Both left backs are at fault as an extremely tactical encounter finishes Leicester 1-1 Spurs in our Premier League clash.
Drinks breaks were required in the searing heat, but having taken the lead, we lost our cool in the in the intense cauldron of the KP Stadium. Lack of focus, lack of concentration, call it what you want, but for a second week in a row we threw away a match from a winning position, as it finished Leicester 1-1 Spurs.
The key area for both teams was at left back. Ben Davies had a match to forget as he left Jan Vertonghen exposed for Riyad Mahrez to take advantage. On the other side Jeffrey Schlupp’s forward thinking nature and slowness to recover his defensive position let us in.
Leicester counter attacks
Leicester City have burst out of the gates this season by playing extremely rapid counter attacking football. In all three of their matches so far, they have been content with less possession, just so that they can get the ball forward extremely quickly to their front and wide players in space.
Jamie Vardy and Shinji Okazaki have boundless energy and are livewires running the channels. Riyad Mahrez jinks and changes direction on a sixpence as he darts in from the right. Marc Albrighton supplies a stream of dangerous crosses from the left and is a danger to pop up in the box when the ball is over on the opposite side.
In the hot conditions, Claudio Ranieri maybe told his side to setup slightly deeper than usual and then counter attack with greater intensity, so that energy was only expended in bursts. Leicester had just 35% of the ball, but were a menace when they did have it. Riyad Mahrez led Ben Davies a merry dance, but also showed up the slow feet of Jan Vertonghen and how our centre back struggles to quickly twist and change direction.
Leicester weren’t just playing a counter attack from deep game; they were also set up extremely narrow. As we looked at in the keys to Leicester City vs Spurs the Foxes have been playing narrow this season in the defensive phase. This sees them tuck their full backs in towards their centre backs and have the wide midfielders track the outside players. This is to force the ball outside so that the back four, with Huth and Morgan being good in the air, are able to deal with the resulting crosses.
The space, as it was so often for Spurs was out in the wide areas. The problem for us was that our three advanced midfielders were all switching positions, which was good from a fluidity standpoint, but they were often all drifting in to the middle. This is not a problem if the full backs can get forward. Kyle Walker did a decent job of getting up the pitch, but the more apprehensive Ben Davies, as per usual, struggled.
There were a few struggles that we were having due to Leicester’s set up and style of play.
Firstly, we had the majority of the ball, but much of it was in front of Leicester and they were content for us to do this.
On top of that, we were failing to get the ball out quickly enough in to the wide areas in order to stretch their narrow formation out.
Thirdly, without Christian Eriksen linking the play and drifting between the lines, we lacked any kind of central anchor in order to play off. As a result, Harry Kane often looked isolated and adrift from the rest of the formation.
Finally, linked to the fact that we didn’t have Eriksen, we weren’t pulling the Leicester centre backs around as we have done in previous matches. In our first two games this season we’ve seen Harry Kane dropping off and pulling the opposition centre backs with him. This has allowed for other runners to burst past him and look for through passes or a ball over the top. Against Leicester this rarely happened.
A brief moment that highlighted the lack of a runner beyond the striker was Kane himself getting on to a long ball over the top and shanking a left-footed shot towards the corner flag.
All that appeared to change after the interval. At the start of the second half, we did create a fantastic chance for Nacer Chadli as we used the wide areas well for once. It came about from getting the ball out quickly to Kyle Walker before Leicester could get set defensively. Marc Albrighton wasn’t able to recover in time to catch Walker and with the Leicester full backs tucking in, he was able to slide a pass around the corner and beyond left back Jeffrey Schlupp.
Unfortunately, Chadli snatched at the chance and rifled it past the near post and high in to the stands. It was an excellent opportunity and highlighted what we should’ve been doing. What’s more, it was a remarkably similar passage of play to how Sunderland had scored their second goal in Leicester’s last home game.
Spurs take the lead
With all that had been going on, we took the lead after two Mauricio Pochettino changes.
Our head coach removed Mousa Dembele and Erik Lamela, replacing them with Tom Carroll and Dele Alli. This was an interesting change as Pochettino had both players, Carroll and Alli, take up much more central positions. Leicester were playing with just a central midfield duo and Pochettino wanted to overrun them in here by purely outnumbering them. It worked and manifested itself on our opening goal.
