Aurier mania allows Leicester to discover the Spurs sweet spot

Will Ford

“On Kane” and “don’t be too high” were the instructions barked by Kasper Schmeichel to a team clearly well aware of both Tottenham’s threat on the counter-attack and the key administrator of much of that potential pain. ‘Stop Harry Kane, stop Spurs’ was the mantra, with a watchful eye on the talisman while in possession and bum-rushing him out of it the plan.

But it’s one thing to have a plan – presumably similar to the plan all teams have identified as the best way to beat Spurs – and another to carry it out so expertly. To keep Kane and Son Heung-min – the scourge of almost every other Premier League defence this season – quite so quiet was no mean feat.

The difficulty for teams against Tottenham has been in finding a balance. Chelsea, for example, were rarely threatened but also posed few problems in their stalemate. Manchester United were of course at the other end of that risk-reward scale.

Leicester found the sweet spot in the second half after being gifted the opener at the end of the first.

Jose Mourinho’s honest take on Aurier’s defending when he arrived at the club looked as though it had had a positive, permanent effect. It was almost as though Aurier thought his bonkers challenges were just one of those things before the Spurs boss described his defending – quite simply – as “shit”.

And the full-back has been mostly excellent in response this season and looked as though he had stamped out the lunacy while maintaining the aggression Mourinho seeks. But the mania – as it turns out – had been repressed rather than eradicated, as Aurier’s Mourinho-made aura was temporarily pierced by the Frenchman’s old tropes to gift Vardy a goal from the penalty spot.

Aurier ducked his head as he barged into the back of Wesley Fofana, like an American Footballer preparing for contact. There was no attempt to play the ball and absolutely no need to attempt to play the ball or the man. Roy Keane said he felt it necessary to bite his tongue in the Sky Sports studio at half-time, but still described Aurier’s impetuosity as “utter madness” from a lad that “doesn’t think”. Oh, Serge.

But this isn’t a loss that can be pinned solely on one man. There was a lack of intensity from Spurs that is apparent in games like this: when they do have the majority of possession and the team is stretched. It’s in these games that the defence – so sound when the low block is employed – is pulled apart due to a lack of constant protection from Moussa Sissoko and Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg, as they attempt to force the attacking issue.

James Maddison had a goal chalked off for a marginal offside as one straight ball was enough to split a huge gap between Eric Dier and Toby Alderweireld, who suffered in their attempts to deal with Leicester’s pace.

And it was Vardy whose movement off the back of Alderweireld caused the problem that led to Leicester’s second, with the striker’s header from Marc Albrighton’s drilled cross then bouncing off the Belgian centre-back and into his own net.

What was impressive was the patience Leicester showed in the game and the way they adapted as it went on. Initial circumspection, in which they assessed the true threat, became steadily more progressive and attacking as they recognised Spurs’ menace didn’t warrant quite such guardedness.

And having taken the lead they sat deeper and forced Spurs into the uncomfortable position of dominating possession, while hitting them on the break. Brendan Rodgers played it perfectly.

It’s a performance that will be billed by some as Spursy and others as a step too far for players feeling the effects of fatigue, depending on your allegiances or biases. It was definitely an excellent performance from Leicester, who have now comfortably beaten both Spurs and Manchester City away from home, sit second in the table and have a manager as tactically equipped as any in the Premier League.


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