Friday 28 April 2017

Familiar failings hold Spurs back

Tottenham Hotspur 1 Leicester City 1

Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli (left) and Leicester City’s Danny Simpson battle for the ball in the sides’ draw at White Hart Lane. Photo: PA
Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli (left) and Leicester City’s Danny Simpson battle for the ball in the sides’ draw at White Hart Lane. Photo: PA

Miguel Delaney

At last, a reminder of how Leicester City actually won the title, and a big indication of why Tottenham Hotspur didn't - and probably won't.

It is unlikely to be a coincidence that Claudio Ranieri's fired-up side put in one of their best performances of the season - and claimed their first away point - against a team who believed themselves to be better than the champions in last season's run-in, and it is even less of a coincidence that Spurs suffered their third successive draw without Harry Kane.

Ahmed Musa of Leicester City scores. Photo: Getty
Ahmed Musa of Leicester City scores. Photo: Getty

They haven't won in the league since what was supposedly a statement victory over Manchester City at the start of October and, although they are still unbeaten, still just don't win enough in general. This was Tottenham's 18th draw since the start of 2015-16, more than anyone else in the Premier League.

It points to the one remaining flaw in the team, despite how generally impressive they are, but the problem is that flaw is actually linked to their main strengths. This game showcased it all. Spurs are a brilliant team in how their running game overpowers opposition sides and so often overwhelms them, but the issue is that brute force doesn't really allow for the kind of precision or poise to under-cut defences. That is of course fine for around 65 per cent of your games, but this happened to be one of the 35 per cent, and there tends to be a higher chance of one of those when Harry Kane isn't playing.

Kane's intelligent movement is usually just enough to finish so many forceful attacks. They didn't have anything like that against Leicester, and it is telling that their best chances came from set-pieces or instinctive breaks, with both Jan Vertonghen and Dele Alli hitting the bar. It is even more telling their stand-in striker Vincent Janssen is so reliant on penalties. Having been awarded a spot-kick on 44 minutes for a push from Robert Huth in the area, the striker powered in his first for Spurs in the league and third overall. All of them have been from penalties.

Manager Mauricio Pochettino dismissed any concerns about Janssen, praising "his character and personality" for stepping up to take the penalty, instead blaming a general lack of "aggression" in his team.

Tottenham Hotspur's Vincent Janssen celebrates his goal. Photo: PA
Tottenham Hotspur's Vincent Janssen celebrates his goal. Photo: PA

"It's not just our striker," the Spurs manager said. "It's also our second line, to be more aggressive. We need to be more determined to score… to take the ball, to be more direct, to believe."

This draw was not just about Spurs, though. It was also about something of a resurgence in Leicester, as Ranieri proudly spoke about how "something is different" and that the "spirit" is back.

"I am pleased with a point, with our performance. I saw the Leicester spirit, the way we stuck together and fought together. A very good performance. Until now we played with a singular spirit, today was a squad spirit," said the Italian.

Ranieri also mentioned last season's run-in rivalry, and it's hard not to think they were fired by that. They certainly responded well to Janssen's strike, as Ahmed Musa equalised two minutes into the second half, finishing from Jamie Vardy's brilliant assist.

Wes Morgan (C) and Leicester City players applauds away supporters after his team's 1-1 draw. Photo: Getty
Wes Morgan (C) and Leicester City players applauds away supporters after his team's 1-1 draw. Photo: Getty

From there, Leicester were finally as solid as last season, beating away every Spurs attack.

It helped it was Janssen up front rather than Kane, of course. Pochettino insisted it's too early to say whether the England striker will be back for the derby at Arsenal next week. It's also too early to say whether Leicester are back. It's a start. Spurs, meanwhile, need to learn to finish.

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