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Know your Tottenham opponent: Leicester City

Leicester are struggling heavily and Spurs will be looking to get right after a disappointing UCL loss in Lisbon.

Tottenham Hotspur v Leicester City - Premier League Photo by Tottenham Hotspur FC/Tottenham Hotspur FC via Getty Images

It was the worst performance of the season for Tottenham Hotspur when the squad traveled to Lisbon for their first away match of the 2022-23 Champions League campaign. Despite the bright start to the match, Spurs looked awfully leggy even with six-day break after last Saturday’s Premier League match against Manchester City was postponed. Spurs also seemed bereft of ideas at multiple points in the match despite having more quality than the Portuguese side.

To be fair to Sporting, they looked up to the occasion headlined by an up-and-coming manager in Rúben Amorim who seems to be one to watch for the future. They defended quite well despite a couple of injuries to their back line and while they did not create much in the first 80 or so minutes outside of an insane run by former Tottenham academy member Marcus Edwards playing tiki-taka football through the lines, they made Spurs pay late in the match with two goals.

Reflecting back on the match and the performance will show that more impact will be needed from the right wingback position. Emerson Royal seemed to be in the crosshairs of a lot of Spurs supporters and while the Brazilian has been OK this season, this was a match where his lack of consistent delivery into the box as well as his struggle in build-up play was abundantly clear.

Another complaint levied against Antonio Conte was his lack of rotation. Despite having five subs, Spurs used just one in this match — Dejan Kulusevski. It was clear all match that Spurs’ front 3 had not been playing well and a player like Kulusevski could immediately come in and knit play together by linking the attack from midfield to the front three more effectively. Against Marseille with 10 men, Conte subbed Kulusevski in for Emerson with the clear intention of going for the goal. However, against Sporting, Heung-min Son made way for Kulusevski, potentially alluding to the stance that Conte may have been comfortable with just a draw in the match.

Regardless, it was a frustrating showing and a poor match for Spurs and supporters will be hoping that the performances improve greatly and quickly as we kick into a stretch where Spurs will have three games a week. Spurs will be back in the league on Saturday and will be home to bottom-of-the-table Leicester City.

To get ready for this match, we are once again performing the “Know your Opponent” series by speaking to Jake Lawson of Fosse Posse, SB Nation’s Leicester City blog. We asked five questions about Leicester, what they did this summer and what to expect for Saturday. In addition, we returned the favor by answering questions for Spurs’ side. If you are interested in that, refer to the Fosse Posse blog in the coming days.

RR: After being somewhat of a darling in the Premier League in the past couple of seasons in large part due to their recruitment strategy, the 2022-23 season has yet to really get going. What is plaguing the Foxes and Brendan Rodgers at this time?

JL: I just wrote an absurdly long piece on this very subject recently, but I’ll give you the relatively short version: After narrowly missing the Champions League on the last day of the season two years on the trot, ownership threw the dice and spent heavily in summer of 2021 without selling any key players in an attempt to get over the hump. The gamble did not pay off.

The four players we brought in over the summer, Patson Daka, Boubakary Soumare, Ademola Lookman, and Ryan Bertrand, fail to impress, but we bought Jannik Vestergaard in a panic after Wesley Fofana suffered a broken leg in the final pre-season friendly. We got off to a terrible start, largely due to the entire first-choice back line being sidelined several times during the fall. When James Justin and Fofana returned, and we stopped trying to play Lookman on the right, things started to look better and we got some results. However, the 8th place finish flattered us.

Brendan Rodgers wanted to freshen up the squad, but COVID-19, failure to reach Europe, and the disastrous business of the previous summer meant we would have to sell before we could buy. We expected a bid for Youri Tielemans that never arrived. Soumare and Vestergaard turned down moves as they’re on handsome salaries. You and your readers are likely familiar with the Fofana saga: After signing a new contract in the spring, the defender decided he wanted a move to Chelsea but we didn’t get a bid anywhere near satisfactory until the deadline, so that was that. It’s probably also worth noting that our director of recruitment left in April and our replacement, Martyn Glover, wasn’t permitted to start working for us until the window closed.

There was some dumb luck involved, but we largely did it to ourselves and now we’re paying the price.

RR: Leicester moved Wilfrid Ndidi to more of a central defending role and the departure of Kasper Schmeichel led to Danny Ward becoming first-choice goalkeeper. It appears from the outside that Leicester have failed to rebuild and fill these positions, thus making them positions of need. What is the feeling among Leicester supporters at the moment? Is it possible for the club to be in a potential relegation fight?

