The Big Match Tactical View: Tottenham v Leicester
Sunday's first Premier League game is a meeting between the outsiders in the title battle and a club who know all about that status. Michael Cox and Alan Thompson preview the action.
"Leicester are better suited to playing against strong sides, when they can play on the break."
Tottenham v Leicester
Sunday 13:30, Sky Sports Football.
Match Odds: Tottenham [1.74], Leicester [6.0], The Draw [4.0].
Tottenham Hotspur find themselves just five points behind Manchester City and Liverpool coming into the weekend's action, and while few think that Mauricio Pochettino's side are likely to overhaul both and win their first Premier League title, this has nevertheless been a hugely impressive campaign from a club who have effectively played away from home all season.
Spurs aiming for their fourth straight win
After a wobble in January, Tottenham have returned to form with three straight victories. They've overcome injury problems reasonably well, and the return of Son Heung-min provided them with the crucial late winner at Newcastle last time out. They are still without Harry Kane and Dele Alli for this clash against Leicester, however.
Against Newcastle, Pochettino surprisingly deployed Jan Vertonghen in something of an unfamiliar left-back role, but it's likely that Danny Rose will return here with Ben Davies out injured. That would mean Vertonghen moving inside to play alongside Toby Alderweireld, with Davinson Sanchez probably dropping. Kieran Trippier should continue at right-back - he's been poor defensively this season, but always offers a crossing threat on the overlap.
In midfield, Harry Winks and Moussa Sissoko has become the default midfield combination. Winks tends to sit deep while Sissoko pushes forward, although Winks has increasingly got himself into goalscoring positions in recent weeks too, heading the late winner against Fulham.
Son to lead the line
Going forward, Pochettino will probably omit Fernando Llorente. The Spaniard has scored a couple of goals recently, and Spurs looked much better when he came on to offer a focal point against Leicester, which proved crucial in Son's winner. But Llorente's all-round play is still disappointing, and therefore he remains best as a Plan B.
Therefore, expect Son to lead the line. Christian Eriksen should play as the number 10, with Lucas Moura and Erik Lamela out wide. These three players have extra responsibility to provide a goalscoring threat in the absence of Kane and Alli.
Leicester to play on the break
Claude Puel's Leicester continue to prove somewhat baffling. In the last seven weeks they've beaten Chelsea, Manchester City and Everton, drawn with Manchester City (in the Carabao Cup) and Liverpool, but lost to Cardiff, Newport, Southampton and Wolves. Last weekend's narrow loss to Manchester United slightly spoils the pattern, but the basic lesson is that the Foxes are better suited to playing against strong sides, where they can play on the break.
Kasper Schmeichel will play behind a back four of Ben Chilwell, Harry Maguire, Jonny Evans and Ricardo Pereira. Individually this is a fine defence, although there have been too many gaps between defenders in recent weeks, particularly when Chilwell and Pereira fly forward.
With the full-backs pushing forward, Wilfried Ndidi and Nampalys Mendy are instructed to stay in position and protect the defence solidly, concentrating on ball-winning and simple distribution. The loan signing of Youri Tielemans brings extra competition in the centre of the pitch, and he's more expressive with his passing, but this is the type of game where Puel will probably stick to a tried-and-tested, defensively sound combination.
Maddison the visitors' main threat
James Maddison was surprisingly substituted against Manchester United last weekend, to the obvious dissatisfaction of the crowd. He's nevertheless likely to start here as the number 10 and will offer a huge threat from set-plays. Demarai Gray and Harvey Barnes started last weekend, although Rachid Ghezzal will also be pushing for a start.
Jamie Vardy will lead the line, and has a fine record against the Premier League's top clubs, where he can play on the break and use his speed to sprint into the channels. Few players are better at timing their accelerations on the blind side of defenders.
Spurs seem to be leaving it late in recent weeks, getting late victories against Fulham and Newcastle. Llorente might again be needed from the bench. I think that pattern might continue, so I'll back Draw / Tottenham at [5.0].
The Betfair Trader - Alan Thompson
Leicester’s superb point at Anfield is the only point they have picked up in their last four Premier League games and prior to that they were beaten and embarrassingly knocked out of the FA Cup by Newport County.
While Tottenham have also been knocked out of both domestic cup competitions recently, they have managed to keep the wins coming in the league with victories over Fulham, Watford and Newcastle.
Spurs are sitting comfortably at the minute in third place, just five points behind the top two and nine points ahead of fifth placed Manchester United. But, this will be a game they’ll expect to win and just keep in touch with the top two.
The Foxes must stop conceding early goals in games to have a chance here; in their last five starts they have been behind inside the opening 12 minutes and went on to concede 10 goals in those games. Despite frequently going behind though you can’t write Claude Puel’s side off as they proved against Manchester City at the King Power Stadium (W 2-1) and more recently at Anfield (D 1-1). If Spurs want to get all three points here I think they are going to have to score at least twice.
Mauricio Pochettino’s men might just get through this one but it won't be easy. They are currently trading around [1.72] and that is about the right price. However, Leicester have enough talent to cause Spurs some problems and they seem to save their best for when they play against the top six sides, for that reason I will be backing Tottenham / Yes in the Match Odds and Both teams to Score market at anything around [3.5].
Michael: Back Draw / Tottenham in the Half Time / Full Time market @ [5.0]
Alan: Back Tottenham / Yes in the Match Odds and Both teams to Score market @ around [3.5]