Jesse Marsch's Leeds United picture clear as mud - Graham Smyth's Verdict on collapse at Spurs

Making sense of Leeds United's game at Tottenham Hotspur was an exercise in futility even before they threw it away.
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The same could be said for their season. Goals are flying in at the right end, despite the struggles and absences of Patrick Bamford, and at the wrong end too.

They've been impressively competitive against big six sides but not against a number of teams they count as natural competition.

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And for a team coached by a man whose watchword has been 'clarity' it's alarming how unclear the picture is after 14 games.

Are they, as Jesse Marsch believes, a good side with a plan that will work, or were the Liverpool and Bournemouth wins simply a detour en route to a destination that looked inevitable prior to those games?

That's not the question that will occupy Marsch as he heads off to a friend's wedding in Peru during the World Cup break, but he has plenty of others to keep his mind going ten to the dozen.

How to maintain a goalscoring habit that has seen 11 go for them in four Premier League games, while eliminating the defensive frailty responsible for the 11 at the other end is a conundrum that could cost him more sleep than his best man's speech.

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Leeds themselves are a bit of a conundrum, so unpredictable have they been. Had they held onto the 3-2 lead they took in the 76th minute at Spurs, nine points from the last three games would not have been enough to banish the doubts but the mood would have been very good. Pleasantly confused, perhaps.

UNCLEAR PICTURE - Questions remain over how good Leeds United really are after a 4-3 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur that could and should have been a victory. Pic: GettyUNCLEAR PICTURE - Questions remain over how good Leeds United really are after a 4-3 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur that could and should have been a victory. Pic: Getty
UNCLEAR PICTURE - Questions remain over how good Leeds United really are after a 4-3 defeat at Tottenham Hotspur that could and should have been a victory. Pic: Getty

Instead, the defensive collapse that handed Antonio Conte's men a 4-3 victory retained all of the confusion and none of the delirium.

It's not so long since there were calls for Marsch's head and whenever that's the case it takes a serious amount of distance to put a coach in the clear. Any setback can quickly transport you back to the most unenviable of places and so emerging from the break at the end of December with some clarity evident in the next performance will be key, even if next opponents Manchester City could play the Grinch who stole Christmas better than anyone else.

Marsch would have loved nothing more than a three-game winning streak to take with him into a battle with Pep Guardiola, alas it did not work out that way at Tottenham. It could and should have, though.

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After an even first 10 minutes, Leeds took a shock lead through a goalscorer whose identity was no surprise. Rasmus Kristensen won an aerial battle, Willy Gnonto flicked on to Brenden Aaronson and though his pass still left Crysencio Summerville with plenty to do, he did it all brilliantly. A touch to go forward, a show of strength to hold off Eric Dier and a calm finish made it four goals in four games for the Dutchman.

The goal simply provoked Spurs and their response was waves of attacks, most of which focused on the Leeds left. Slick combination play pulled the visitors apart, creating space and chances, the best of which should have hit the net when Emerson Royal was found in acres of space at the back post but blazed over.

Spurs' pressure was punctuated by brief but effective Leeds counter attacks, Aaronson playing Summerville in for a second time only for the on-fire youngster to find Lloris' legs.

What Marsch did not need was a reminder of where Leeds were, and yet the kind of challenge on a goalkeeper that results in a free-kick every day of the week and twice on a Sunday went unpunished by referee Michael Salisbury, his assistant and, somehow, VAR. Illan Meslier was bundled into his net by two players as he punched the ball as far as Harry Kane, who lashed in an equaliser that could only have stood in London.

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No matter, though, because Leeds hit the front again before the break, Liam Cooper and Kristensen flicking headers on for Rodrigo to match Summerville's four-game tally.

The interval brought a change to a 4-3-3 shape for Leeds, Sam Greenwood replacing Gnonto, and if the desired effect was to shore things up on the left then it was undermined entirely by that flank falling asleep at a Spurs throw in just six minutes in.

A Harry Kane shot was blocked on the line by Kristensen and Ben Davies' rebound effort went through the Dane and Meslier.

Had VAR decided that Marc Roca's high foot challenge on Eric Dier was red card worthy it could have got ugly for Leeds, but a yellow sufficed and the visitors were still very much in the game and what's more dominating.

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The problem was that Spurs looked entirely comfortable defending patient build up and what Leeds were crying out for was a bit of broken play, a slip or something to draw the hosts out of shape. A big challenge from Tyler Adams, that the hosts felt was a foul, did the trick. Roca got on the ball, sprayed it left to Rodrigo and he drilled a wonderful finish beyond Lloris.

For five minutes, Leeds took up residency in dreamland and were headed for nine points from nine. But it just wasn't to be.

A cross, from Spurs' right, was headed out to the edge of the area and hammered back in by Rodrigo Bentancur, taking a nick off Luke Ayling on its way past Meslier.

Ayling had been thrown on in the 79th minute as Marsch went to a back five, a decision that paled in significance to the direction of the header, he later insisted.

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Two minutes later Spurs went right, as they had all afternoon, Kane's pass took Cooper out of the play and Dejan Kulusevski capped a superb performance with a cut-back for Bentancur to score the winner.

A painful inquest into how it went so wrong, and how quickly it did, was already underway when Adams took a second yellow that all-but confirmed the result.

Leeds were good, in the second half, said Marsch and the blame lay at the feet of tactical lapses. That will be the focus of some of the work carried out now, as the Premier League gives way to the World Cup.

But the questions over how good Leeds really are and if indeed they and Marsch are good enough, remain, and the overall picture is as clear as mud.

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