Marsch's Leeds United picture clear as mud - Graham Smyth's verdict on Spurs collapses

Marsch’s Leeds United picture clear as mud – Graham Smyth’s verdict on Spurs collapses

The same can be said about their season. The goals are flying in at the right end, despite struggling and the absence of Patrick Bamford, and at the wrong end too.

They have been impressively competitive against the Big Six but not against a number of teams they count as natural competition.

And for a team coached by a man whose watchword has been “clarity”, it is 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 on the way to a destination that looked inevitable before these games?

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

How to maintain a goalscoring streak 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.

Leeds themselves are a bit of an enigma, so unpredictable have they been. Had they held on to 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 dispel the doubts, but the mood would have been very good. Pleasantly confused perhaps.

UNCLEAR PICTURE – Questions remain about how good Leeds United really are after a 4-3 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur that could and should have been a win. Image: Getty

Instead, the defensive collapse that earned Antonio Conte’s men a 4-3 victory kept all the confusion and none of the delirium.

It’s not that long ago that Marsch’s head was called for and when that’s the case, it takes a lot of distance to put a coach in free mode. Any setback can quickly transport you back to the most unenviable of places and so coming out of the late December break 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 into a battle with Pep Guardiola, unfortunately it didn’t work out that way at Tottenham. It could and should have, though.

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 although his pass still left Crysencio Summerville with a lot to do, he did it all brilliantly. A touch to go forward, a display of strength to hold back Eric Dier and a calm finish saw the Dutchman score four goals in four games.

The goal simply provoked Spurs and their response was waves of attacks, most of which focused on the Leeds left. Neat combination play pulled the visitors apart and created 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’ pressing was punctuated by brief but effective Leeds counter-attacks, Aaronson teeing up Summerville for a second time only for the fiery youngster to find the legs of Lloris.

What Marsch didn’t 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 Sunday went unpunished by referee Michael Salisbury, his assistant and, somehow , WHERE. Illan Meslier was bundled into his own net by two players as he flicked the ball as far as Harry Kane, who slotted home an equalizer that could only have stood in London.

But it didn’t matter as Leeds hit the front again before the break, Liam Cooper and Kristensen bagging the nods for Rodrigo to match Summerville’s four games.

The interval saw a change to a 4-3-3 shape for Leeds, Sam Greenwood replacing Gnonto, and if the desired effect was to bump things up on the left, it was completely undermined by the 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’ return effort went through the Dane and Meslier.

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

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

For five minutes Leeds were resting in dreamland and were heading for nine points from nine. But it just wasn’t meant to be.

A cross, from Spurs’ right, was headed out to the edge of the area and hammered back in by Rodrigo Bentancur, who took a hack from Luke Ayling on his way past Meslier.

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

Two minutes later Spurs went right, as they had done all afternoon, Kane’s pass taking Cooper out of the game and Dejan Kulusevski finishing a superb performance with a cut-back for Bentancur to score the winner.

A painful investigation into how it went so wrong, and how quickly, was already under way when Adams picked up a second yellow that all but confirmed the result.

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

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

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