Po­chet­tino has seen it all be­fore as Spurs self-de­struct again

Tot­ten­ham blow lead af­ter VAR con­tro­versy Stun­ning Mad­di­son goal seals Le­ices­ter vic­tory

The Daily Telegraph - Sport - - Total Football - At the King Power Sta­dium

Just af­ter Le­ices­ter City had taken the lead at the King Power Sta­dium, a mock­ing chant started up from the stands: “Tot­ten­ham Hot­spur, it’s hap­pened again,” the home sup­port­ers sang. It was a glee­ful bit of bait­ing, a re­minder that, in the re­cent his­tory of these two clubs, it al­ways seems to work out this way: Tot­ten­ham ease ahead and ap­pear to be in con­trol, be­fore Le­ices­ter upset all as­sump­tion, come from be­hind and seize the spoils.

What was up­per­most in the home fans’ minds af­ter Le­ices­ter’s 2-1 win was 2015-16, the sea­son that has be­come em­broi­dered into le­gend in this part of the East Mid­lands. That was the year when, with the gi­ants asleep at the wheel, Le­ices­ter and Tot­ten­ham vied for the ti­tle, only for Spurs to self­de­struct even as the win­ning post hove into view.

Things have changed in Le­ices­ter since that glo­ri­ous smash-and­grab ti­tle as­sault. Three man­agers have departed the scene, the fourth is now be­gin­ning to put his feet un­der the desk. Of the play­ers who tri­umphed three years back, only two – Kasper Sch­me­ichel and Jamie Vardy – started this game, with an­other two – Wes Mor­gan and Marc Al­brighton – watch­ing from the bench as un­used sub­sti­tutes.

Around them, ev­ery­thing else has al­tered be­yond recog­ni­tion. The team’s cre­ative hub is no longer Riyad Mahrez, but the gifted young English­man James Mad­di­son. N’golo Kante and Danny Drinkwa­ter have fol­lowed the money and now the mid­field en­forcers are the Bel­gian Youri Tiele­mans and the Nige­rian Wil­fred Ndidi, while a new cult hero has been born in the Turk­ish cen­tre-back Caglar Soyuncu. A ringer for the Shrek vil­lain Lord Far­quaad, his ev­ery ma­raud­ing run up­field and heart-in-mouth shimmy in his own box was cheered to the echo here.

Tot­ten­ham, mean­while, are much the same as they were back in that ti­tle race. The man­ager re­mains Mauri­cio Po­chet­tino; five of the start­ing XI – Danny Rose, Toby Alder­weireld, Jan Ver­tonghen, Harry Kane and Eric Lamela – were reg­u­lars in 2015-16, as were three of the sub­sti­tutes (Eric Dier, Chris­tian Erik­sen and Ben Davies), while two veter­ans of that cam­paign (Hugo Lloris and Dele Alli) were ab­sent through per­sonal cir­cum­stance and in­jury. While ev­ery­thing has changed at Le­ices­ter, Spurs are largely the same en­tity, still do­ing things the same way.

And there was some­thing fa­mil­iar not just about the per­son­nel of the vis­i­tors, but about the out­come here. This was the 2015-2016 sea­son con­densed into 90 event­ful min­utes, with added sauce pro­vided by the video as­sis­tant ref­eree. Spurs ap­peared to be in con­trol, tak­ing the lead through a quite bril­liant Kane goal in which Team Southamp­ton Tot­ten­ham Ful­ham New­cas­tle Huddersfie­ld Manch­ester United Brighton Crys­tal Palace Arse­nal Points Dropped 29 19 18 16 16 15 15 15 15 he some­how man­aged to shoot the ball over Sch­me­ichel’s head even as he was stum­bling and tum­bling.

But af­ter a wretch­edly pedan­tic VAR in­ter­ven­tion over­ruled a sec­ond from Serge Aurier, Spurs seemed to al­low them­selves to be dis­tracted by in­jus­tice, al­low­ing first Ri­cardo Pereira to score an equaliser be­fore let­ting Mad­di­son – a player un­versed in the con­cept of self-doubt – to ri­fle a sub­lime win­ner.

The crowd were not the only ones in­sist­ing it was hap­pen­ing again. As full time ap­proached, Po­chet­tino was on his haunches at the edge of his tech­ni­cal area, de­spair­ing at a lead be­ing squan­dered as it had been in Europe in mid­week, driven to tetchy dis­trac­tion in his press du­ties af­ter­wards by the obli­ga­tion of watch­ing his­tory re­peat­ing it­self, this time as a VAR farce.

There must come a mo­ment when the man­ager – or at least the man above him – starts to link the two: it keeps hap­pen­ing to Spurs be­cause Spurs re­main the same. Sure, this team have done some­thing Le­ices­ter could not come close to do­ing – they reached the fi­nal of the Cham­pi­ons League last sea­son. But they did not win it. And still they keep stum­bling as the fin­ish line draws into sight, still they con­tinue to de­pend of Kane’s fin­ish­ing, still they demon­strate the fun­da­men­tal flaw that has tripped them up time and again these past four sea­sons.

Watch­ing Spurs throw away supremacy and fal­ter at the last again, the over­whelm­ing sense was that this sea­son must surely be the last time. By next May – what­ever the next eight months might bring in near-misses – the time will be upon them to start again, to re­fresh, to re­build. And in the process, si­lence the mock­ery.

Pil­ing it on: Ju­bi­lant Le­ices­ter play­ers cel­e­brate James Mad­di­son’s win­ner

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