Marcelo Bielsa refuses to blame Leeds United defeat at Tottenham on absences
Marcelo Bielsa was disappointed to see his Leeds United side lose control of the second half of their game at Tottenham after taking a deserved lead into the break.
The Whites imposed their game on their hosts in the first 45 minutes and looked to be on course for a big victory when taking the lead through Dan James' first goal for the club just before the break.
But Spurs, under recently installed new coach Antonio Conte, upped their intensity after the break and after hitting the woodwork twice they turned the game round with two goals to leave United empty handed yet again from a trip to London.
Leeds still had chances in the second half, but could not manage to put the ball in the back of the net and ended the weekend in fourth from bottom position.
This was not a performance of a relegation team, but a relegation fight now looks on the cards as their inability to back up their promising football with goals is beginning to haunt them this season.
They did have some mitigation for their defeat at Tottenham with star winger Raphinha and record signing Rodrigo the latest to be sidelined to add to Patrick Bamford, Luke Ayling, Robin Koch and Jamie Shackleton who were unavailable.
But despite this they played some excellent football at times, led by Kalvin Phillips, who was outstanding in a back four role in the first half, successfully snuffing his England captain Harry Kane, out of the game, before being switched into his more familiar midfield role after Spurs hit back in the second period.
“In the first half we played better, in the second half they did,” said head coach Bielsa.
“The difference in the second half was bigger from them than we managed to achieve in the first half. I think the result was fair.
“Perhaps if we had drawn the game it would have been a prize for what we constructed in the first half.
“But, as the second half wore on, they increased the differences with regards to us.
“Even with the absences we showed we could play how we wanted to, but not having been able to sustain it throughout the second half is a deficit."
Bielsa explained what went wrong for his team in the second half: “Our idea was to prevent the reaction that we imaged Tottenham would have.
“I saw that progressively we started losing the dominance of the game.
“I thought the two wings were controlled but their relationship with their two midfielders, we started to lose it.
“When those two players managed the ball, they improved how their forwards received the ball and it was a lot more difficult for us to defend.”
Bielsa insisted the absence of so many first team stars was not an excuse for the defeat.
He added: "You can't ignore the importance of those players but the first half showed that we can attempt to dominate the opponent with the players that we have so to justify the performances with the absences, given that we managed to play 60 minutes with the players we had with us balanced or with us a little bit better, it weakens the arguments that the absences is the reason for the result."
With all the men missing, Bielsa gave young forward Joe Gelhardt his first Premier League start and he was lively in the opening half and made an instant impact with a run that drew a foul. From the resulting free-kick Phillips brought a save from Spurs keeper Hugo Lloris.
Stuart Dallas was only inches wide with a low strike from outside the box , but although they controlled possession several promising Leeds attacks ended with disappointing crosses or final passes as the good initial approach work was wasted.
Tottenham took near on half-an-hour to muster a meaningful shot on goal and Phillips made a good block to stop Sergio Reguilon's volley following a corner.
Adam Forshaw, who impressed in midfield in the first half, got forward well to hit a terrific shot that had Lloris scrambling across goal and relieved to see the ball go just the wrong side of the post.
Just when it seemed United's first half efforts were going to go unrewarded they took the lead as Jack Harrison nutmegged Emerson Royal out on the touchline and ran forward with purpose before producing a brilliant low cross that was put away by James at the far post.
Tottenham had to change and they did as they showed from the start of the second half as Kane - fresh from his back to back hat-tricks with England - finally got free only to see his shot hit the post via a the fingers of keeper Illan Meslier.
Leeds charged back at their hosts with James forcing Lloris into a good save with his low shot after cutting in from his right-wing position.
It was now a tradition Leeds "basketball" game with action at both ends and Spurs hit the woodwork again through Son after his shot deflected up onto the crossbar off Diego Llorente.
Perhaps at this point Bielsa's men should have taken a breather and taken the heat out of the game, but they continued to go for it and came close to increasing their lead with Gelhardt forcing Lloris into two saves.
A goal was always going to come in this period, but it went to Tottenham as Lucas Moura found Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in the area and the midfielder found the corner of the net with what appeared to be a miskick.
Spurs then went ahead 11 minutes later with another another goal that owed much to good fortune. Eric Dier’s free-kick deflected off the United wall, wrong-footing Meslier, and hit the post before rebounding straight to Reguilon who had a simple tap in.
Bielsa responded by making changes, including putting Phillips back into midfield, and handing a late debut to young Scottish winger Stuart McKinstry. But although they kept going to the finish they were unable to hit back.
James had the best chance for an equaliser, but was unable to take it as the home team showed how to manage the game in the closing stages.
Tottenham Hotspur 2
(Hojbjerg 58, Reguilon 69)
Leeds United 1
Sunday, November 21, 2021
Tottenham: Lloris; Emerson, Dier, Davies; Tanganga (Sanchez 68), Hojbjerg, Winks, Reguilon (Sessengon 79), Moura (Alli 88), Son, Kane.
Leeds: Meslier; Llorente, Phillips, Cooper; Dallas, Forshaw (Roberts 72), Struijk; James, Klich (Firpo 58), Harrison; Gelhardt (McKinstry 87).
Referee: Andre Marriner