Tottenham Hotspur host Leicester City in the FA Cup third round in what is a battle between two of the sides flying high in the Premier League (5pm Sunday, live on BBC1).
It is unclear at this stage how seriously Mauricio Pochettino (pictured) and Claudio Ranieri intend to take the competition. Both Tottenham and Leicester have exceeded expectations in the top flight so far – not many people would have thought the former would be in the title race at this stage of the campaign, while virtually no-one would have envisaged the same for the latter. Whether they choose to focus all of their efforts on the Premier League or use the FA Cup as a tool to retain momentum and strengthen a winning mentality remains to be seen.
Tottenham go into Sunday’s encounter at White Hart Lane in excellent form: after a surprise 2-1 defeat at home to Newcastle United in the middle of last month, Spurs won their next three encounters before last weekend’s 1-1 draw with Everton. Pochettino has rightly received great credit for the job he has done in north London since taking over from Tim Sherwood in May 2014. After finishing as runners-up in the Capital One Cup last term, the Argentine may be willing to give the FA Cup a real go this time around, even though Champions League qualification will remain the club’s primary objective.
Spurs will be without Mousa Dembele, Clinton N’Jie and Alex Pritchard this weekend, while Pochettino may opt to rest the likes of Jan Vertonghen, Toby Alderweireld and Harry Kane, who have all started every Premier League match this season. Backup goalkeeper Michel Vorm could also replace Hugo Lloris between the sticks, with Kieran Trippier, Nacer Chadli, Nabil Bentaleb and Ryan Mason all vying for places in the starting XI.
Leicester suffered a mini dip over the festive period, failing to win or score in Premier League clashes with Liverpool (a 1-0 defeat), Manchester City and Bournemouth (both 0-0 draws). It is a sign of how well they have done so far this term that such results were considered disappointing, though, and it should be remembered that the Foxes have done far better than anyone expected by accumulating 40 points after just 20 games.
Leicester reached the fifth round while battling against relegation last season, with a 2-1 win at White Hart Lane secured in the fourth round in late January. A 4-3 league defeat to Tottenham was the game that kick-started Leicester’s miraculous escape act in 2014/15. That loss left the Midlanders seven points adrift of 17th place with nine games to play, but a remarkable run of seven wins and a draw saw Nigel Pearson’s side survive with ease, with Leicester ending the campaign up in 14th.
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Survival in the top flight may already have been achieved this term, but Leicester are still likely to focus the majority of their attention on the league. A top-four spot is still well within reach despite the recent sticky patch, so the FA Cup is likely to play second fiddle to the Premier League at the King Power Stadium.
Jamie Vardy will sit this one out after undergoing minor groin surgery, while Ranieri will also be unable to call upon Jeff Schlupp and Matty James. Riyad Mahrez, Wes Morgan and N’Golo Kante may be rested.
These two sides meet again in the Premier League on Wednesday, so this tie may act as something of a warm-up to an encounter that both Pochettino and Ranieri are likely to prioritise. Leicester have looked a little jaded lately and are likely to rotate their team heavily, so Spurs should have enough to win this clash and progress to the fourth round of the FA Cup for the ninth time in the last 10 seasons.