The FA Cup has a long history of creating magic and tension by pitting particular teams against each other, and Tottenham Hotspur’s third round clash with Leicester City is upholding this great tradition.
The 2-2 draw at White Hart Lane encapsulated the drama and controversy for which the cup is famous, as the Premier League’s second and fourth-placed teams did battle in front of a packed stadium.
It looked like Spurs were going to compound Leicester’s recent frustrations by beating them when Christian Eriksen pounced on the rebound after Kasper Schmeichel parried Nacer Chadli’s shot and gave Pochettino’s men the lead in the eighth minute.
But the flowing football that had led to the goal gave way to some poor set-piece defending and we really should have done more to prevent Marcin Wasilewski equalising with a free header from a Leicester corner.
The Foxes then set about demonstrating just why they are no flash in the pan as they fly high in the Premier League table this season. Even without the likes of star players Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, Claudio Ranieri’s men pieced together a string of dangerous attacks, and it was little surprise when substitute Shinji Okazaki wriggled his way through our defence and beat Michel Vorm at the second time of asking.
The FA Cup betting at sites like Bet365 made Spurs 3/4 to beat Leicester inside 90 minutes, but those odds looked generous right up to the moment when Nathan Dyer was adjudged to have handled the ball in the area, and Harry Kane stepped up to tuck away the ensuing spot-kick.
Kane’s clinical finish booked Spurs a third round replay at the King Power Stadium. Runs of games between the same two sides seem to have a nostalgic feel to them, harking back to the days of the 1960s and 1970s, when seemingly endless cup replays would clog up the fixture list – not that anyone complained back then as much as managers seem to now!
The question of whether Pochettino would rather beat Leicester in the Premier League or advance beyond them in the FA Cup is a fascinating one. His pre-match comments before the 2-2 draw suggested he was only too aware of our past success in the cup, and he understands what it would mean to the fans to bring that coveted old trophy back to the Lane.
But if it is Leicester who advance to the fourth round at our expense, should we really be too concerned? Their season has faltered lately, and they are without a win since beating Everton before Christmas. If they embark on a lengthy cup run, it is going to test their squad to the limits, and potentially cause them to slip up in the league, giving Spurs a chance to capitalise.
Given the choice, a place in the Premier League’s top four has to be the priority for Tottenham, given the riches on offer to clubs who qualify for the Champions League. That said, the strength of our squad compared to Ranieri’s might just mean we trump Leicester on both fronts.