Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez turn back the clock to shock Tottenham
LEICESTER, England -- Three thoughts from the King Power Stadium on Leicester City's 2-1 win over Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League.
1. Leicester hold off Tottenham
Tottenham threw the kitchen sink at it, but could not find a way back. They had given themselves too much to do, having been undone by spectacular goals by two players that beat them to the 2015-16 title: Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez.
Vardy's brilliantly improvised volley from Marc Albrighton's chipped cross from the left flank opened the scoring in the 13th minute. He celebrated his 100th league goal in front of the Tottenham section of the stadium with his hand cupped against his ear; the away fans had been singing uncomplimentary songs about Vardy's wife, Rebekah, and her participation on the UK reality TV show "I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here."
Vardy was a menace all night, and his team's lone outlet as Spurs lay second-half siege. He looked as charged as two seasons ago when Tottenham finished third in a two-horse race, as Leicester fans were only too keen to recall.
Tottenham were desperately sluggish and had been wasteful of the chances they received until falling two behind forced them to up the ante. When Christian Eriksen broke away down and supplied Dele Alli for a 32nd minute chance, a weak shot gave Kasper Schmeichel too much of a chance to save. Harry Kane had strayed into an offside position and could not slot in the rebound.
The usual telepathy between Tottenham's star attacking trident was malfunctioning while Vardy and Mahrez relived the glory days of two seasons ago. On the stroke of half-time, Mahrez received a pass from Wilfred Ndidi on the left flank and with plenty of space to run into. Using Jan Vertonghen as a shield, he bent the ball over the Spurs defender and beyond a powerless Hugo Lloris.
Forced to chase the game, with his first-choice attack struggling to create clear-cut opportunities, Spurs boss Mauricio Pochettino was forced to throw on three attacking players in Son Heung-min, Fernando Llorente and Erik Lamela, making his first appearance in 13 months.
Alli dropped deeper when Llorente replaced Mousa Dembele, but still remained on the fringes; he is struggling to repeat match-winning performances against Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund in domestic football.
Llorente forced a chance for Eriksen but the Dane could not repeat Vardy's volleying expertise and skewed wide. That came just before Kane reduced the deficit by seizing on a sharp, angled pass from Erik Lamela, The Argentine looked in remarkably good touch after his absence, but also picked up a yellow card for flailing his arm into Vicente Iborra's face.
Vardy, by then a lone outlet for a team camped in their own box, might have rued his failure to capitalise on a golden chance on the counter just moments before Kane's strike, and there were nerves jangling when Llorente crashed over from close range and when Danny Rose tried to win a penalty in injury time.
Having dropped behind Arsenal into fifth after Saturday's 1-1 draw with West Brom, Tottenham could now improbably find themselves four points behind their rivals, who play Huddersfield on Wednesday.
2. Tottenham look tired
Is fatigue beginning to ail Tottenham? They certainly started sluggishly here just as they did against West Brom and Arsenal, and fatally so at the King Power. Is the heavy schedule of playing twice a week in Premier League and Champions League catching up with them?
With this the first of nine matches they must fulfil before New Year's Day, there are worrying signs.
There is a school of thought among avid Spurs observers that Pochettino's rotation of his full-backs is out of sync. The thinking goes that the midweek pairing of Rose and Serge Aurier, fleet-footed and tricky, might have been better suited to breaking down West Brom's walled defence during Saturday's 1-1 draw, while Ben Davies and Kieran Tripper, benched here have strengths that lie in being defenders first and attacking players second.
Both Rose and Aurier struggled defensively while Rose's crossing was repeatedly below par on the overlap. Tottenham's defensive problems did not end there. Eric Dier is still yet to convince as a central defender in place of Toby Alderweireld, and his absence from midfield meant Moussa Sissoko, listless and ineffective here, got a start with Harry Winks another absentee.
Such difficulties remind one just how thin Pochettino's squad remains.
3. Puel making his mark
The selection of Shinji Okazaki hinted that Leicester manager Claude Puel planned to press Tottenham's defenders, and stop them from playing out from the back. That relegated Demarai Gray to the bench, after he and Mahrez had been at cross purposes during Friday's 1-1 draw at West Ham.
Neither's body language had been particularly positive when the other did not pass to the other at the London Stadium, and Puel had taken the diplomatic option of playing the senior option in Mahrez. It proved a successful strategy in the first half, with Dier struggling to cope with Okazaki getting up close and personal, while Vardy was enjoying feeding off the plentiful scraps he usually receives with the Japanese dynamo alongside him.
When those two are buzzing, that makes space for Mahrez, whom Puel had called on in pre-match to improve his performances. And the Algerian lived up to his manager's expectations in scoring his goal, only his third of a season that began with him agitating to leave the East Midlands.
Puel, an appointment greeted with a shrug by most, had brought the best from the stars he inherited. This was a victory to quieten his doubters.
John Brewin is a staff writer for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @JohnBrewinESPN.