wants for him, we should just pay it now.
The defeat leaves the Foxes on 32 points from 26 matches, good enough for 12th on the table. That’s the bad news. The good news is that we don’t face another top six side until 27 April when we host Arsenal. We face Crystal Palace in two weeks at the King Power on Saturday the 23rd.