|Tottenham Hotspur 3 v 0 Leeds United|
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 2nd January 2021 Kick-off 12:30
Curse of the capital strikes again as we go down to Spurs
Sunday, 3rd Jan 2021 20:25 by Tim Whelan
Leeds looked the better side before the first goal, but a couple of defensive errors cost us dear, and in the end this was a comfortable victory for Tottenham Hotspur.
Once again Marcello Bielsa fielded an unchanged starting line-up, as none of our three missing central defenders had recovered in time for this fixture, so we had to make do with a makeshift defence against one of the top striking partnerships in the League. Spurs had been slipping in recent weeks amid one or two signs of discontent behind the scenes, so I was reasonably optimistic before the game.
And for almost half an hour it looked like we were perfectly capable of getting a result from this game. We produced the first chance when a well-worked move ended with Alioski shooting into the side netting from a narrow angle, and we continued to dominate possession in the early stages. Another opportunity was wasted by a shot from Klich that lacked the power to trouble Lloris.
Spurs sounded a warning at the other end when the ball fell kindly for Kane to send a powerful shot just over, before a Bamford header went way over the bar. Though maybe the cross was too high for him to stand a chance of directing it anywhere else, so he could be excused. But for all our pressure we didn’t manage to create any really clear-cut chances.
A couple of promising moves broke down due to misplaced passes, and it was clear that we weren’t going to be able to play through the opposition in the way we had at WBA earlier in the week. Jose Mourinho had previously won all four of his meetings against Bielsa, when they managed Real Madrid and Athletic Bilbao respectively.
That was partly down to Mourinho having the better players as he was at a club with a bigger budget, though he did concede his teams found it hard to combat Bielsa’s relentless style. But for all his insufferable arrogance Mourinho is also a master tactician, and he set his team up in the right formation to intercept some of our moves going forward and to press as we played out from the back.
And this press was to lead to the turning point of the game in the 29th minute. Meslier was denied an easy option to pass the ball out, but it’s not his style to resort to a good old-fashioned boot down the field. As a result he attempted a risky pass that was intercepted, and Alioski was out of position when the ball was played wide, having gone forward expecting an attack.
So like the makeshift defender he is, he panicked and clattered into Bergwijn from behind to concede a penalty. It was certainly a foul, but was it inside the box? There has been some outrage on Facebook, with pictures showing the first contact was outside the box. But that was a slight touch of the feet, and the touch that brought Bergwijn down was Alioski’s knee going into the back of his leg.
That happened on or about the line (which is part of the area) and the VAR man decided there was no clear and obvious case to overturn the original award of a penalty. So Harry Kane stepped up to take the kick and sent it hard down the middle as Meslier dived, though the Frenchman wasn’t that far away from getting a foot on it at the last second.
We continued to create chances at the other end, coming closest when Harrison sent a shot just over, but Spurs doubled their lead just before half time, thanks to the usual double act of Kane and Son. This time it was the Korean who was on the scoresheet, racing into the box untroubled by our defence to meet a perfectly placed through ball from the England captain.
And it got even worse five minutes after the break with a third Tottenham goal, and once again Meslier was at least partly at fault. He did well to turn an Ndombele shot round the post, but Alderweireld was able to get to the resulting corner despite being surrounded by four Leeds players, with the aid of a slight shove on Bamford.
Alderweireld had been at the near post and our young French keeper was slightly off his line, having expected to come out for a ball sent further into the box. So as Meslier had to back to grab the ball and showed his momentum had taken the ball millimetres over the line before he released it, though in any case it was bundled back into the next by Dier, so Spurs would have scored in any case.
By now it looked like we could have been heading for another heavy defeat, as Kane sent an effort into the side netting and then tried a crafty shot from the halfway line with Meslier well off his line, but we managed to prevent any further damage to the scoreline. And as ever we kept trying to come forward at every opportunity.
Just after the hour Bielsa made three substitutions in quick succession, with Shackleton, Poveda and Hernandez coming on for Alioski, Harrison and Rodrigo. All three made a lively contribution to the game, but Rodrigo again looked disappointed to be taken off, and maybe our supremo should consider the option of taking Bamford off instead, to play Rodrigo up front to get on the end of through balls from Hernandez.
A couple of times we came close to pulling one back, with Hernandez twice shooting narrowly wide, and Raphinha and Bamford forcing Lloris into decent saves. But the closing stages produced little except for Phillips collecting the fifth booking that will give him a one match ban, and Spurs Doherty getting a second yellow for a challenge that was ludicrous when they were 3-0 up in injury time.
And so our poor run in London continues. In our nine visits to the smoke in the last two seasons we’ve now lost 8 out of 9 in all competitions, with just the draw at Brentford to show for our efforts, crucial as that result might have been in our promotion campaign. And that’s without going back any further to see just how bad our run has been.
Like the 6-2 defeat at Man U, I certainly didn’t think the margin of defeat reflected the balance of play, but both games show how hard it is to play against top strikers with an injury-riddled defence. We can only hope that at least one of our three missing central defenders is back soon, so we can sort out our constant problems at set pieces.
We still have a comfortable mid-table position and another Fulham postponement meant that we still have more points than the current bottom three put together. We knew we were going to take the odd beating from the best teams in the country, but as long as we keep on beating the sides at the bottom we’re going to be all right.
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