The ball was recovered in central midfield by pure weight of numbers and Harry Kane rumbled forward with it. Leicester were caught extremely narrow, as Kane slid a pass on the diagonal for Nacer Chadli to run on to.
Along with Kane and Chadli, the freshly introduced Dele Alli also had the legs to surge forward and join them, leaving Jeffrey Schlupp, who looked fatigued, trailing. As Chadli checked on the ball, Leicester were still caught extremely narrow with Kane and Alli filling lanes in-between and outside of them.
Chadli picked out a delicious ball to the back post that Alli just had to get some kind of touch on to guide in. He did and the youngster wheeled away celebrating his first Tottenham goal.
We’d looked in the keys to Leicester vs Spurs at how left back Jeffrey Schlupp can be slow to get back in to position and the zone beyond him was the one to attack. Chadli had got in-behind him on his rash shot wide earlier in the half and now Alli had also exposed his forward-thinking nature.
Davies leaves Mahrez v Vertonghen
Whilst Leicester’s left back had been esposed, ours was also having a bad game. Ben Davies was often at fault for not protecting his centre back Jan Vertonghen. Thus, the big moments defensively came down to Riyad Mahrez exposing the slow feet and change of direction of the Belgian.
Mahrez has had a blistering start to this season and its well known that he likes to cut inside on to his left foot, with several fakes and changes of direction along the way. Ben Davies simply couldn’t handle him and got caught out of position, leaving Mahrez to expose Jan Vertonghen.
There were three big moments in the game where Davies’ defending left Mahrez open to give Vertonghen trouble. The first was on a typical Leicester quick breakout. The ball was swiftly delivered forward to Mahrez who was straight at Vertonghen with Davies trailing.
The Algerian jinked and jived his way in to the box and Vertonghen brought him down for what should’ve been a penalty. Both players had hold of each other’s shirts, but Vertonghen was lucky to escape a decision after his tackle from behind took Mahrez’s standing leg before the ball.
This should’ve been a warning but it wasn’t heeded. In the second half another weaving Mahrez run saw Vertonghen turned inside out before he thumped a low-drive off the foot of the post. Davies had easily given the ball away in the left back zone with a stray sideways pass and then wasn’t in a position to recover or help the centre back he had exposed.
It then manifested itself on Leicester’s equaliser. The problem was compounded as we lacked concentration straight from the kick-off, not the first time this has happened in recent Tottenham memory. Wes Morgan sent the ball forward and Ben Davies lost a header to Jamie Vardy. Davies was outnumbered 2v1 without the help of Nacer Chadli, who had failed to track back.
This left Riyad Mahrez free to take the flick-on unimpeded, drawing Jan Vertonghen out once more.
Mahrez, knowing he had Vertonghen on toast anytime they were in open space together, dropped his shoulder, drove inside and went straight for his trademark curling shot towards the far corner. He found the net with the unerring accuracy that has been the feature of his play this season.
In the blink of an eye it was Leicester 1-1 Spurs and the end-to-end game we had anticipated prior to kick-off was threatening to break out.
After throwing away a two-goal advantage last weekend to Stoke, we had again let slip a lead that we had worked hard for.
Leicester had the bit between their teeth and threatened to go on and win the game. At the death, another cross from Mahrez saw Wes Morgan rise above Ben Davies in a complete mismatch and send his header straight at Hugo Lloris. Either side and he would’ve scored, but thankfully it was right at our keeper.
Leicester 1-1 Spurs overall
The alarming lack of concentration to see out another match where we had grafted out a leading position is now becoming unnerving. It’s a problem we’ve seen under previous managers and coaches, but Pochettino appeared to get a handle on this last season. This was especially after talking about our lack of mental toughness after the defeat at home to Newcastle, an issue he said that he had to find answers too. It looked as if we had begun to turn the corner, as we started to score rather than concede late goals. However, the problem is back again and whatever was said and done last season needs revisiting.
Final score: Leicester 1-1 Spurs.