Leicester's FA Cup comeback stuns Tottenham
LONDON -- Three thoughts on Leicester's 2-1 win vs. Tottenham in the FA Cup fourth round Saturday.
1. Leicester finally get what they deserve
Unlike so many of the teams who have propped up the Premier League in recent years, Leicester City aren't actually that bad. They have shape, discipline, pace and determination. What they don't have is luck.
All too often, they are beaten by a single goal, compromised by a solitary mistake or held back by an opponent's heroic moment of defiance. For so long, it seemed the same old story at White Hart Lane. And then Jeff Schlupp grabbed destiny by the throat and told it very calmly how things were going to change around here.
It was Schlupp -- onomatopoeic Schlupp, who has so often "Schlupped" the ball over the bar in the past -- who sent Leicester through to the fifth-round when their FA Cup adventure seemed doomed to failure.
After 90 minutes of ceaseless running, he still had the energy to zip into the box and flick the ball in on goal with the outside of his boot. It shouldn't have been enough to deceive Michel Vorm in the Tottenham goal, but it confused the Dutchman and squirmed through him. Finally, some good luck. And it was no less than Leicester deserved.
The Foxes were tenacious, and Schlupp had been causing Tottenham problems long before the comeback began. First he gave Andrej Kramaric an opportunity to make the perfect start to English football with a fine run and cutback, but the Croatian was denied. After 16 minutes, Vorm had to make a fine one-handed block to keep Schlupp's rocket shot out.
But it was the hosts who opened the scoring. Roberto Soldado, who looked desperate to please from the start, was felled by Liam Moore and Andros Townsend stepped up to blast home his fifth penalty of the season, sending Mark Schwarzer the wrong way. Moore's afternoon turned even worse five minutes later when he was forced to limp off the pitch in some discomfort.
It looked like everything was going to go against Leicester shortly before half-time when Kramaric went over the onrushing Vorm and found himself staring down the barrel of a yellow card for diving. It was a tight call for referee Bobby Madley.
It had been a delightful through ball from Danny Drinkwater to set Kramaric free and though there didn't seem to be much contact and Leicester's new signing took off slightly before they met, Vorm was late to the rendezvous and could count himself rather fortunate. The rule is "tripping or attempting to trip," and it was hard not to feel a little sorry for the Leicester man.
"You've made a mistake, you can't be guessing there!" complained Leicester goalkeeping coach Mike Stowell as Madley made his way down the tunnel at half-time.
But Tottenham couldn't press home their advantage. Soldado and Paulinho both drove shots wide of the post in the second half as they allowed Leicester to fight their way back into contention.
Schlupp -- who else? -- fired a wild shot across goal that Leonardo Ulloa snatched up before turning and firing home. The Leicester City celebrated wildly and, seven minutes later, Schlupp sent them into dreamland.
2. Tottenham get sloppy
This was Tottenham's 37th game of a long season, and perhaps the fatigue is beginning to show.
Manager Mauricio Pochettino made nine changes to the team that started in the Capital One Cup semifinal first leg against Sheffield United in midweek, retaining only Vorm and Townsend, but sometimes mental fatigue can be just as damaging as any physical issues. This was another tense cup game in another competition in which, given results elsewhere, they had every chance of success. But unlike in midweek, this time the late goal went against them.
One of the benefits of squad rotation is that it gives out-of-form strikers the chance to get back into form. It's a benefit that Tottenham are yet to feel this season, however.
Poor Soldado. There can be no questioning his work rate. He moves smartly, he drags players with him, he makes space, and here he looked hungrier than ever. He won the penalty that gave Spurs their lead, brought down by Moore in the box, but spurned his own chance to score, driving a straightforward chance at Schwarzer just after the half-hour mark.
When he substituted, he left the pitch to warm, perhaps sympathetic, applause from the Spurs fans. Which is more than his replacement was granted.
Emmanuel Adebayor had his own chance to get back into form against Sheffield United and instead offered up a miserably lethargic display and was withdrawn early. The Togolese hasn't succeeded in front of goal for a while, but has managed to divide the Tottenham supporters straight down the middle.
Upon his arrival in the second half, 50 percent of the home fans enthusiastically cheered him onto the pitch, while the other half pre-emptively booed him. The latter section were proved right as Adebayor did very little. With Harry Kane left on the bench until the latter stages, and used only in attacking midfield when he did arrive, Spurs had little in the way of cutting edge.
This was a brutal lesson in what happens to teams who fail to either build on their lead or shut a game down. If Tottenham want to win some silverware this season (they are still in the league Cup and Europa League), they need to learn how to do one or the other.
3. Tough choices for Leicester
Life is rarely kind to those teams who try to balance a relegation battle with an FA Cup run. More often than not, the intensity and energy used in the knockout competition is lacking in the league.
Wigan Athletic were relegated in 2013 after winning the trophy, three years after Portsmouth were relegated before losing to Chelsea in the final. Even Hull won just twice in the league after booking their place in the semifinals in March last year.
Newcastle United's owners completed research into the trend and quickly concluded that taking the competition seriously was an absolute no-no. So how will Leicester proceed now, knowing that preserving their Premier League status is so important to their finances?
Now that's a senior management meeting I'd like to listen in on.
Iain Macintosh covers the Premier League and Champions League for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @IainMacintosh.