Where would Tottenham be without Harry Kane and Son Heung-min? It’s a question that Spurs supporters must hope they never have to answer after watching the deadly duo ensure Antonio Conte’s side maintained their push for a top-four finish despite a less than vintage performance against Leicester’s B team.
Kane’s 13th Premier League goal of the season – courtesy of an assist from Son, of course – came in the first half before the substitute Dejan Kulusevski got in on the act to set up the South Korean for both his 18th and then a spectacular 19th were enough to ensure victory for Spurs in their race with Arsenal for fourth spot.
At this rate, the north London derby on 12 May will certainly not be for the faint-hearted, although Conte acknowledged his side must improve for that showdown and when they travel to Anfield on Saturday to face the title-chasing Liverpool.
“It’s a very important result because there is a lot of pressure at this stage of the season. But I want my players to enjoy it,” Conte said. “No one expected us to be in this position in November and now we have to keep going to fight for a big achievement.”
The last time these sides met in January, two stoppage-time goals from Steven Bergwijn snatched a dramatic victory for Tottenham that Conte said “highlighted the spirit and commitment” of his players. But having surrendered their advantage over their bitter rivals in disappointing performances against Brighton and Brentford, the Italian knew there could be no slip-ups here against under-strength opposition with their eyes on a different prize.
Conte surprisingly recalled Lucas Moura in place of Kulusevski in the only change from last week’s draw at Brentford, while Brendan Rodgers made no apologies for his selection that included only three of the players who started against Roma in the first leg of the Europa Conference League semi -end in midweek.
After a strangely mutated start from the hosts, it was Patson Daka who produced the first attempt of any significance in the 14th minute when Boubakary Soumaré’s low cross somehow picked out the Zambian striker and his effort was pushed on to the post by Hugo Lloris.
Luckily for Spurs, they are able to call on the most prolific attacking partnership in Premier League history and the 41st goal combination between Son and Kane midway through the first half was as simple as they come.
Daniel Amartey was guilty for allowing the England captain plenty of time to stoop and head in from a pinpoint corner from his South Korean accomplice to open the scoring – 211 minutes after they had last recorded a shot on target against Aston Villa on 9 April.
Nampalys Mendy almost gifted Kane his second 10 minutes later with a sloppy backpass that forced Kasper Schmeichel into action. At the other end, Kelechi Iheanacho fired just wide of the post from outside the box before a delightful piece of skill from Ayoze Pérez set up another chance for Leicester, with his scuffed shot that just eluded the Nigerian’s dive.
With Leicester also having enjoyed the lion’s share of possession, Conte must have stressed the need for an improved performance from his players in the second half given but once more Tottenham were slow out of the blocks.
The introduction of Kulusevski for the ineffective Moura less than 10 minutes in was at least recognized that his tinkering had not worked this time, with the substitute almost making an immediate impact with a mazy dribble before losing his balance at the vital moment.
But after two crunching tackles from the outstanding Cristian Romero turned over possession just inside the Leicester half, it was Kulusevski’s clever pass that allowed Son acres of space to swivel and shoot past the helpless Schmeichel to surpass his previous highest goals tally in a single season and move second behind Mohamed Salah in this season’s charts.
“We’re frustrated at conceding the first two goals,” said Rodgers, who also handed 21-year-old Lewis Brunt his first Premier League appearance. “That’s what has cost us this season.”
Son could have doubled his tally soon afterwards, only to fail to make significant contact on Rodrigo Bentancur’s accurate cross from the left flank to allow Leicester’s goalkeeper to make the save. There was no stopping his next attempt, however. Nothing looked on when Kulusevski rolled the ball back to Son on the edge of the penalty area but a curling shot that dipped just below the crossbar gave Schmeichel no chance and left Leicester with a mountain to climb. Iheanacho’s goal in stoppage time that beat Lloris via his near post was merely a consolation.