Easily shaking off their north London derby loss, Tottenham Hotspur seek back-to-back wins as they face Leicester City on Saturday at King Power Stadium.
POTENTIAL STARTING XIs
The Spurs (11-0-4), though, must also resist the temptation to peek beyond this match to their crunch Champions League encounter at Barcelona midweek. Tottenham must at least match the result of Inter Milan, who host group-bottom PSV Eindhoven, for a second consecutive appearance in the knockout round.
But first things first, and that means building on a 3-1 victory over Southampton on Wednesday in which the Lilywhites barely had to get beyond second gear. Harry Kane scored his 13th goal in all competitions and assisted on Heung-Min Son’s marker on 55 minutes that lifted Spurs to third in the table on 33 points, two better than London rivals Chelsea and Arsenal.
It was also Son’s 100th goal in European competitions in a career that included stops at Hamburg and Bayer Leverkusen before joining Spurs in 2015, and all four of his goals this term have come in Tottenham’s last eight matches in all competitions after helping South Korea beat Japan in the Asian Games final.
“We are so happy in the way he has started to perform in the last few games, after the international break,” manager Mauricio Pochettino said post-match about Son. “It’s difficult to guess because he’s still so young, a great character, he’s so professional and he’s enjoys playing football a lot, but enjoys training the same in the same level.
“If you want to go further as a player you must love your job. You must love training and spending time with your team-mates on the training ground. If you are capable of that and feel like he feels, it’s possible to do everything.”
All told, Pochettino made five changes to his starting XI from the north London derby, including three at the back. In all likelihood, Juan Foyth will retain his centre back spot for this contest since he is not on the Champions League roster, while Toby Alderweireld may be given a rest in this contest.
Fellow central defender Jan Vertonghen still needs more match fitness after missing 10 matches with a hamstring injury before returning last week and then served a one-match ban Wednesday after his two yellow cards versus Arsenal. Kieran Trippier may also sit this one out as Pochettino is still annoyed at the groin injury he believes the right back picked up due to overuse by England.
“I think it’s the same problem, the same problem that started in the World Cup. If you remember the semi-final against Croatia, when he left the pitch,” Pochettino said. “Then I think to play after three days against Belgium, I think maybe it affected a little bit. Now he’s suffering in that situation. In situations like today when the pitch is not in a good condition, this area, the groin, suffers more when the pitch is different.
“It’s a thing that we need to care a lot for him, protect him, he needs to work a lot to protect and sort that problem.”
Pochettino will also have to ponder resting Kane, who is in both a purple patch in terms of scoring and an absolute terror to Leicester City. The Three Lions talisman has six goals in his last seven matches in all competitions and 11 in seven career matchups with Leicester City. Kane had a brace and the winner in the most recent matchup, a wild 5-4 Spurs win to cap last season, and had a four-goal effort at King Power to cap the 2016-17 term.
Dele Alli will likely be restored to the starting XI for this contest, though fellow attacking midfielder Erik Lamela could be held out of a third straight match due to a thigh injury suffered in Spurs’ win over Inter Milan on Nov. 28.
Leicester City (6-4-5) are unbeaten in their last six in league play (2-4-0) after playing Fulham and former manager Claudio Ranieri to a 1-1 draw at Craven Cottage on Wednesday. James Maddison scored the equaliser on 74 minutes, with substitute Shinjo Okazaki providing the assist two minutes after his insertion by Claude Puel.
“I think in the first half we missed a lot of chances and they scored,” midfielder Vicente Iborra told Leicester City’s official website. “In the first half we tried to combat the game, we had a lot of chances and at the end we could’ve scored, but I think the point is fair.”
The draw left the Foxes ninth in the table on 22 points, but they are also just one back of sixth-place Everton. Leicester have not conceded at home in 330 minutes in all competitions dating to Fabian Balbuena’s 30th-minute goal for West Ham in a 1-1 draw Oct. 27.
Puel has injury concerns to his two best players as centre back Harry Maguire only returned to training this week following a lower-body injury and is uncertain to feature in this match, but Jamie Vardy has been definitely ruled out of thie contest. The striker picked up a groin injury in training ahead of Wednesday’s match, and Puel hinted surgery could be an option for Vardy – Leicester’s joint-top scorer with Maddison with five goals in league play.
Vardy was as much a thorn in Tottenham’s side as Kane was to the Foxes last term, scoring in both matches and bagging the winner in Leicester’s 2-1 victory at King Power. That ended a five-match unbeaten run (4-1-0) in the Midlands for the Lilywhites, who are 5-3-2 in their last 10 league meetings.
Per Bet365, Spurs are even-money favourites to claim all three points from the Midlands, and a draw at 11/4 rates slightly above Leicester City pulling off a surprise victory at 14/5. There are 4/5 odds for the teams to combine for more than 2.5 goals, and it is even money to stay under that threshold.
Even with the likely absence of Vardy, oddsmakers rate Leicester’s offense, as there are 4/6 odds for both teams to score compared to 11/10 for at least one clean sheet.
As would be expected given his prolific track record versus the Foxes, Kane leads the way for first-goal scoring honours at 3/1, while his understudy Fernando Llorente is second at 5/1. Vardy has 11/2 odds along with Lucas Moura, while Son is a step back at 13/2 and Lamela at 15/2. Leicester striker Kelechi Iheanacho is an 8/1 pick to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, with Maddison and Demarai Gray both 9/1.
Kane is a 5/6 pick to score over the course of the 90 minutes, with Llorente a 6/4 selection. Vardy and Moura are again paired together, this time at 13/8, while Son is 2/1. Lamela checks in at 12/5, Iheanacho is 5/2, and both Eriksen and Alli are 11/4 picks to put one past Schmeichel.
This is a tough ask for Leicester, even if Maguire does find his way into the starting XI for the first time since Nov. 3. Kane has been an unholy menace to the Midlands side, and even with Maguire back, he will be a handful for Leicester’s central defence.
But this match does put Pochettino in a tough spot considering he will need all hands on deck for Tuesday at the Nou Camp. In an ideal world, Kane buries a brace in the first hour of the match and Pochettino pulls him for the final quarter-hour with the match done and dusted. It also would not be surprising to see Lamela get a late runout for Eriksen just to make sure he could be available to face Barcelona.
Pochettino has almost every player available for Saturday and Tuesday, but it also comes down to man management for the Argentine. Each of the three substitutions are going to be scruitinised, and the primary goal beyond the three points is to get out of this match with no injuries, no knocks and able to choose the best 25 players.
Spurs have almost always taken care of business before a Champions League match — they are 4-0-1 in the league contests ahead of such a contest, and the lone loss came to Liverpool. It will require some graft, but for all the talk about the lack of Tottenham’s squad depth throughout the season after a dormant summer, this will be the match where it will make a difference.
PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Leicester City 0, Tottenham Hotspur 1.