Jose Mourinho wins the battle of the brains against Marcelo Bielsa

Jose Mourinho wins the battle of the brains against Marcelo Bielsa as Tottenham’s counter-punching flattened high-wire Leeds

  • Leeds have won many plaudits for their style of play under boss Marcelo Bielsa 
  • Bielsa’s side came undone in a one-sided 3-0 loss against Tottenham Hotspur 
  • Spurs manager Jose Mourinho outwitted the Argentine in their latest match-up 

They say the best way to handle a bully is with force. Alas, when the poet of Leeds went toe to claw with the devil of Tottenham, he left with the sort of wedgie that might require surgical extraction.

There are a great many nice things to be said about the way Marcelo Bielsa’s side play their games, and fewer compliments for the style of Jose Mourinho, but this was a scoreline and performance to stem some of the snootiness.

That it went Mourinho’s way was partially down to the vagaries of football, for Leeds had strong chances to go ahead, but it was largely by design. 

Jose Mourinho (left) came out on top against Marcelo Bielsa (right) in their battle of wits

The design of one manager who persists with a high-wire, attacking approach against top teams, and the design of another who likes nothing more than to sit back and destroy the creations of his opposition. Bielsa sprinted on to a haymaker, and how Mourinho must have loved it. Of course he did. 

Ahead of the game, he was depicted as something akin to Bielsa’s spiritual opposite, the minister of pragmatic anti-football up against the great innovator whose legacy will not be measured in trophies. One can only imagine the satisfaction Mourinho felt as he boarded his raft of skulls to go home.

Which is not to say it was a fair fight between ideologies, or that such a thing exists in an uneven league. How can it when Tottenham have an attacking duo for the ages? We are constantly redefining how we assess Harry Kane, and equally the brilliance of Son Heung-min at his side.

That Kane reached 10 league goals for the season with a penalty was less interesting, and less impressive, than his subsequent assist for Son’s strike that put Spurs two up. 

Star striker and talisman Harry Kane (right) scored a goal and assisted Son Heung-Min again

Mourinho has a great record against Bielsa, having beaten him 18 times out of 20 games

With two touches, Kane beat Pascal Struijk and from there it was a split-second fusion of perception and execution to bend a pass behind Luke Ayling and Ezgjan Alioski, flush into Son’s path. Delightful.

That assist was Kane’s 11th in the league this season and combined, he and Son have directly laid on 13 goals for one another this term — equalling a record set by Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton 26 years ago. 

For good measure, Son then got his fifth assist by crossing for Toby Alderweireld for 3-0. The question is, where will it lead? What will those pretty numbers add up to? Whisper it, but Mourinho is getting ever closer to doing what he was hired to do.

Even with the Covid indiscretions committed by a chunk of his squad, Mourinho can reflect on a weekend in which Spurs ended a four-game winless streak in the Premier League, moved within four points of Liverpool.

Deadly Spurs duo Kane and Son have now combined for 13 goals this season already

Tottenham played smart, couter-attacking football and exploited Leeds’ gung-ho mentality 

They also gained speed on the runway to tomorrow’s Carabao Cup semi-final against Brentford. Even the hard-liners who most resented the sacking of Mauricio Pochettino might be coming around.

‘All we focus on as players is winning,’ said Harry Winks. ‘The style of play is for other people to talk about. If you win, everybody is happy. If you play well and lose, everybody’s not happy. 

‘The most important thing is winning and if that means come the end of the season we are up there, then that’s all that matters for us. We have a different manager now, with a different philosophy and style. Nothing has changed drastically but we have the mindset of wanting to win.’

The situation at Leeds is intriguing. Bielsa has thrown fistfuls of happy dust over the Premier League, but you have to question whether he has another idea hidden inside his blue bucket for the games against better sides.

At what stage does a 12-3 aggregate from games with Tottenham, Manchester United and Chelsea in the past month force a less aggressive approach?

Chances are, there won’t be a change any time soon. Bielsa was right to point out how Leeds created enough — 18 shots, no less. But with so much emphasis on bodies going forward and playing out from the back, the consequences of individual mistakes are greatly amplified. 

There were just too many by his side in this game, not least by their goalkeeper Illan Meslier, whose errant pass preceded the penalty. Bielsa got a little tetchy on the subject, so you would suspect Leeds will hold their course for now. 

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