José Mourinho has been a bit grumpy of late, complaining about the inability of his Tottenham players to follow orders on the pitch and criticizing the alleged failures of authority – that is, the late decision to postpone Wednesday’s game against Fulham.
The last thing he needed was for news to come in on the eve of Leeds’ visit that three of his players had broken coronavirus rules by attending a Christmas party. What was going through the minds of Sergio Reguilón, Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso? Presumably nothing.
However, Mourinho felt the clouds lift as his team won for the first time in five Premier League games and won well, with a reassuringly stable presence that helped make a difference, to go third in the table.
Harry Kane had celebrated the birth of his third child last Tuesday. Here, he turned the game in Spurs’ favor with a 29-minute penalty before his defining moment: a clinical pass that knocked out two Leeds defenders and allowed Son Heung-min to make it 2-0 with an indifferent finish.
Leeds were broke and the cold truth is that no team can afford to defend as generously as they. There was much to admire about his swashbuckling spirit, but the second half turned into an unprecedented event after Illan Meslier led a Toby Alderweireld header into his own net. The only blemish for the Spurs was an injury time ejection for Matt Doherty. Already in a warning, he was late to an entrance to substitute Pablo Hernández, an error in judgment that rather summed up his stuttering start to life at the Spurs.
It was Leeds who had run from the start, pressing with the front foot, their defenders stepping forward with the ball at their feet, their determination to find spaces in the final third cleared. It was quite a sight to see Luke Ayling take risks with his runs from the middle, while it feels like a little symbol of his company that his left-back Ezgjan Alioski wears the number 10 jersey.
Leeds had a chance to be up front midway through the first half, and none better than Patrick Bamford’s header missed in the 23rd minute. Completely alone within the area after Doherty’s cover faded, he was chosen by Raphinha’s perfect delivery only to have his sights strayed.
Everything changed after Kane’s breakthrough. The downside to Marcelo Bielsa’s creed at Leeds is that mistakes will be made from behind. Twice they had run loose with passes and the third time they paid. It was Meslier who made a mistake by passing a direct pass to Harry Winks, who returned the ball to Stephen Bergwijn on the edge of the area. The biggest mistake came from Alioski, whose tackle was awkward and sent Bergwijn to the ground.
Kane’s sights from the spot were typically deadly. The Spurs had gone through Kane and Pierre-Emile Højbjerg; the former flashing high from an angle, the latter firing directly at Meslier. Now they went to kill.
Leeds were too relaxed on defense, especially in one-on-one. The Spurs circled the back twice, first when Højbjerg beat Alioski too easily to back off for Alderweireld, whose shot was blocked, and then when Ben Davies did the same to Raphinha. From his low cross, Tanguy Ndombele maneuvered a glorious opening only to shine high.
Mourinho cursed in the technical area. Not making 1-0 2-0 has been a problem for his team, but not this time. Højbjerg won the ball with a measure of comfort that had to irritate Bielsa, and when he found Kane, the forward’s pass to Son was a beauty. The ending reflected Son’s confidence.
Alioski had excelled in Leeds’ brilliant opening, as had left winger Jack Harrison. The pair combined for Alioski to burst into the side net as they swapped roles in a play that ended with a shot blocked by Harrison by Doherty. Leeds could also target a Harrison curling iron in 42 minutes that was too high.
It was not Meslier’s day. He pushed a Ndombele shot around the post for a corner kick early in the second half but, when Son swung it and Alderweireld got in front of Kalvin Phillips to head into goal, it was a moment of dread. Meslier had the ball in his hands but, as he fell towards his own goal, he carried it over the line. His attempt to throw the ball at the last moment was in vain. The referee, David Coote, felt the notification from goalline technology.
The Spurs could have fun and went through Leeds at will for a while. Kane lunged at the side net, Son missed a final pass and Meslier saved Ndombele and Kane, the former with a very clever block. Mourinho had what he wanted.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism