Spurs ring the changes but keep win­ning

The Sunday Telegraph - Sport - - Football - By John Percy at the King Power Sta­dium

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

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