Spurs still hanging on in title race after battling past Leicester
Jamie Vardy came off the bench but missed a penalty with his first touch of the game
Tottenham Hotspur’s Christian Eriksen celebrates scoring his side’s second goal of the game during the Premier League win over Leicester City at Wembley Stadium. Photo: John Walton/PA Wire
Tottenham Hotspur 3 Leicester City 1
To say the scene was set for Jamie Vardy was one of the understatements of the season. Dropped to the Leicester substitutes’s bench by Claude Puel, despite his excellent scoring record against big six opposition, the striker was introduced in the 59th minute with his team trailing to Dávinson Sánchez’s first-half header for Tottenham but having just been awarded the softest of penalties.
Surely Vardy would not run straight on to take the kick? He did and the Wembley crowd held its breath. In 51 previous Premier League appearances against the big six, Vardy had scored 28 goals. Thirteen had come since the beginning of last season but on this occasion, his sights were awry. Hugo Lloris, the game’s outstanding performer, went the right way to make a save that looked even more pivotal when Christian Eriksen scored at the other end for 2-0 moments later.
Vardy would get his goal on 76 minutes, a brave close-range finish, and Leicester pushed hard for the equaliser. It would have been the least that they deserved on the balance of the play. It would not come and when Son Heung-min broke away in stoppage-time to beat Kasper Schmeichel, it added up to relief for Spurs and bitter frustration for the visitors.
It was Spurs’s fourth league win on the spin and another occasion when, in the absence of Harry Kane and Dele Alli, they were not at their fluent best. Yet they found a way to the points that kept them within striking distance of the league leaders. Next up is the Champions League last-16 home tie against Borussia Dortmund on Wednesday.
Puel’s decision to bench Vardy raised eyebrows, although possibly not for those who had seen Leicester’s home defeat against Manchester United on the previous Sunday. Vardy had wanted the ball worked in behind the United defence to play to his speed but Puel’s approach was to build up more intricately. Vardy may or may not have been caught bad-mouthing his manager in a cut-away on camera afterwards.
Puel experimented with the winger, Demarai Gray, at the tip of his 4-1-4-1 formation and there was a debut for the loan signing, Youri Tielemans, in central midfield. Tielemans’s passing was on point from the first whistle, as Leicester started brightly, and they had the openings to have put themselves in front.
Harry Maguire worked Lloris from a James Maddison free-kick while the big chance followed Tielemans’s lovely throughball for Harvey Barnes in the tenth minute. The 21-year-old winger dragged his shot past the far post.
Spurs had three players booked inside the opening half-hour, with one of them being Son for diving inside the area. Maguire had lunged in riskily after taking a heavy touch and he caught the South Korea forward but the contact did not appear sufficient to send him tumbling to the ground. Son seemed to be looking for the decision, although try telling that to the home crowd. That said, there was contact.
Sánchez gave Spurs the lead on 33 minutes and it was a goal that owed everything to the team’s work on the training ground, not to mention Eriksen’s quality. Kieran Trippier pulled a corner back to Eriksen, who was lurking on the fringes of the area, and his cross was whipped into the corridor of uncertainly between Schmeichel and the Leicester defensive line. Maguire was not tight enough to Sánchez and he stooped to head home. It was his first goal for the club.
It was an entertaining first-half and, at the end of it, Leicester could feel aggrieved to be behind. Barnes blew another good chance, dragging wide of the near post after Ben Chilwell had released him, and there was also the moment in stoppage-time when Tielemans banged in a shot from an impossible angle close to the corner flag. The technique was sumptuous and it almost caught out Lloris, who fumbled the ball behind for a corner before banging into the near post.
From a Spurs perspective, the excellent Danny Rose had a glorious chance on 18 minutes, following Son’s pass and a neat jink inside. Schmeichel, though, stood tall to make a trademark block.
Leicester continued to push after the interval, they continued to look easy and threatening in their buildup play, and Gray spurned a gilt-edged chance on 51 minutes. Ricardo Pereira crossed from the right and Gray, who had found space behind Sánchez, simply had to score. His header was weak and too close to Lloris.
Then came the turning point. Vardy was stripped and ready to replace Gray when Leicester worked the ball into the area from the left. A couple of blue shirts had a nibble at it before it broke for Maddison, who crumpled to the ground under Jan Vertonghen’s challenge. The penalty award was awfully generous.
Lloris, however, would read Vardy’s intentions and when Spurs went up to the other end, they would extend their lead. Oliver Skipp charged down Pereira’s clearance – possibly with the help of his hand – and, when the otherwise ineffective Fernando Llorente played the ball square to Eriksen, he fizzed a low into the corner from the edge of the area.
Leicester refused to accept their fate. Barnes had yet another chance and it was the best of the lost, one-on-one with Lloris following Vardy’s pass but the finish was tame and the goalkeeper blocked.
Vardy scored after Pereira had swapped passes with Tielemans and crossed low and Leicester strained for the equaliser. It would not come. Vardy was off target with a half-volley and the substitute Kelechi Iheanacho shot into the side-netting. Son’s breakaway salted Leicester’s wounds. – Guardian service