Pochettino has seen it all before as Spurs self-destruct again
Tottenham blow lead after VAR controversy Stunning Maddison goal seals Leicester victory
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