Leicester City are a team in transition. Three years removed from their Premier League title-winning season, they have pushed to gate-crash the so-called “Big Six.” Along the way, and through a couple of successive managers, Leicester have focused on playing as a counter-attacking side — sitting deep and absorbing pressure and then hitting back quickly through Jamie Vardy. It hasn’t exactly worked — Leicester have finished 12th, 9th, and 9th the past three seasons — not bad, exactly, but certainly not close to place in European competition.
Now Leicester are entering their first full season under former Liverpool and Celtic manager Brendan Rodgers at the helm. Under Rodger’s guidance, Leicester are trying to make the case that they can change their style of play and make a concerted push to bust into the top six for the first time since winning the league.
But can they really? Early returns are murky. Leicester have made some smart purchases in the market in recent years, buying James Maddison from Norwich in the summer of 2018 for £22m, attacking fullback Ricardo Pereira for £20m, and more recently, Ayoze Perez from Newcastle for £30m as well as making last year’s loan of Youri Tielemans a permanent move. Leicester have also had success developing homegrown talent Harvey Barnes, a 21-year old attacking midfielder who looks like a future England international.
But there have been some growing pains. Despite having the same record as Tottenham Hotspur through four matches, they haven’t yet gotten that win over a top six opponent that they’ve been itching for in order to grab a seat at the table, drawing Chelsea and losing at United. Rodgers appears to be trying to mold them from a purely counterattacking side to a more possession oriented team that plays through Tielemans ,Wilfried Ndidi and Maddison, a system that may not play to the strengths of Vardy. They looked pretty anemic vs United last weekend, tallying just 0.7 xG according to Michael Caley. They’re just 16th in the league in overall xG.
But the talent is definitely there. Leicester replaced the departing Harry Maguire by promoting Caglar Soyuncu and the defense hasn’t missed a beat — they are second in the league in xGA behind Manchester United. The tools are certainly there to put together a seriously good team. They have There’s every reason to believe that given time this Leicester team can flourish under Rodgers’ leadership, much like Liverpool did, and turn into a team that could be a thorn in the side of every top club in England.
But they’re not quite there yet, and that means it’s a pretty good time for Tottenham to play them on the road.
How will Tottenham line up against Leicester?
Setting aside the fact that Spurs played like hot garbage for most of the Olympiacos match, the rotated lineup Pochettino set up with was in theory a good one for European competition. Poch has said he would rotate over the next few weeks, and thus far he’s been true to his word. So what does that mean for Leicester?
Leicester’s strength lies in the speed of their attack, so defensively it makes sense to have the fleetest defenders at the club’s disposal, and that means Danny Rose and Serge Aurier as fullbacks, with Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen anchoring the central defense. Say what you will about Danny and Serge, but they do have the pace to deal with Harvey Barnes, James Maddison, and Jamie Vardy.
Up top, we know Harry Kane is going to start because Harry Kane always starts. I suspect we’ll see Son Heung-Min come back into the side along with Erik Lamela, with Christian Eriksen given a chance to atone for his atrocious performance in Athens on Wednesday. Say what you want about his performances this season — he’s still the best midfield creator at the club and we need him.
The interest comes in the central midfield. Moussa Sissoko should come back into the side after being rested against Olympiacos. Harry Winks, however, played 180 minutes in Spurs’ last two matches. Tanguy Ndombele meanwhile went 30 minutes and 60 minutes in Spurs’ last two; I’d argue that he could be set for another start on Saturday. There’s an off chance that Mauricio Pochettino could throw us a curve by bringing in Eric Dier, either as part of the double pivot or in a midfield three, but I’m not willing to make that prediction until Poch actually chooses Dier in a real game that counts.
That’s my predicted lineup for Tottenham Hotspur vs. Leicester. What’s yours?