THE BIG MATCH

Football: Tottenham v Leicester more than a dress rehearsal

Mauricio Pochettino (left) has never won a trophy as a manager, while Claudio Ranieri's last major honour was the 2004 Super Cup.
Mauricio Pochettino (above) has never won a trophy as a manager, while Claudio Ranieri's last major honour was the 2004 Super Cup. PHOTOS: ACTION IMAGES
Mauricio Pochettino (left) has never won a trophy as a manager, while Claudio Ranieri's last major honour was the 2004 Super Cup.
Mauricio Pochettino has never won a trophy as a manager, while Claudio Ranieri's last major honour was the 2004 Super Cup.

Cup tie could be start of rare road to glory for Foxes, Spurs

They are two of the prime candidates for the Manager of the Year award. Mauricio Pochettino and Claudio Ranieri have steered Tottenham and Leicester into the Champions League places.

They have made them the two hardest teams to beat in the English Premier League, with just two defeats apiece.

And yet there are gaps on otherwise impressive CVs.

They are strangers to silverware. Pochettino has never won a trophy as a manager. Ranieri's last major honour was the 2004 Super Cup.

 

Whether that amounts to underachievement is a moot point but they exist in an environment where league form is all important.

The chance to qualify for the premier European competition, both with its significance in status and its abundant riches, plus the proximity of a Wednesday reunion in the Premier League means this is probably not their priority.

It may not even be the most important game between Tottenham and Leicester next week.

And yet it is more than just a dress rehearsal, an opportunity to strike an early psychological blow or a chance to exploit shortcomings.

It could be the start of a rare road to glory for clubs who only have one trophy - Tottenham's 2008 League Cup success - between them this millennium.

Overachievers also have different imperatives. Spurs' aim should be to extend their high performance levels, Leicester's to bring about a role reversal.

Previously so prolific, they have gone three games without a goal. They are without Jamie Vardy, who has undergone minor groin surgery.

If it brings a greater reliance on Riyad Mahrez, a scorer when these teams drew 1-1 in August, it also shines a spotlight on Leonardo Ulloa and Shinji Okazaki.

Vardy's sidekicks are selfless workers but have a combined haul of four goals in 35 games this season. Now, greater potency is required.

Ranieri fielded weakened sides in Leicester's League Cup run. Pochettino has done in his previous FA Cup campaigns, whether with Southampton - where he was criticised for a limp exit to Sunderland in 2014 - or Spurs, who were knocked out 2-1 by Leicester at White Hart Lane 12 months ago. All the evidence suggests he will rotate again.

Spurs possess the greater strength in depth. Pochettino possesses enviable options on the wings, in midfield and the full-back positions.

It will be more instructive if the Argentinian rests the overworked trio of striker Harry Kane and centre-backs Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld.

Ranieri has scarcely needed some of his fringe figures in a campaign where 'the Tinkerman' has shown great consistency of selection.

But besides the intrigue of an experiment, there are other reasons to watch. Spurs' last three meetings with Leicester have contained six goals in the final 10 minutes of the games. This could be dramatic. It may yet prove significant.


MORE FA CUP REPORTS:


TOTTENHAM V LEICESTER

Singtel TV Ch109, tomorrow, 11.55pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2016, with the headline 'MORE THAN A DRESS REHEARSAL'. Print Edition | Subscribe