Leicester City were defeated by Tottenham Hotspur by a score of 3-0 in London on Sunday afternoon. A James Justin own goal and a brace by Harry Kane doomed the Foxes to a costly defeat that leaves their Champions League hopes hanging by a thread.
Manager Brendan Rodgers kept the faith with the starting XI that defeated Sheffield United midweek, although one could argue he had little choice due to the multiple long-term injuries in the squad. Kasper Schmeichel kept his place in goal behind a back three of Ryan Bennett, Wes Morgan, and Jonny Evans. James Justin and Luke Thomas manned the flanks while Youri Tielemans and Wilfred Ndidi resumed their partnership in the centre of the park. Ayoze Perez and Harvey Barnes provided the wide support for striker Jamie Vardy.
The match could not have started much worse for the Foxes. In the sixth minute, Son Heung-Min drifted in from the right. He had four defenders in front of him and only an offside Harry Kane in a white shirt, so he fired in a speculative shot. It didn’t look as though it was going to trouble Schmeichel, but it pinged off of Justin’s leg, wrong-footing the keeper and dribbling into the net.
Just before the quarter-hour mark, City carved out their first chance of note. Barnes found some space in the middle and worked it out left to Thomas. The academy product returned a low cross that Barnes dummied for Vardy. The striker shaped to shoot, but his first-time effort was well blocked by Toby Alderweireld.
A flurry of half-chances fell the Foxes’ way over the next five minutes as Leicester won a succession of corners that the home defense struggled to deal with. The best opportunity came when Morgan won a header near the edge of the box and fired into the mixer. It fell to Vardy who, with his back to the goal, tried a clever-but-ineffective backheel when he may have had time to turn and smash it into the net.
Leicester were inches from an equaliser moments later. Barnes’ movement drew the defense to him on the left, allowing Thomas acres of space to run into on the flank. He picked out his cross and found Ayoze near the penalty spot. The former Newcastle man took it down on his chest and smashed a volley towards the corner, but Lloris got a finger to it and turned it around the post for a corner.
While the Foxes were well in control of the run of play, Spurs looked dangerous on the counter. A ridiculous ball over the top found Son’s perfectly-timed run, leaving the South Korea international alone in the area with Schmeichel. The half-volley was bound for the roof of the net, but the Danish stopper got up well to push it over and keep Leicester in the match.
This is the bit where I talk about warning bells not being heeded because Spurs doubled their lead from exactly the sort of counter Leicester were once famous for. Thomas gave the ball away in midfield and Tottenham pounced. Lucas Moura played point guard, picking out Kane’s run past Bennett. The England striker hit it first time, finding in the inside of the far post and leaving Schmeichel no chance.
It was 3-0 just moments later and, again, it was Kane doing the damage. The former Leicester loanee had the ball out wide on the left in what shouldn’t have been a dangerous position. He drifted inside, beating Bennett easily, and curled the ball just inside the post. While you’d have hoped the defense would have closed him down better, it was a brilliant finish and there’s no keeper on the planet who would have kept it out.
Out of nothing, Leicester nearly got one back moments later. Ayoze was allowed space in midfield and the defense just kept backing off. With no passing options available, he lined up a shot and sent a swerving piledriver towards goal, but again, Lloris was equal to it and pushed it over the bar.
That was it for what was a very, very bad half for the Foxes. The first goal was an absolute fluke, but the second and third were just poor defending and fine work from Spurs. City ran the show for a long period in the middle of the half, but couldn’t find a breakthrough and were made to pay dearly.
Remember when we used to be on the other end of stats like this? Good times...
Demarai Gray came on for Bennett at the half, presumably meaning that Justin and Thomas would play as conventional fullbacks in a back four. It took Spurs about a minute before carving out an opportunity against the revamped defense. Another turnover in midfield allowed the hosts to launch another counter. Kane this time played provider, sliding an inch-perfect reverse ball to Son, whose footing let him down when he was shaping to shoot and add to Leicester’s misery.
Lloris came to Spurs rescue again ten minutes into the second period. Moura surrended a free kick in a central position 30 yards out. Gray got it over the wall and down under the bar, but the France international keeper did well to reverse his direction and tip it over the bar.
Desperately needing a goal or three, Rodgers threw Kelechi Iheanacho into the fray, withdrawing Ayoze. The match kind of fizzled into a pattern of Leicester knocking the ball around, Spurs defending deep and looking to hit on the break, and neither side getting a great deal of purposeful attacking done.
At the water break, Rodgers made a double substitution that seemed to indicate that he felt the match beyond retrieval. Dennis Praet and Nampalys Mendy came on for Tielemans and Ndidi, moves that seemed unlikely to improve the attack or defense.
The last twenty minutes of this match represented what is absolutely the worst part about this gig. Leicester were already beaten but having to play out the clock. There were late tackles, mistimed runs, sloppy passes, and, mostly, eleven frustrated players all on different pages. There was absolutely no reason to keep watching beyond the fact that I had a match report to write and, well, it’s Leicester and I’m never going to turn off a match.
In the 83rd minute Rodgers gave George Hirst his senior debut, taking off Barnes in the process. His first action was getting absolutely wiped out by Davison Sanchez just outside the area, winning the Foxes a late free kick and a chance to get a consolation goal. Gray directly into the wall because that’s the kind of match it was.
Iheanacho nearly got that consolation in the 88th minute, firing in a diagonal drive that Lloris succeeded in turning around the post with a diving save. The ensuing corner fell to Hirst at the far post, but he planted his header well wide. He had another opportunity when played in by Iheahancho on the right, but the debutante's shot from range was well wide. Other than Evans risking picking up what should have probably been his third yellow card (not a great game for Jonny), there wasn’t much else to report before the final whistle mercifully blew.
The scoreline was unquestionably misleading in the sense that Spurs finished every chance they had regardless of difficulty, but it was also well-deserved in the sense that Leicester seldom looked threatening against the defensive shell Spurs formed around their goal. The Foxes needed a little magic today, but there was none to be found for the Foxes in London today.
Instead of calling out performances, I’d like instead to offer an extended finger to the post-match commentary. The NBC studio spent ten minutes talking about how Leicester should be happy to be where they are and “it was fun while it lasted” and basically offering the most patronizing description of the Foxes’ season one could imagine. We can do without the pat on the head, NBC. Just plump your “big clubs” and leave us out of it next time, OK?
Martin Tyler: “They’re still in Europe, Leicester, so I don’t think the season can be described as a complete collapse.”#LCFC were second at the start of the year with a 14-point cushion on fifth, Martin...— James Sharpe (@TheSharpeEnd) July 19, 2020
Apparently, it wasn’t just NBC.
The defeat leaves us on 62 points from 37 match, still technically fourth on the table due to a greater number of goals scored than Manchester United, but that margin is unlikely to survive the Red Devils match against West Ham on Wednesday. If United win, we will have to beat them by as many goals as they beat West Ham in order to qualify for the Champions League. If they draw, then a win will suffice regardless of the margin. Should West Ham do us a favor and win on Wednesday, then a draw will get us into the Champions League. I am not holding my breath.