From Gareth Bale to Harry Kane - Marcelo Bielsa assesses Leeds United task against Tottenham
FOUR months is a long time in football.
Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur’s recent exploits tell you that.
After a 3-0 reverse at Spurs on January 2, United’s record against the division’s top sides was being heavily scrutinised on the back of earlier heavy defeats to Manchester United and Chelsea.
Four months on, that record against the division’s big guns is suddenly pretty decent and change has been afoot at Tottenham too.
Jose Mourinho was the man in the dugout to mastermind January’s success against the now 11th-placed Whites but four months later 29-year-old interim boss Ryan Mason will be looking to see his side to a Whites league double.
Yet despite the changes, Leeds head coach Marcelo Bielsa expects no great alterations from today’s Champions League chasing visitors and needs no reminding of the talents of their star men.
One of them, and arguably Tottenham’s brightest star of the lot, struck the first blow in January’s 3-0 victory against the Whites.
Back then, Harry Kane’s 29th-minute penalty put the England captain into double figures for this season’s Premier League goal haul.
Four months on, the Spurs no 9 has more than doubled that tally and sits top of the division’s Golden Boot race on 21 goals and with an impressive 13 assists too.
Even Kane’s goals and assists though were unable to keep his former manager in a job as Mourinho found himself sacked on April 17 with Spurs seventh and having taken only two points from their last three games.
Fresh faced 29-year-old midfielder-turned coach Ryan Mason is now in interim charge and heading for Elland Road having won both of his Premier League games so far with victories against Southampton and Sheffield United sandwiching defeat in the EFL Cup final to Manchester City.
A different manager and a different landscape but Bielsa expects the same threat from Tottenham led by messrs Kane, Son Heung-min and a revitalised Gareth Bale – fresh from his hat-trick in last weekend’s 4-0 victory against the Blades.
“It’s the same players, a similar distribution and of course if you beat an opponent by four goals, the evaluation increases,” said Bielsa.
“It’s not the same to evaluate them after the final against City then after this game, the evaluation after the City game left some things but after this victory it leaves a different type of evaluation.
“The game against City leaves certain conclusions that differ from the conclusions that you can make from the last Premier League game.
“But finally the team is not how they were in the last game but the trajectory of their campaign. But we can’t deny that the 4-0 victory showed they are in a different type of form.
“I’m not best placed to evaluate these changes between the two managers.
"There’s already enough elements for you guys to make your own judgements on the changes that the new manager has had.”
On the face of it, and certainly statistically speaking, Mason has made a strong start and Spurs are heading to Leeds still holding chances of qualifying for next season’s Champions League in sitting sixth and five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.
Today’s visitors have scored six goals in Mason’s two games in charge – and none of them have been netted by Kane.
Instead, step forward Bale, a player who says he is thriving on regular game time and looked somewhere near his best when netting the eighth hat-trick of his career in last weekend’s romp against the Blades.
“The last game is a good place to look at to judge how his form is,” said Bielsa, asked about Bale’s recent displays.
“The qualities that he has are known by everyone. And of course this last game is a point of focus given how difficult it is to score three goals and also taking into account that the goals he scored showed the virtues he has.”
Son, who is joint third in the Golden Boot race with 16 goals, has netted Tottenham’s other two strikes in Mason’s two league games in charge – which probably means Kane is now due one too. The striker has netted 16 times in all competitions since facing Leeds, and Bielsa does not need to check.
Bielsa warned: “Harry Kane has a stability in his performances throughout the whole campaign, to consider the performance that he had against us such a long time ago, to look at or to say that he has evolved or not since that time he had that impact against us.
“It’s not an exercise that is convenient because he has a regularity in his game that we don’t need to look back so far.”
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Thank you Laura Collins