Tottenham need a Plan B and Leicester have one
Leicester City are the champions of the English Premier League and for the first time since its creation in 1992, money had very little to with it. Robbie Savage noted on Match of the Day that Manchester United spent more money in the last two years than the Midlands club has spent in its entire 132 year history. Indeed, there is also something very different in about the humility of manager Claudio Ranieri, who chose to fly out to see his 96 year-old mum in between Leicester's match last Sunday and Tottenham's slip up at Chelsea on Monday, which confirmed Leicester as champions. Contrast his demeanour to the childish ways of last year's winning manager, José Mourinho.
However, beyond the money and the manager (admittedly two really important differences ) the club resembles previous champions in almost every way. Ranieri's side knows how to win playing different styles, either through the genius of its playmaker Mahrez or through set pieces via the heads of its bruising centre backs. Much the same could have been said about Chelsea last season, when the West London club started in sublime form then eked out 1-0 victories towards the tail end of the campaign. Leicester also has a strong spine, starting from perhaps the most underrated goalkeeper in Europe, Casper Schmeichel. Back in the days when Arsenal used to win titles, the spine was often cited as the key to manager Arsene Wenger's success, with Patrick Viera and Emmanuel Petit anchoring the midfield. Yet Spurs too have these qualities with Lloris in goal and an excellent centre back pairing that breeds confidence higher up the field, so why was the North London club unable to stay the course?
I think it stems from the fact that the Foxes also have good width down the flanks, something that title rivals Spurs, despite its roaming full backs, do not utilise enough due to the absence of the overlap. Walker and Rose were, once again, relied on too much and while they both had good seasons their distribution from attacking areas never convinced. Sir Alex Ferguson's treble-winning Manchester United team had Giggs down one side and Beckham down the other who could place the ball on a sixpence with his remarkable crossing ability. Leicester have Albrighton, who while not in Beckham's league, performs the same task. The Leicester side is balanced, like that United team. Leicester also have a wealth of goal scoring options, including whippet-like Jamie Vardy and Leonardo Ulloa, whereas Spurs still rely too heavily on the continuing fitness of Harry Kane. Leicester can play possession football if they need to but they don't over do it. It is frightening as a Spurs fan watching the dilly dallying at the back with too many sideways and backwards passes. Arguably, Tottenham's best performance of the season came with a 4-0 away win at Stoke when possession football was interspersed with long balls up to the front line.
Ranieri always seems to know when to bring players on from the bench, which like previous title winners consists of potential game changers. Despite all the Bale money and the impressive emphasis on youth development, Tottenham lacked a strong bench. Song Heung Min popped up with a late winner against Watford in December after coming on as substitute but he and Nacer Chadli hardly strike fear into the opposition while they are warming up on the sideline. Indeed, I have found that Tottenham’s Mouricio Pocchetino is too rigid at times, sticking to one striker upfront with three creative players behind. While this system has its merits, Spurs needed a plan B and ultimately failed to provide one.
This is not to say that the future at White Hart Lane isn’t bright - far from it. The youth, hunger and talent on display is truly impressive and Pocchetino has worked wonders in terms of getting his players to believe in his methods and to fight for the cause. That's why all the criticism of Tottenham's brutality against Chelsea misses the point - previous Spurs teams would never have had the passion in their bellies to begin with. Once channelled and honed appropriately, this Spurs team will become as difficult as Leicester to beat - indeed they almost are. Yet, despite the emergence of Alli, the creativity of Ericsson and the all-round game of Kane, Spurs still lack that superstar that they have had in the past. Put just one great player in that Spurs squad - perhaps even Leicester’s Mahrez - and Tottenham would have walked away with the title. Next season, perhaps.