It’s been two months since Tottenham Hotspur rolled to a 2-0 win over a Jamie Vardy-less Leicester City at the King Power Stadium. Not a whole lot has changed since that match: Vardy is back and is still the Foxes’ leading goal scorer with 7 goals this season. They are solidly mid-table — currently in 11th place — but it hasn’t been going that well lately.
Apart from an improbable draw at Liverpool two weeks ago, Claude Puel’s side have picked up only four points from a possible 18, and are currently on a streak of four matches without a win. Despite what looks like on paper a pretty good attack, they’re not creating a whole lot of chances, and those chances aren’t leading to very many shots. Their xG is right where it should be for their table position. Were it not for the injuries to Kane and Alli, I’d feel a lot better about this match.
Leicester’s defense, however, is still pretty good — currently seventh in the league based on goals against. Kasper Schmeichel is a solid keeper, and Claude Puel has his side set up in a well structured formation that only allows 11.6 shots per match, just ahead of Spurs. That should be a giant neon warning sign for Spurs, who are missing Harry Kane and Dele Alli and aren’t putting up the same kind of shot numbers in their absence. Son Heung-Min has picked up some of that chance creation burden, but Spurs have made a habit recently of leaving it late to get their winners. Against a good Leicester defense, they may find it more difficult on Sunday, and it’s easy to see Spurs shipping a dumb goal and finding it difficult to score.
I was concerned about playing an injury-ridden Leicester in December at the King Power, and I shouldn’t have been — Spurs mostly dominated that match with Kane and Eriksen starting on the bench. If anything, I’m more concerned about playing a nearly fully healthy Leicester at home without Kane and Dele. That might just be fatalism, but Spurs still haven’t fully convinced me that they can score without their two leading scorers. At least, it’d be nice if Spurs can pick up a goal before the 80th minute.
How will Tottenham line up against Leicester?
In some ways, predicting Spurs’ lineup against Leicester is about as straightforward as it’s been in the past couple of months. The injury situation is a known quantity. Harry Kane and Dele Alli are both still rehabilitating their long-term injuries. Ben Davies is still recuperating as well. Eric Dier will miss the match with a virus. Vincent Janssen has a “knee injury” (which I assume is code for “he is not in my plans”).
With Son Heung-Min taking back his rightful place as Tottenham’s primary goal scorer, the questions are more in the finer details than in the broad strokes. At some level this is as good as Spurs have had it since December.
Spurs have been relatively fortunate in that they haven’t had to play anyone especially outstanding while two of their best players have been out injured, but Leicester are a solid side with dangerous attacking talent. Spurs defeated a Jamie Vardy-less Leicester side at the King Power back in December, but this time the tables have been turned — Leicester are without only Marc Albrighton and Daniel Amartey.
I feel confident enough in Spurs’ ability to corral players such as Vardy, James Maddison, and Demarai Grey. The key, as it has been for the past few weeks, is whether Spurs will be able to put together enough offense to get a goal or two past Kasper Schmeichel.
There’s a decent chance that Pochettino attempts to negate the pace of Vardy by starting in a back three, which allows for the fullbacks to push forward more. That formation also allows Spurs to get all of their best players on the pitch. The big question is what, if anything, Pochettino will do with Dortmund coming midweek. It’s an opportunity to keep some players fresh for the Champions League, though obviously Son will start both matches. Fernando Llorente could start on Sunday, or he could continue his role as late-match super sub. What about Lucas Moura and Eric Lamela? It’s hard to say. They will both be on the bench if they aren’t in the starting XI, which will give Pochettino options.
Dortmund looms over all. Will Poch rotate? Will he ride his luck and hope his key players can play 180 minutes in three days? Will it be enough for a win? Or will Spurs fall for the first time in nearly a month? (They won’t draw, because Spurs don’t draw matches now, it’s a thing.)
That’s my predicted lineup against Leicester City. What’s yours?