Thursday evening saw the King Power Stadium play host to the last contest under floodlights of the 2016/17 Premier League campaign. With both teams having ostensibly little to play for, one may have expected a fairly tight game at a lesser intensity. What ensued was quite the opposite.
Leicester, without both first choice centre halves [Morgan and Huth] and numerous central midfielders [Drinkwater, King and Mendy] were forced to improvise. Christian Fuchs maintained his partnership with Yohan Benalouane from the Manchester City match given City’s dearth of options whilst Ben Chilwell was drafted into the left-back slot. Daniel Amartey signified the only other change next to Wilfred Ndidi as the Foxes adopted their usual 4-4-1-1 shape.
Tottenham had injury concerns of their own and were without both Walker and Trippier for this clash. With that in mind, many assumed manager Mauricio Pochettino may revert to a 4-2-3-1 we have seen at various stages of the season with Eric Dier filling in at full-back. Instead, the Argentine opted for his more customary 3-4-2-1 system and brought in Moussa Sissoko as an auxiliary right wing-back.
The opening minutes brought little action from either side as both settled into the match. The first key tactical battle, however, had been won by the Lilywhites. Spurs’ attacking trident was unpredictably speared by Son Heung-min as Harry Kane operated in a slightly withdrawn role on the left – vaguely similar to how Massimiliano Allegri has so shrewdly deployed Mario Mandžukić for Champions League finalists Juventus. This created immediate problems in Leicester’s backline as Benalouane over eagerly stepped out to try and confront the Tottenham forward. More than just leaving the other three defenders exposed, Kane made astute use of his body weight to peel off the Frenchmen time and time again to create three-on-three scenarios in attack.
Tottenham’s left side continued to give Leicester a headache until Spurs ultimately broke the deadlock courtesy of Kane himself. Son then doubled their advantage in a move that showcased this sides wonderful technical ability. Dele Alli’s nonchalant lofted pass expertly dispatched by the South Korean. The deficit only led the Foxes to become more one-dimensional. Trying to make use of their own left channel, through-balls to Jamie Vardy were regularly read and intercepted by Alderweireld with consummate ease.
Half-time brought with it a structural switch as Craig Shakespeare decided to match Tottenham up in a 3-4-2-1. Shinji Okazaki was replaced by Islam Slimani whilst Vardy and Riyad Mahrez were asked to supplement the striker from wide positions. This tactical alteration proved particularly beneficial for the latter and, as Mahrez’s influence grew on the game, so did Leicester’s. Now freed from his defensive shackles, the Algerian immediately adopted a more advanced position. Unfortunately, the inconsistency that has plagued Mahrez’s underwhelming season reared its head as the winger wasted copious chances whether it was from an over-elaborate dribble, or a feeble long-range effort.
The changes at first seemed well-founded with Leicester enjoying a 10-minute period of dominance. Their pressure payed off as the Blues’ best performer on the night, Chilwell showed composure beyond his 20 years of age to cut inside and slot the ball into a goalkeeper-less net following Hugo Lloris’s sweeping clearance.
The game now seemed alive with both sets of fans exchanging incandescent slurs as the rain tumbled down. Leicester’s flicker of hope, though, was soon extinguished with their goal providing nothing more than a wake-up call for Tottenham. 2-1 swiftly became 3-1 as Kane capitalised to head home his brace at the far post.
Whilst the attacking trio were undoubtedly causing Leicester no end of problems, it would be remiss not to mention the impact of one Moussa Dembélé. Playing at the fulcrum – as he so usually does – the Belgian provided the lubricant to Pochettino’s well-oiled machine. His fluid dribbling, strong centre of gravity and line-breaking passes seamlessly transitioned defence to attack. Each move driving another dagger into the already wounded Foxes.
After the third, Leicester capitulated. Benalouane was taken out of the firing-line as Leicester sought to play more of a 3-3-3-1; Amartey plugging the gap in defence. The home side seemed horribly disorganised as all communication and movement broke down. Having made wholesale changes to the line-up in a desperate attempt to salvage a point, Shakespeare’s plan backfired drastically.
Kane – driven by the individual motivation to capture the golden boot – demonstrated his ruthless streak. As the saying goes ‘when it rains, it pours’ and the England international added the fifth and sixth goals to compound Leicester’s misery. Amartey helplessly backed off the onrushing forward as he cut inside onto his favoured right foot and scored two identical chances past Kasper Schmeichel’s near post.
Given that both clubs didn’t have much at stake, Tottenham seemed to unleash all their pent-up rage from this, and last seasons failed title charges in one devastating display. Pochettino has constructed a system that is as strong and stable as Teresa May’s proposed future for Britain. Affording defensive stability whilst maintaining attacking creativity through innovative utilisation of half-spaces. What was a forgettable night for the Foxes may well live long in the memory of Tottenham Hotspur supporters who will be optimistic that next season can be third time lucky.