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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 February 2021

Tottenham beat Leeds in victory for the pragmatist over the purist

Son Heung-min scores his 100th Spurs goal in 3-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur Stadium

Harry Kane of Tottenham after scoring against Leeds. EPA
Harry Kane of Tottenham after scoring against Leeds. EPA

Call it the revenge of the pragmatists, perhaps, even if Tottenham Hotspur offered plenty of entertainment.

Four days after Leeds United’s 5-0 thrashing of Sam Allardyce’s West Bromwich Albion was greeted as a triumph for Marcelo Bielsa’s purism, Jose Mourinho, who can be famously disdainful of the poets and philosophers who don’t share his trophy-gathering habit, oversaw a dissection of the promoted club.

Bielsa has attracted plenty of plaudits this season, but Mourinho took the points here to extend his 100 per cent winning record against the Argentine. Bielsa lost his balance while crouching in trademark style and Tottenham showed more balance on the pitch. They were the more clinical and they kept the clean sheet.

“We understood well how they could hurt us and how we could hurt them,” Mourinho said, and his side inflicted the pain.

It is an exaggeration to say Leeds were ideal opponents, with the fact they had 18 of the game’s 38 shots suggesting their all-action approach rubbed off on Spurs. But if it was not Mourinho at his most puritanical, it was effective. A first win in five league games took Spurs back into the top four.

It amounted to a landmark occasion for a “very proud and very grateful” Son Heung-min, who became the 18th member of Tottenham’s 100 club and the first non-British or Irish player to score a century of goals for Spurs. He is in distinguished company, alongside Jimmy Greaves, Glenn Hoddle, Cliff Jones and Teddy Sheringham.

Harry Kane was already in their ranks and got on the scoresheet before his sidekick. “Sonny and Harry are doing special things this season,” said Mourinho. “I want goals coming from other players.”

An altogether less frequent finisher, Toby Alderweireld, joined them in the goals, heading in Son’s corner as Leeds’ set-piece problems remain a constant in their campaign.

Kane suffered a serious hamstring injury his first game of 2020. He had a happier start to 2021. He became the first player in any of the five major European leagues to reach double figures for both goals and assists this season.

Ezgjan Alioski has been arguably the boldest left-back in the division this season and had conjured the game’s first shot. Yet those attacking instincts cost him when Leeds lost the ball, Alioski was caught on the wrong side of Steven Bergwijn and, attempting to make amends, he caught the Dutchman with a rash challenge on the edge of the box. Kane converted the resulting penalty.

He added another assist as Tottenham’s favourite double act combined again. Kane accepted Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg’s pass, with the Dane illustrating what his combativity has brought to Tottenham, veered out to the right and curled in a low cross. Son met it by stroking in a volley at the near post. It was his 12th league goal, and the ninth Kane has provided. “The ball was perfect,” Son said. “Sometimes it is telepathic.”

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Tottenham v Leeds player ratings

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Mourinho, noting Leeds’ man-to-man marking system, said: “If you stay static, you give them an easy job. That movement of Harry Kane appearing on the right and Sonny in the finishing position fit well.

Spurs created more clear-cut chances, starting with a rising Kane shot that cleared the bar. Bergwijn blazed over wastefully and drilled an effort Meslier parried. The French goalkeeper repelled a fierce drive by Tanguy Ndombele and denied Kane a second with a shot from an acute angle. The striker was so confident he tried to score from his own half.

“The opponents' forwards were very damaging and difficult to contain,” said Bielsa. “We made some unforced errors." Perhaps he should not have named an unchanged team and Pablo Hernandez exerted an impact after coming on. Jack Harrison had the most menacing of Leeds’ many efforts. They were not muted, but they were beaten.

Apart from Matt Doherty’s injury-time red card, for a second booking, it was a near-perfect match for Tottenham. The more serious disciplinary issue came from revelations that Sergio Reguilon, Erik Lamela and Giovani Lo Celso had breached Covid protocols over Christmas.

Spurs issued a statement condemning them and Mourinho added: “Every club does the best for their players to keep them all safe but there are moments in private lives you cannot control.”

Updated: January 3, 2021 08:59 AM

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