Leicester were denied a place in the Champions League for the second season running on a dramatic final day in the Premier League with Gareth Bale scoring two late goals to give Tottenham victory.
Starting the last round of fixtures in fifth place, the Foxes knew that their best hope of finishing in the top four was a win, while hoping that Liverpool and Chelsea slipped up in their respective final games.
Chelsea did leave the door open, losing 2-1 at Aston Villa, but Leicester were unable to do their part, falling to defeat at the King Power Stadium, despite leading twice, to finish a point behind Thomas Tuchel’s Blues.
It means the Europa League awaits the Foxes again.
It was Bale who hammered in the final nails, finishing low into the bottom corner to put Spurs ahead in the game for the first time in the 87th minute, before following up his own shot that had hit the post to add a second in stoppage time.
In truth, though, it was an own goal from Kasper Schmeichel that really ripped the heart out of City’s challenge, with the keeper punching a corner into his own net under pressure to make the score 2-2 with 14 minutes left.
Prior to that, with Chelsea losing at Villa, two coolly taken penalties from Jamie Vardy – both of which he was fouled for – looked to be sending the Foxes into Europe’s premier competition for just the second time.
The match may also represent the final one in a Tottenham shirt for talismanic striker Harry Kane, who has signalled his desire to leave the club this summer.
If so, the England captain has signed off with the 221st goal of his Spurs career – a fine first equaliser from inside the box that also takes him to a Golden Boot-winning tally of 23 for this league campaign.
Whether a place in the new Europa Conference League – Tottenham’s reward from this season through their seventh-placed finish – is enough for Kane, remains to be seen.
Sunday’s game may also be the last for Bale, who ended his loan spell from Real Madrid in impressive fashion, and interim manager Ryan Mason, with the club considering numerous candidates as a permanent successor to Jose Mourinho.
Last season, defeats in their final two games saw Leicester drop to fifth and miss out on the Champions League after being in the top four since September.
It was a case of deja vu this campaign, with this crushing loss coming after a 2-1 defeat at Chelsea in their penultimate game.
It will hit harder, though, as Brendan Rodgers’ team had spent the entirety of the 2020-21 season prior to these last two games in a Champions League qualification spot.
It won’t feel like it, but it has been another season of impressive progression for the Foxes, who have played some superb football, built around a trusty old guard and a host of exciting young talents, including Wesley Fofana and the resurgent Kelechi Iheanacho.
It was telling just how much an injury to the former in the first half affected the home side, with Tottenham coming back into the game and finding their first equaliser.
Either side of that, though, it was all about Vardy, who calmly dispatched the two spot-kicks he himself had won by drawing fouls from Toby Alderweireld and Davinson Sanchez – the first of which needed a pitch-side VAR check from Anthony Taylor.
These games are emotional affairs, with mental strength as important as physical.
Roared on initially, Leicester were typically aggressive and attacking, but as the game wore on, the clear nerves among the watching fans began to permeate onto the pitch, with the home players growing increasingly reticent to do anything that may cause a mistake.
The mistake did come, with Schmeichel misjudging a corner and punching into his own net, a blow from which they failed to recover.
The players were still cheered as they paraded the FA Cup after the game. When the disappointment of Sunday fades, they will begin to appreciate just what that trophy represents for their season.
Tottenham face summer of change
Unlike Leicester, Tottenham have a summer of huge change ahead of them.
Their seventh place represents their lowest Premier League finish since coming eighth in 2008-09 and gives them a Europa Conference League spot, which is clearly not good enough for a club believing itself worthy of a place in the now abandoned European Super League.
Top of Daniel Levy’s in-tray is to resolve the future of Kane.
The 27-year-old once again showed that he is one of the best finishers in the business, firing in after Son Heung-min’s cross looped to him in the box to make it an unmatched 23 goals in the division this campaign.
Bale is also unlikely to be in a Spurs shirt next season, meaning Levy will have to find a way to replace almost half of the league goals his team have scored in 2020-21.
He also has to appoint a new manager.
This was Mason’s fourth win from his seven games in charge and the most impressive, but whether that is enough to give the 29-year-old rookie the job remains to be seen.
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