Leicester City will face-off against their second “big six” opponent in a row this weekend when they take on Tottenham Hotspur.
Brendan Rodgers’ men lost last week away to Manchester United in a match that many had fancied them to win. There was a great deal of momentum around the start of the season for the Foxes, with many feeling they were well placed to break into the top six spots, probably at the expense of United.
The Red Devils put paid to that notion for now; Leicester are currently level on points with United, Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs and West Ham, but just one week later, the Foxes will have another chance to gain a “big six” scalp, and given that they’re already level on points with Mauricio Pochettino’s men, they’d be able to move ahead of them in the table.
Leicester will desperately want to beat Spurs to show that the early season noise about them being genuine top six contenders had serious merit. But the Foxes have come out on top in just one of the seven matches the sides have had since Leicester’s title-winning season; Spurs meanwhile have won five. They will need to go some to get the win, but what could they do? We’ve had a look.
1. Maddison in the middle
James Maddison has played this season coming off the left-flank into central zones. Obviously the idea of moving him closer to goal is to allow him to impact matches in a better way, but it hasn’t really worked out. The Englishman created 100 chances last season, 100! Yet this campaign he looks blunted as an attacking force.
Sure, the idea of him taking touches on the flank and launching in-swinging crosses off his right foot is appealing, as is him cutting inside on that right foot to shoot and pass, but in practice this isn’t Maddison’s game and it doesn’t suit him.
Now, put Maddison in a central area with freedom to drift into half-spaces and pockets behind the Spurs midfield? Well, suddenly the kind of passes that Christian Atsu, Nicolas Pépé and Matteo Guendouzi produced to carve the Spurs defence open (for Newcastle and Arsenal) are much more likely to happen. With wide men holding the full-backs wide, the defence will be more spaced out and with Maddison central he will find it easier to thread that ball through for Vardy and cause danger.
2. Pace out wide
Midweek in Greece, Spurs went 2-0 up before being pegged back by a defiant Olympiacos. And one of the most striking elements of the comeback was the pace the Greek side had at their disposal. Specifically their first goal, where Daniel Podence simply outran the Spurs defenders. Yes, it was a nice ball by Mathieu Valbuena to Podence (the kind of pass Maddison as a no. 10 could play) but the way the Portuguese took a touch to knock it clear of Jan Vertonghen and then steamed after it before finishing emphatically was a sight to see.
And that’s what Leicester need to be looking to replicate. Hamza Choudhury is very quick, put him on the left and have him make diagonal runs off the ball. The same for Ayoze Perez. Use their pace out-wide to first pin the Spurs full-backs wide and make them respect the wide threat, then when the chance comes, dart infield to catch them unawares.
Vertonghen and Alderweireld aren’t as quick as they used to be, and Spurs’ full-back situation is far from its peak when they had Kyle Walker and Danny Rose in their pomp out there. All this to say: Spurs seem to have a weakness to diagonal runs, so make use of them! Furthermore, peel Jamie Vardy out wide on occasion and have him make those runs. Vardy is blindingly quick and has a vicious shot on him, so using him in that capacity (especially on the break) could end up being much deadlier than Daniel Podence.
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3. Be Fearless
At Old Trafford you got the sense that Leicester were playing with a degree of respect for Manchester United. They never really ran at them with the relentless energy you expected. Aaron Wan-Bissaka wasn’t flying around making double-digit tackles as he has had to do before. Sure, Leicester carried some threat but not much; they had just three shots on target in Manchester and none of those were in the second half.
This last point is more about the mental approach to the tactics: Leicester need to come at Spurs with a more ruthless energy. This is a Spurs side that looks utterly lost. Bela Guttmann said the optimum time for a manager to be at one club is three years; beyond that complacency sets in. Admittedly he was talking about dominant teams that win, but the maxim holds true for all sides really.
This is Mauricio Pochettino’s sixth season at Spurs, and his side hasn’t really changed all that much from the one he constructed soon after arrival. Looking at the starting XI from the opening game of the Premier League in his second season – four years ago – one can see Hugo Lloris, Toby Alderweireld, Jan Vertonghen, Ben Davies, Christian Eriksen and Harry Kane who all have started recently for Spurs, moreover Danny Rose, Erik Lamela and Dele Alli were all on the bench that day too.
The amount of squad inertia at Spurs is remarkable, this is a fading side. They have won just twice so far this season, and are on a run of just four wins in their last 15 competitive matches. Spurs are a side that is so settled that they’ve got a favourite armchair, a comfortable sweater and are waiting for a dog to fetch their slippers. This is a side that’s there for the taking, the Foxes just need to go for their throat.