Leicester manager Brendan Rodgers insists his side “won’t get carried away” after they overcame top-four rivals Tottenham to climb to second in the Premier League.
In a hard-fought battle between the sides starting the day third and fourth in the table, Spurs one point above the visitors, it was the latter who established themselves as champions Liverpool’s closest challengers courtesy of Jamie Vardy’s penalty and a Toby Alderweireld own goal.
While Leicester sit four points behind the league leaders, former pacesetters Tottenham – removed from top spot in defeat by Liverpool on Wednesday – find themselves fifth after Sunday’s matches, six points adrift of the lead.
“The players have done great. A European campaign, lots of injuries, but they have kept the enthusiasm, spirit and quality, so it is a very pleasing opening third of the season,” said Rodgers.
On his side’s position, he added: “The ambition is to continue improving. We won’t get carried away, there is a lot of development to take place in our young players.
“We will see. It has been a really good start, I am satisfied with where we are at, knowing there are improvements to make.”
Vardy confidently dispatched his spot-kick in the fourth minute of first-half injury time, after referee Craig Pawson was advised to review Serge Aurier’s needless shove on Wesley Fofana via the pitchside monitor.
A VAR review for offside disallowed James Maddison’s well-taken finish three minutes after the restart, but Vardy’s header from Marc Albrighton’s excellent cross deflected in off Alderweireld to double Leicester‘s advantage after 59 minutes.
Vardy’s opener arrived at the end of a closely contested opening 45 minutes, during which Spurs captain Harry Kane’s saved free-kick in the 34th minute and Foxes midfielder Maddison’s deflected shot from distance were the only other attempts on target.
Son Heung-min was denied at close range by Kasper Schmeichel as Jose Mourinho’s disappointing hosts were left frustrated in search of a response, while Leicester went close to a late third through Youri Tielemans.
The true importance of this result to Leicester’s season may only be revealed when the season concludes, but it is one which should serve to convince Rodgers’ side of their place among the Premier League’s current elite.
Securing a top-four spot after agonisingly falling short last season is the challenge for Rodgers, and this was the perfect response to Wednesday’s below-par defeat by Everton which prevented the Foxes widening the gap to the chasing pack.
As demonstrated in the past week, the need to deliver consistency is paramount going forward for Leicester, whose midweek defeat arrived between a devastating attacking display against Brighton and this impressive victory over a side threatening a title challenge.
Despite troubles with their home form, the Foxes have been ruthless on the road, this their sixth win in seven league away games despite facing a Tottenham defence with the joint-best record in the competition.
Vardy had a shot blocked at close range and Maddison fired over as Leicester were invited to ask the early questions of the Spurs backline, and they eventually got the breakthrough their positive play deserved as Vardy sent his penalty down the middle for his 11th goal of the campaign.
The returning Jonny Evans delivered an assured performance alongside Fofana in defence as the Foxes never appeared in danger of relinquishing their lead after Alderweireld’s own goal, earning Rodgers a first Premier League win over Mourinho in eight attempts.
It is the first time in the club’s history that Leicester have sat in the top two of the top flight at Christmas in consecutive seasons, and their Champions League credentials will be tested once more against Manchester United next.
Roberto Firmino’s last-minute winner for Liverpool was a painful way for Spurs to concede top spot in midweek, as Mourinho’s side spurned several good second-half chances to claim a statement win at the home of the champions.
Liverpool’s subsequent 7-0 thrashing of Crystal Palace on Saturday added even greater significance to Tottenham’s response to a first league defeat since the opening day, with anything other than victory set to hand the Reds an ominous first glimpse of daylight in the title race.
Mourinho’s tactics almost paid off at Anfield – despite just 24% of possession – but his subdued side were second best on Sunday.
In a rare off day for the Spurs forwards, Son unsuccessfully chose to square for Tanguy Ndombele instead of shooting in their first opening, while Kane went close with a header from a corner as the hosts increased their urgency before their costly setback before the interval.
Mourinho will have been left scratching his head at defender Aurier’s careless barge on Fofana to concede the penalty and responded with the introduction of Gareth Bale at half-time.
He was soon forced to replace the injured Giovani lo Celso with Lucas Moura, yet despite an array of offensive players Spurs failed to get going in attack to leave any title aspirations in a precarious state.
It is now one win in five Premier League games for Spurs after a tough run of fixtures including Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Leicester in their past six.
For now, the immediate focus on ending a long wait for silverware rests on reaching the Carabao Cup semi-finals, when they face Championship side Stoke City on Wednesday.
“It’s frustrating but I think it’s a strange game to describe. It’s a game that we lose with the penalty and the own goal. It’s a game where your goalkeeper doesn’t make a single save, but it’s a game that we didn’t play very well,” said Mourinho.
“I didn’t think either team played very, very well. We deserved to win the game at Liverpool and that would have made it an amazing week because nobody has done that for a long time. The team was phenomenal at Liverpool. Now, if you look at the table, everybody is there.”
Tottenham face Stoke City in the League Cup quarter-finals on Wednesday (17:30 GMT), before travelling to face Wolves in the Premier League on Sunday (19:15).
Leicester host Manchester United on Saturday afternoon (12:30).