VARDY & MAHREZ FIRE LEICESTER CITY PAST TOTTENHAM 2-1
There are still six months of the season to go but Tottenham Hotspur’s title challenge already looks to be over. It is hard to reach any other conclusion after Mauricio Pochettino’s side suffered a third successive away defeat in the league for the first time since the days when Tim Sherwood was in charge, leaving Spurs facing the prospect of being 16 points behind Manchester City by the time they run out at Vicarage Road on Saturday.
Although Harry Kane scored late on, expertly dispatching Erik Lamela’s through-ball as the Argentinian made an immediate impact from the bench on his first appearance in 13 months, the real damage was done in the first half, when Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez lit up this occasion with two spectacular goals to give Leicester their first home league win over Tottenham since 2002.
Fernando Llorente could still have snatched a point for Tottenham but the Spaniard, inside the six-yard box and with the goal at his mercy, volleyed over late on. Then came a penalty shout as Danny Rose went down following a challenge from Wilfred Ndidi. Anthony Taylor, the referee, waved away Tottenham’s appeals, however, and Leicester held on.
This had threatened to be a tricky assignment for Spurs from the moment Vardy scored that glorious early goal to silence the chants in one corner of the stadium, and by the time Mahrez added an exquisite second just before the interval, it was clear that Pochettino’s side were in real trouble. Spurs had their chances in between those two goals but Leicester were much more ruthless and the pained expression on Pochettino’s face at half-time said it all.
In many ways the tone of the evening had been set with Vardy’s opener, which exposed some poor Spurs defending. Marc Albrighton’s lofted reverse ball picked out Vardy’s run in behind Davinson Sánchez and the striker did the rest with a touch of class, stretching out his right leg to steer a controlled volley over the head of Hugo Lloris, who was caught in no man’s land as the ball sailed over his head. Having been taunted relentlessly up until that point by the Spurs fans about his wife’s presence “in the jungle”, Vardy set off in their direction, cupping a hand to his ear.
Pochettino was more concerned with what was happening on the pitch. He had started with a three-man central defence but soon moved Eric Dier into midfield, where Vicente Iborra was proving hugely influential for Leicester. Spurs had a couple of opportunities to get back into a freeflowing game, yet crucially they were unable to take them.
Moussa Sissoko squandered the first when he ran on to Harry Kane’s pass but shot too close to Kasper Schmeichel. Iborra, covering behind the Leicester goalkeeper, was well-positioned to hack the ball clear as it trickled towards the goal. Their second opening was the result of a swift counter-attack that saw Christian Eriksen release Dele Alli one-on-one with Schmeichel. Once again the Dane stood his ground and made an important save.
Leicester would probably have settled for a goal advantage at the break but the night got better for them on the stroke of half-time. With Rose caught upfield, Mahrez cut inside Jan Vertonghen, gliding across the pitch before curling a brilliant left-foot shot from 20 yards into the far corner.
Shinji Okazaki, glancing Albrighton’s cross over, could have made it 3-0 early in the second half. Pochettino responded by withdrawing Sissoko and Mousa Dembélé and replacing them with Son Heung-min and Llorente as Spurs desperately searched for a goal. Eriksen, inside the six-yard box and with only Schmeichel to beat, looked like doing just that but sliced horribly wide. Kane, converting Lamela’s pass, was not so forgiving as he thumped home, but this was not TO BE Tottenham’s night.
Dele Alli’s post match comments say it all:
“It was a very disappointing performance from us in the first half,” said Alli. “We should never have been in the situation where we were two goals behind. It was not good enough.
“We can’t focus on that. After performances like this we have to keep picking up points. To lose to Leicester away is disappointing but we have to pick ourselves up.”