Tottenham savour change in fortunes as Leeds fall apart again

Marcelo Bielsa’s team extend disastrous defensive record in 4-0 defeat on Saturday

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Perhaps Antonio Conte’s melodramatic threat to quit had an impact. Or maybe Tottenham were simply playing Leeds. Whatever it was, Spurs were excellent in an emphatic victory. Underlying problems between a combustible manager and a quixotic club may remain, but Tottenham’s biggest win under the Italian suggested they are not in meltdown.

Maybe the losers are. “Leeds are falling apart again,” chorused the Spurs fans, and if the chant is hackneyed, it feels truer this time.

They were a shambles at the back again and a hideous February has made their defensive record disastrous, with 20 goals conceded in five games.

This was all too predictable, with Marcelo Bielsa’s stubborn belief in his gung-ho tactics leaving him looking naïve and with an ever greater danger his reign at Leeds will end in relegation. It was a sign of how his plans are backfiring that, for the fourth successive game, he made a double change at half-time.

Leeds had been booed off at the break. Tottenham could savour the change in their fortunes after their wretched defeat at Burnley. After losing four of their previous five league games, Tottenham were two goals up after a quarter of an hour and three to the good within 28 minutes, courtesy of Matt Doherty, Dejan Kulusevski and the outstanding Harry Kane.

The Irishman felt the least likely scorer of the trio and, given Emerson Royal’s inability to have an attacking impact from right wing-back during Conte’s reign, his strike could be significant.

Doherty proved potent for Wolves but, in his 48th game, this was a belated first goal for Tottenham. It came from a combination of wing-backs, both escaping their supposed sentries as they broke from deep.

Ryan Sessegnon provided the cross from the left for Doherty to arrive in the box and supply a first-time finish. He soon had an assist, even if more of the credit for the second belonged to the scorer.

Kulusevski, who struck at Manchester City, scored on a second successive Saturday with a low finish that was the product of determination. He wriggled away from Junior Firpo near the corner flag on a forceful solo run and Conte, who has been critical of Tottenham’s transfer business, should reflect that a January buy has two goals already.

The Swede is looking like an excellent acquisition and an upgrade on Lucas Moura. The third was a high-class finish from an acute angle with Kane’s meeting Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s ball over the top with a controlled low volley.

Leeds being Leeds, they had still created chances. Pascal Struijk glanced a second-minute header wide. Immediately after Kulusevski scored, Robin Koch struck the foot of the post.

Luke Ayling looped a header past the far post. They should have reduced the deficit in the second half after a Hugo Lloris error left Stuart Dallas with an open goal, but he delayed too long before shooting and Ben Davies made a magnificent block, while Raphinha’s free kick rattled the post in the last minute.

Otherwise, Tottenham exerted control in the second half. Sessegnon rifled a shot into the side-netting and Kulusevski almost added another. Finally, they got a fourth: Kane’s incisive passes had almost produced goals for Doherty and substitute Royal before he picked out Heung-Min Son, who slotted in.

It was a new record: they have combined directly for 37 Premier League goals, one more than Didier Drogba and Frank Lampard. It capped a fine day for Spurs. The driven Conte had contrived to get booked for moaning to the referee but even he should have fewer complaints about his players or employers.

Updated: February 26, 2022, 2:49 PM
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