Spurs ring the changes but keep winning
Tottenham Hotspur’s supporters like to remind us that Mauricio Pochettino is magic and this was another of those nights where their manager could do no wrong.
Pochettino took a calculated risk by resting stars Harry Kane and Christian Eriksen, ahead of Tuesday’s crucial date with Lionel Messi and Co, but was rewarded with a result which ensures hopes of the Premier League title linger on.
Son Heung-min’s excellent first-half strike and Dele Alli’s 50th goal in a Spurs jersey will send Pochettino’s men to Barcelona in confident mood and, on current form, it would be foolish to write them off. This was their eight victory from the last nine games and enough to lift Spurs above Arsenal and Manchester City’s conquerors Chelsea into third place, a mere six points behind leaders Liverpool.
Pochettino’s bold decision to leave Kane and Eriksen on the bench was fully vindicated as Claude Puel’s Leicester slipped to their first defeat since Oct 22. Spurs will face Barca believing that anything is possible. Pochettino said: “It is a game we must win but we will arrive in the best condition, though Barcelona are one of the best teams in Europe.
“It will be a massive occasion and it is true they have already qualified. I was thinking of Barcelona with my team here, but the belief we have in our squad is massive. Harry needed a rest because it is not possible to play every three days, it was the best decision for the player.
“We are also there fighting in a very good position in the Premier League. The most important thing is to be there and be there in the last five, six or seven games to fight.”
Kane has proven a one-man wrecking ball to Leicester over the years, with 13 goals in 11 appearances before Saturday night against the club where he once had an underwhelming spell on loan. Indeed, this was the first time Kane and Eriksen were both absent from a Spurs starting XI since a 4-0 defeat against Chelsea in March 2014, but Pochettino clearly had other priorities. “Barcelona, we’re coming for you,” was chanted frequently by their support.
Despite those changes for Spurs, this was always going to represent a huge test for Leicester, who were again without the injured Jamie Vardy. Leicester lifted the league title two years ago, and have spent over £100million since, but continue to rely on their 31-year-old talisman. Kelechi Iheanacho, signed for £25million from Manchester City last year, endured a difficult evening as a lone striker.
The home team did start brightly, with Wilfred Ndidi hooking a shot horribly wide after he was sent clear by Vicente Iborra while Demarai Gray and Ben Chilwell threatened sporadically on the flanks.
Spurs were struggling to make many opportunities of their own and Son was frequently isolated up front against the towering figures of Wes Morgan and Jonny Evans, offering no hint of what was to follow.
But out of nowhere, Spurs took the lead in first-half injury time with what is now a signature goal from their South Korean. Coming inside on his left foot, Leicester’s defence stood off and Son curled a wonderful shot past Kasper Schmeichel from 25 yards.
Spurs were in the ascendancy in the second half and after 58 minutes, the game was put beyond Leicester.
Son was released down the left and stayed patient, waiting for team-mates to find space away from Leicester’s defenders, before sending over an exqui- site cross that Alli dispatched with a diving header at the far post. The halfcentury was up, a remarkable personal achievement, and Spurs were coasting.
Pochettino even allowed himself the luxury of bringing on Eriksen and Kane for the final stages.
Leicester did battle for a consolation but perhaps Puel needs to rethink his strategy for next month’s transfer window after such a flat performance. Puel said: “I’m frustrated and it was tough to get back into the game after the two goals. We conceded at bad times and we didn’t show enough intensity. We have a young team and we must give them opportunities to improve.”
Job done: Harry Winks (left) and Dele Alli celebrate the latter’s goal for TottenhamDon’t miss your exclusive Spurs newsletter