The headline news before Tottenham took on Leicester in the Premier League revolved around Claude Puel’s decision to omit Jamie Vardy from his starting XI and instead select Demari Gray as the lone striker. Tottenham again deployed a diamond shape in midfield, with Harry Winks at the base and Oliver Skipp and Moussa Sissoko either side.
Leicester were aiming to win for the first time in five games (when they beat Everton away) whilst Spurs were looking to maintain pressure on Liverpool and Man City in the title race.
Leicester’s fast start
Leicester created the best chances in the opening 10 minutes as Harry Maguire headed over from a free-kick. Harvey Barnes also had an early opportunity after an incisive through ball from the impressive Youri Tielemans between Kieran Trippier and Davinson Sanchez, but he pulled his shot wide of the far post.
Leicester’s fast start had a lot to do with the prominence of vertical passes that were played as soon as they regained possession. Tielemans, who was making his debut, proved to be crucial to this plan as he is a more progressive passer of the ball than both Wilfried Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy, who have been regulars in the midfield this season.
This was a clear tactic to exploit the spaces that were left when Tottenham’s full-backs pushed on into wide areas. Due to the narrow shape of their midfield, this left the full-backs as the players responsible for providing width, which in turn left spaces in wide areas for Leicester to take advantage of.
Tottenham’s crossing emphasis
Tottenham looked to create many crossing opportunities to take advantage of Fernando Llorente’s heading ability. Due to the diamond shape of the midfield, the width was provided by the full-backs, Danny Rose and Kieran Trippier.
When Tottenham did work the ball wide and into the full-backs, more often than not the Leicester defence were able to comfortably deal with the crosses into the box. Both Maguire and Jonny Evans were dominant in aerial duels with Llorente. As a result of their dominance, Tottenham began to work the ball through central areas, trying to combine through Christian Eriksen.
Leicester’s counter-attacking threat
Leicester were happy to sit behind the ball and look to contain Tottenham. They very rarely pressed aggressively with intent to regain possession, instead, falling back into a 4-5-1 shape and looking to counter-attack.
When Leicester regained possession of the ball they often looked to counter-attack using the speed of the front players. The holding midfielders would look to play vertical passes into the more advanced midfielders or striker who all looked to run behind the Tottenham defence. This was a plan that Leicester constantly looked to use to exploit the high defensive line of Tottenham. However, it made Vardy’s omission from the starting lineup even more mystifying.
Tottenham strike first
Tottenham took the lead against the run of play with a well-worked set-piece goal. Kieran Trippier played the ball back to Eriksen who was positioned just outside the penalty area, and as the Leicester defence pushed out he delivered the ball perfectly into the vacated space for Sanchez to head the ball home.
A crucial five minutes
The match swung in a five minute period in which Tottenham scored shortly after Leicester had missed a penalty. Leicester regained possession in the middle of the pitch and once again looked to combine with vertical passes to counter into space. This time it was Ndidi and Gray who combined on the left-hand side exploiting the space left by the advanced Trippier to get behind the Spurs defence.
After the ball ricocheted in the penalty area, James Maddison was fouled by Jan Vertonghen. Vardy, who was waiting to be brought on stepped up with his first kick off the game but saw his penalty saved by Hugo Lloris. Less than five minutes later, a poor clearance from Ricardo Pereira rebounded to Llorente who laid the ball off to Eriksen on the edge of the box who fired past Kasper Schmeichel.
Wasteful Leicester, clinical Tottenham
Leicester still created chances, with perhaps the most guilt edged falling to Barnes in the 65th minute. A long kick from Lloris was headed back by Maguire towards Vardy, who outmuscled Winks and laid the ball into the path of Barnes. Somehow the Leicester man failed to score from little more than six yards out.
Leicester finally got the goal their play deserved after a well-constructed 18-pass move. They patiently moved the ball from side to side before Ndidi switched the ball out to Pereira who had isolated himself against Rose. A quick one-two played with Tielemans released Pereira in space behind the Spurs defence and his low cross was converted by Vardy.
Tottenham wrapped up victory with a late goal courtesy of a long clearance by Sissoko that was missed by Ndidi. This left Son with half the pitch to run into before placing the ball past Schmeichel to seal the 3-1 win.
Leicester leave Wembley with nothing despite creating by far the best chances in the game. Their incisive combinations caused Tottenham problems all afternoon and they were only let down by some poor defending.
Whereas Leicester failed to convert the many chances they created for themselves, Spurs were clinical despite having fewer clear chances. The seemingly growing pressure on Puel will not be dampened with this result. For Tottenham, meanwhile, it’s another somewhat unconvincing win that keeps them quietly in the title race.
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