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Bielsa on the brink after Spurs trouncing
Saturday, 26th Feb 2022 21:51 by Tim Whelan

Another day, another thrashing, this time at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur. And this time there are reports circulating suggesting that Marcello Bielsa is likely to part company with Leeds United in the very near future.

This was a meeting of two managers who had endured a difficult week so far, with Leeds having suffered a heavy defeat at Anfield on Wednesday, the same evening when Antonio Conte made an emotional outburst after his side lost at Burnley. And it because clear that the Burnley v. Spurs game would be damaging for Leeds, not only for the three points gained by a relegation rival, but also because it meant Spurs came to Elland Road with a point to prove.

Leeds could at least come into this game with a less makeshift defence, as Llorente and Koch were both back from injury, though the latter would be in front of the back four in the deep midfield role. But we were still short of a few big names, and the BT Sport cameras kept focusing on Cooper, Bamford and Phillips sitting together in the stand, the spine of the team.

It’s tempting to think that everything might have been completely different if Struijk’s early header had been placed a yard or so to the left. He rose well enough to meet a free kick and flicked it in the general direction of the far corner, but unfortunately just wide of the post. Fine margins. Then we should have had a free kick in a dangerous position (and even Glenn Hoddle said so, despite his Spurs background) but the referee didn’t oblige.

But Spurs began to look threatening on the break, and once again our man-marking system was leaving us vulnerable to players running from deep. Ayling had been told to keep following Son, even though the lively Korean was making runs all over the pitch, and this was leaving Sessegnon to bomb down the Spurs left in the knowledge that Raphinha wasn’t going to get back and cover.

So it was no surprise that after ten minutes Tottenham scored the opening goal via that route. Sessegnon was allowed to run down their left unchallenged, and his cross found the other full back Doherty, who was also picked up far too late. Doherty side-footed the ball home from ten yards, and immediately the buoyant pre-match atmosphere began to deflate. Here we go again.

Five minutes later Spurs were two in front. Kulusevski seemed to be penned in by the corner flag, but managed to get past Firpo and play a one-two, then evade Llorente’s ineffectual challenge as he moved inside. The Swede then shaped as if to shoot for the corner, which wrong-footed Meslier as he sent a powerful shot just inside the near post instead.

Leeds were still battling away, and we were frustratingly close to grabbing a goal that would have got us back into the match. But when Koch moved into the box and took a quick snap-shot as the Spurs defence closed in, it came back off the post. Shortly after that Spurs grabbed a third goal to put the game well beyond our reach after only 27 minutes.

I didn’t think there was much danger when Hojbjerg chipped the ball forwards as Kane raced to the by-line, but Llorente missed his chance to cut the ball out, and Kane did very well to smash the ball past Meslier from a narrow angle. Once again VAR did us no favours, as Kane was judged to have been onside by the tightest of margins.

For the rest of the half Spurs defended deep as Leeds pressed, obviously thinking they didn’t need to take any risks when they’d got themselves so far in front. And with numbers back we found it hard to play through them on the floor, lacking the option of a cross to a big man up front with Dan James as the lone striker.

Our best chance of the latter period of the first half came when Ayling had a free header about twelve yards out. He tried to loop the ball into the far corner, which was the right idea but he got too much on it, sending the ball over and wide. At the other end Meslier spared us further embarrassment, making a good save with his legs from another breakaway.

There was a chorus of boos as the teams went off, and once again Bielsa made two substitutions at half time. Rodrigo came on for Harrison, to play up front while James switched to his natural position on the wing. And Struijk was replaced by Klich, so Kich dropped back into defence, and Forshaw into the deep midfield role.

The Leeds crowd did their best to make amends by cheering the team on for most of the second half, though the Spurs contingent claimed that Leeds were falling apart again, and not without justification. By now Spurs were content just to keep possession of the ball as much as possible, seeing no need to take risks with any of their passes now they had no need to chase forwards.

But they still created the first decent chance of the half when Meslier spread himself to make a fine save when Doherty was put through, before Koch flung himself in the way of Son’s shot from the rebound. At the other end we had a good shout for a penalty when Klich seemed to have been blatantly pushed, but neither the referee nor the VAR man saw anything wrong with that.

Klich took out his frustrations with a fierce shot from the edge of the box, but it was straight at Lloris. Then Kulusevski went close again for Tottenham, repeating the trick of feinting to shoot for the far corner and putting it towards the near, but this time Meslier was expecting it and got down to make the save.

James shot wide from a good position, but our best chance of the game fell to Stuart Dallas. Lloris seemed to have cut out the danger by racing out of his area as the ball was played forward, but could only whack the ball against Dallas. The Ulsterman had an open goal as he raced through, but lacked the confidence to take an early shot and took far too long, giving Davis the chance to race back and make the block.

So as time ran out it was Spurs who were to get the fourth goal of the game, the move beginning when Hojbjerg won the ball well into his own half and slipped it to Harry Kane. Kane had time to look up and see Son racing forward, and knew that he delivered the perfect pass his strike partner would be away. Which he duly did, putting Son through to beat Meslier with a well-placed shot.

By then Firpo had been replaced by Shackleton, possibly to spare him a possible red card after he had been booked for kicking the ball away and then committed another foul. And Rodrigo was another one to let his frustration get the better of him and pick up a needless yellow, in his case for racing back to bring down Harry Kane.

Our day was summed up when a free kick from Raphinha crashed back of the post with Lloris well beaten, and a few minutes later the referee put us out of our misery with the final whistle. You could say that on the balance of play there wasn’t that big a margin between the sides, but the scoreline was down to our failings at both ends of the pitch.

The damage has been mitigated a little by several of our relegation rivals also losing over the weekend so far, including Norwich’s defeat on Friday night, and I was cheering wildly when Man City finally managed to put a goal past Everton. But ultimately we will still have to take control of our own destiny, and stop this appalling run of heavy defeats.

BT Sport produced the horrible statistic that Barnsley were the only team in Premier League history to have conceded more goals than us, and there is no sign that our obvious failings at the back are being addressed. In his post-match interview Bielsa looked downcast but also rattled, asking the interviewer if he’d watched the game when he dared to ask if the defence could have been set up differently.

And according to some of the reports circulating tonight, the organisation of the Leeds defence may soon be taken out of Bielsa’s hands. Phil Hay has claimed that the club’s top brass are meeting tonight to discuss his future, and other reports say he is likely to depart by mutual consent. We’ll bring you confirmation of that as soon as we get it.


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