JL: Let me start with the last question: We are absolutely looking at a relegation fight. We are currently on a pace for six points. I’m no maths wizard, but I am confident that no team has ever avoided relegation with six points.

Leicester supporters are looking for the owners to axe Rodgers. There’s really no way of beating around the bush on that one. Our current situation isn’t entirely his fault, but he seems intent on making it worse by doing daft things like playing Ndidi in central defence when Vestergaard and Çağlar Söyüncü are available. It feels as though we’ve reached the “throwing spaghetti at the wall” stage of desperation and the supporters want to see a change.

You couldn’t be more right regarding the failure to fill the gaps in the squad. I do an annual series about the club’s needs every summer and in the last couple of years, I could just have copied and pasted the prior years’ articles. Ward hasn’t been convincing as the new #1, although I believe that Daniel Iversen will claim that starting spot before long. We’ve needed a left-back and a right-winger for years now and we keep buying right-backs (James Justin and Timothy Castagne) and left-wingers (Lookman, although that was a loan).

RR: After over a decade at the club, Schmeichel left this past summer and Wesley Fofana eventually departed prior to the conclusion of the window. On top of this, both Youri Tielemans and James Maddison have been linked to moves away. How do you see Leicester’s strategy plans for the future?

JL: Allow me to get a little philosophical here: The club has invested heavily in their training grounds, the youth system, and in scouting. This lays the groundwork for future ambitions, but the club’s success will always depend on recruitment. Leicester will continue to recruit younger players with ambition, which can be fantastic when it works. When the club fails to meet the ambitions of the players, then they will move on to clubs that do. The hope is that, if the players do move on, the club will at least turn a profit on them and be able to invest in the squad.

This model can work, but there’s no margin for error. The difference between the big clubs and the small ones isn’t how much they can pay for a player; it’s whether or not they can afford to get it wrong. When a certain club that wears red and plays in Manchester makes a bad signing, they can still go out and spend. When Leicester City make a mistake, they’re hamstrung because of the financial impact. So, to answer your question in the most roundabout way possible, I think Leicester will revert to their strategy of selling one top player a year to finance new purchases and keep the club’s balance sheet in good shape while continuing to grow the squad. The summer of 2021 was an aberration, and 2022 was the correction.

P.S. I expect Tielemans is as good as gone and no complaints because he’s been professional about it. I hope we can retain Maddison because he is not just an unbelievable player, he’s a great teammate as well.

RR: What are some positives going on for Leicester at the moment? What can Leicester fans be excited about as the fixtures turn rapid ahead of the World Cup in November? (This could be anything ranging from potential academy grads, players getting healthy (Barnes), to players (Dewsbury-Hall, etc.) in the squad getting more game time)

JL: We didn’t do much business over the summer, but we did bring in defender Wout Faes from Reims. The statistical analysts don’t much care for him, but having watched hours of video, I can assure you he’ll be a fan favourite. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a player go to ground and attempt two-footed tackles in the box as often as the Belgian. He’s got great hair, he puts himself about, and, unlike Ndidi, he’s a central defender, so as far as I’m concerned, he ticks all the boxes.

Other than that? Does “it can’t get any worse” qualify? This is rock-bottom and things are bound to pick up. There’s a chance we might see the senior debut of Tawanda Maswanhise. He’s scored 5 in 5 for the U23s and he might get a look before long, even though he’s another right-winger.

RR: What is your prediction for this game? How do you see the game playing out? And, which player or which matchup is your x-factor?

JL: If I’m being honest? I can’t see anything other than a heavy defeat for my Foxes. Let’s call it 4-1 with a late consolation goal from Kelechi Iheanacho. I’ll be keeping an eye on Faes trying to cope with Heung-min Son as that promises to be entertaining if nothing else. Other than that, I’m just hoping that Rodgers finds a shape that works without playing any of his key players hopelessly out of position.

Oddly enough, it was Iheanacho who scored a less-meaningful goal in stoppage time last season when Spurs won 3-1 in the home fixture on May 1. Three points feels like the only acceptable result in this match after the frustrating 0-2 loss in Portugal on Tuesday. Perhaps more importantly than just the result itself, maybe Spurs rotate the starting XI and give some opportunities for other players in the squad to get match minutes.

h/t to Jake for the time. Go check out his work at Fosse Posse.

Follow me on Twitter @RyanSRatty.