If another vindication of Jose Mourinho’s stubborn blueprint for Tottenham was required, it arrived in wonderfully spiteful fashion against Leicester in a victory that could yet drag the club into next season’s Europa League.
That Tottenham conceded the majority of possession or passed sparingly was a deliberate and ultimately irrelevant aside. In a series of lethal, pre-orchestrated counter-attacks, Spurs cut ribbons through a ponderous Leicester, with Harry Kane’s inspired individual performance – assisting the opener and scoring twice in three minutes on the brink of half time – seemingly a cathartic watershed back to the England captain’s insatiable best.
Albeit briefly, Spurs are now sixth, ahead of Wolves by two points, with the financial lifeline of the Europa League within grasping distance. For Leicester, it’s another bitter blow. Deflated and deprived of imagination in the final third, the Foxes have won just twice since the restart, surrendering their grip on the top-four, and will likely have to defeat Manchester United next weekend to prevent the Champions League vanishing from sight.
This was a season-defining game for both sides, with both of their ambitions hanging on a knife-edge, a ridge separating a rapidly fatiguing Leicester from a deserved top-four finish, and Spurs from a valuable consolation in the Europa League. Mourinho named the same rejuvenated side who had already defeated Arsenal and Newcastle in the past seven days, and instantly they responded to his rallying cry.
After just six minutes, Kane cameoed as a floating playmaker, dropping deep to collect the loose ball, swivelled sharply under pressure and played a lacerating through ball with the outside of his foot in behind Leicester’s high line. Son stormed through at Ryan Bennett, tangling the centre-back in a heap on the floor with a shimmy of jinks and stepovers, before his shot ricocheted off an unwitting James Justin and left Kasper Schmeichel wrong-footed.
If there was a large element of luck involved, despite Kane’s deft invention, it was a forewarning that Leicester failed to heed. Rodgers’ side became stretched chasing the game, with Jamie Vardy’s snapshot forcing Toby Alderweireld into a desperate block, before the striker’s audacious backheel was cleared off the line by Hugo Lloris after a scramble in the box.
But while Leicester grew in confidence, Spurs remained coiled and unflustered, thieving the loose ball and instantly spotting large openings. Son sprung forwards onto Harry Winks’ lobbed pass, sprinting on goal with nothing but a horizon of empty green grass ahead of him, and lashed a fierce half-volley that forced Kasper Schmeichel into a fingertip save.
Moments later, Giovani Lo Celso, the snapping heartbeat of each Spurs break, glided through the centre of the pitch and picked out Lucas Moura, who played through Kane on the edge of the box. After shedding the rust of his return and passing 200 career goals against Newcastle on Thursday, the striker finished brilliantly, taking the ball across his body mid-stride and sneaking a pinpoint shot off his weaker foot into the far corner.
Leicester were left reeling and, perhaps, nursing their sympathies after a half where they’d impressed and dominated in spells. And with Rodgers’ side switched off and disheartened, a cold-blooded Spurs struck again on the brink of half time, putting the game well beyond reach. Almost identical in its build-up, with Moura finding Kane in space on the corner of the area, this time he cut inside onto his right foot – benefiting from more questionable defending by Bennett – opened up his body and whipped a sensational curling shot into the top corner.
It was sublime by Kane, who too has had to weather whispers of dissent in recent weeks, and a 45-minute masterclass in the ‘Mourinho Way’: rigid and dogged in defence, merciless and methodical in attack.
Leicester attempted to mount something of a fightback after the interval, but their efforts always felt a little half-hearted and toothless, bereft of any real vim or vigour. Harvey Barnes was a constant threat, with Serge Aurier a vulnerable crack in Spurs’ system. Demarai Gray’s free-kick from 25 yards swerved and dipped, but Lloris’ acrobatics oversold the danger, while Kelechi Iheanacho also worked the goalkeeper with a curling shot from distance in the dying seconds.
Ultimately, though, it was always in vain. One of the finest halves of Spurs’ season, at its crucial apex, had long condemned Leicester to defeat. Tottenham were hungrier and better-organised, oozing quality and class.
They will still need help from rivals Chelsea, who play Wolves on the final day of the season, but regardless of the outcome, Mourinho has pieced together an imploded side and dragged them valiantly – albeit with plenty of turbulence – from the depths of 14th place in November. Whatever happens, that optimism will be invaluable heading into next season.
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