The Big Match

Foxes unlikely to outwit Spurs

Struggling champions' sloppy defence means hosts will probably maintain unbeaten run

Go back to May and Jamie Vardy was having an impromptu party in his kitchen. Tottenham had coughed up a 2-0 lead at Chelsea and the ludicrous had become reality. Leicester were champions.

The eventual table showed that Arsenal finished second but Tottenham were their truest title rivals.

Arguably the most important result of last season was Leicester's 1-0 win at White Hart Lane in January. They reconvene with the context having changed. Neither is a surprise package either more.

Leicester's overachievers are perhaps underachievers nowadays. Tottenham have sustained consistency, holding the only unbeaten record in English league football, yet draws have kept them out of the Champions League places.

Indeed, European commitments form a sub-plot. Leicester have prioritised the Champions League to such an extent that Islam Slimani and Riyad Mahrez were rested for the trip to Chelsea, before their first game against Copenhagen.

Yet, while Europe beckons again, their wretched away record should ensure Claudio Ranieri picks his strongest side today.

Leicester lost only two away league games last season, but have been beaten in all four this season.

They were thrashed at Manchester United, Liverpool and Chelsea, suggesting a fourth hammering is on the cards at White Hart Lane. They could do with showing some of the spirit and solidity that characterised them a few months ago.

They brought back a key defensive component, the hard-running forward Shinji Okazaki, for last week's win over Crystal Palace. He showed he is integral, meaning Ranieri may face a decision between the out-of-sorts Vardy and the record buy Slimani.

But selection dilemmas are compounded by tactical trouble. There is increasing evidence that Leicester cannot play 4-4-2 without the sold N'Golo Kante. There is the danger that Tottenham's energetic midfield will both outnumber and overpower them.

Mauricio Pochettino's sole real problem may lie in attack. Harry Kane has sat out Spurs' last eight games and has been increasingly missed. His supposed deputy Vincent Janssen's only goals have come from the penalty spot in the League Cup. Winger Son Heung Min looks a sharper striker.

In contrast, Toby Alderweireld's spell on the sidelines has scarcely come at a cost. Tottenham retain the league's best defensive record.

They are still without their outstanding defender, and the extraordinary statistic is that, as November beckons, they have yet to concede in open play.

Their struggles in attack means recent games have been low-scoring but the contrasting styles should offer intrigue anyway.

Tottenham's high-pressing game means they would always want to take the initiative.

Leicester's counter-attacking style, and their fondness for defending deep, means that suits them. It was a ploy that worked well last season, but then their defending was almost flawless.

It has been error-riddled of late, meaning Spurs start as favourites. Leicester sprung many a shock last season. It would be another if they ended Tottenham's unbeaten start.

TOTTENHAM V LEICESTER

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 29, 2016, with the headline 'Foxes unlikely to outwit Spurs'. Print Edition | Subscribe