Sunday , July 21 2024

Leicester city We Are Coming For You- Tottenham

Dele Alli drew Shay Given and dinked the ball over him in the manner of Lionel Messi. He celebrated with a somersault in front of a delirious away end. ‘Leicester City,’ they sang, ‘we’re coming for you.’ And maybe they are. It’s been that sort of season.

Tottenham's Alli looked to have picked up a knock after Stoke's Phillipp Wollscheid appeared to catch the young central midfielder

There are five points in it now and four games remaining. It remains a tall order, but Leicester may be missing Jamie Vardy for two, perhaps even three of their last games, depending on the contents of referee Jon Moss’s report.

In the meantime, the Tottenham footsteps behind them grow louder. If they could claw back another two points next weekend, Leicester would feel Tottenham’s hot breath on their shoulder.

Kane and Jan Vertonghen celebrate after the England international put Tottenham ahead in the ninth minute of the game on Monday night

Claudio Ranieri’s players have been gutsy and brave, grinding out a succession of 1-0 wins, but Tottenham feel like the form team. There have been champagne moments at Leicester of late, but precious little champagne football in the manner of Tottenham here.

A three-goal win over Manchester United last week was followed by this — a victory by an improved margin against one of the Premier League’s awkward squad.

Midweek matches in Stoke are the cliched yardstick for champions, but Tottenham coped with this test brilliantly. Their defence repelled Stoke effortlessly, the forwards ran away with the game.

Indeed, the only time the pressure showed was when Alli missed two good second-half chances and manager Mauricio Pochettino looked exasperated.

For the first miss, a snatched shot from a good position over the bar, he slammed a hand on the roof of the dug-out. For the next, an open-goal howler of Ronny Rosenthal proportions, he fell dramatically to the ground in faux-shock.

For much of the rest of the game, he prowled the technical area, restless. Only once the three-goal cushion had been established did he sit. So, it is fair to say Tottenham are far from nerveless.

It is all about Leicester’s reaction now, though, how they fare without Vardy at home to Swansea on Sunday. Tottenham play West Brom at home the following night and, on the evidence of Monday night, are good for three points. If they didn’t know already, Leicester have a real fight on their hands.

The scoreline flattered Stoke. Tottenham were a goal up after nine minutes, had the best of the first half, then in the second swept Stoke aside.

They scored three more and could have added the same again. For Pochettino, this was the sole irritation. He knows on another occasion missed opportunities could prove crucial. As it was, Stoke were not good enough to benefit from them.

It was surprising for a Mark Hughes side how easily Tottenham came through their midfield. Time and again, Tottenham took a straightforward route to goal, Stoke’s midfield second best, whether to the legs of Mousa Dembele, the wit of Christian Eriksen or the sheer speed of Pochettino’s wide men.

Alli missed a couple, but scored as many, and picked Stoke apart with a football brain that belies his 20 years. Shay Given, making his Premier League debut for Stoke two days short of his 40th birthday, had already made a fine save from Harry Kane by the time England’s striker gave his team the lead after nine minutes. Tottenham never looked back.

Their first attack was a lovely move, signalling intent. Eriksen played in Erik Lamela, who found Kane, catching Ryan Shawcross slow off the mark and breaking through on the left of the penalty area. Kane shaped to shoot, but he could not get sufficient power through the ball, Given off his line quickly and saving with his legs.

It is testament to Given’s professionalism that he was afforded this chance, but he could do little about the rout that followed, starting with Kane’s opener minutes later.

Dembele was the architect, striding down the middle, through two tackles before picking out Kane, again to the left. He cut inside and from 20 yards curled a shot that defeated Given before turning inside the far post, inch perfect and unstoppable. It is becoming something of a trademark finish for him.

What a start for Tottenham, what a release of tension. Stoke had their moments, as they always will at home, but they were rare.

Tottenham soaked up Stoke’s pressure and then finished the half strongest. In the 42nd minute, Eriksen should have made it 2-0. Lamela led the charge upfield and laid the ball off to Alli, whose backheel was the sort of inspired intervention that has set him apart this season.

It fell to Eriksen, clear of Stoke’s attention and with only Given to beat. His shot was powerful and dramatic, but lacked sufficient accuracy, cannoning off the bar. It was the beginning of a frustrating spell for Pochettino.

There followed the first of Alli’s misses, a Kyle Walker cross, half cleared and falling to him in a perfect position only for his shot to fly over the bar.

He made amends soon after. On this occasion, Eriksen set up Alli, who went through one on one and casually lifted the ball over Given, who was going down at his feet, expecting a low finish.

By now, Stoke were falling apart, and when Kane hit a stunning pass to set Alli clear after 70 minutes, a third seemed certain. He drew Given, rounded him, and with the goal empty, hit the near post.

There was even a Tottenham man in the middle had he wanted to be absolutely sure, Barcelona-style. Pochettino collapsed in disbelief. Alli lay face down on the turf, too, mortified.

Had Tottenham not added a third a minute later it would have been really embarrassing.

It was a lovely move, too, involving Eriksen, Alli and Lamela, before the ball was squared to Kane for the simplest finish, and the end of any possible Stoke resistance.

By the time Alli added the fourth, steered in on the volley after a cross by Eriksen, the Tottenham end were having a party as big as any enjoyed by Jamie Vardy this season.

Pochettino, though, has to remain pragmatic. He knows the biggest statement on Monday night was about the character of his team. Forget the pressure on Leicester, with so many points to make up, all the pressure is on the chasing club.

Drop points and Ranieri could boost morale while waiting for the FA verdict on Vardy by convincing his players that their rivals are young and flaky.

He has no such good news to impart now. This is an increasingly fearless Tottenham team who mean business. The title will not be handed to Ranieri and his men. They will have to go and win it, whether Vardy is available or not.

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