Despite being ravaged by injuries once more, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United side put on an excellent first-half performance against Tottenham Hotspur, taking a 1-0 lead into the break courtesy of Dan James’ first goal for the club.
However, Spurs ultimately came out on top as they put on a far stronger second half performance. Their added intensity, alongside stronger depth of quality appeared to make the vital difference.
Antonio Conte revealed after the game how he set about changing the game in his side’s favour.
“Second half I totally changed the situation and the tactical aspect and also I said to them we had to go, man to man, and play with the same intensity. If we wanted to beat Leeds, we had to beat Leeds at what they’re good at doing,” said the ex-Chelsea and Inter Milan boss.
In the first half, Leeds’ intensity had caused big problems for Spurs as they won the ball high up the pitch often and the midfield pairing of Adam Forshaw and Mateusz Klich regularly recovered the ball in the midfield third. Meanwhile, Kalvin Phillips was deployed in the back four and was dominant over Harry Kane, regularly winning physical duels over his England teammate.
The pressure told in the end as Jack Harrison beat Emerson Royal with some excellent wing play, before whipping a low cross to the back post. Dan James arrived at pace to bury the ball from point-blank range.
Conte’s plan to match Leeds’ man-to-man system worked perfectly though.
Harry Kane almost scored with a minute of half-time as the ball was turned over around the halfway line. The England captain managed to elude Phillips in one of the few times he had managed to do so up until that point but was unable to beat Illan Meslier with his shot, as the Frenchman deflected his shot onto the near post.
That set the tone for the second half as Spurs began to press Leeds much higher. In the first-half it had been one or two players pressing the ball, meaning Leeds always had free men to advance the ball to. The second-half was completely different though as they didn’t have anywhere near the time and space to build-up.
As such, Kalvin Phillips mentioned in his post-match interview that he felt his side could have been smarter.
“It’s those moments you need to pump it long and soak up pressure,” said the England midfielder.
Ultimately the two goals Spurs scored through Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg and Sergio Reguilon were sloppy goals but both came through an area in which Marcelo Bielsa’s side have been exposed in on several occasions during the season in players carrying the ball through the middle of the pitch.
Lucas Moura caused the problems with his direct running and it was his dribble in from the right flank which brought led to the chance for Hojbjerg’s equaliser. Then the Brazilian was able to carry the ball all the way to the edge of the Leeds penalty area, where Liam Cooper brought him down.
Eric Dier’s free-kick hit the wall but it was deflected onto the post and finished on the rebound by Reguilon to win the game.
Leeds did still have time to find an equaliser but the Tottenham press was still keeping the Whites back, whilst Leeds’s lack of depth from the bench meant that substitutes had weakened the team, rather than providing any game-changing options.
Interestingly, Conte mentioned that the less intense press in the first-half was part of his plan as he felt that he “didn’t know if we could bring this intensity for the whole game”.