Comment: Marcelo Bielsa's methods have lost their magic as his Leeds United relationship threatens to peter out

It feels like the relationship between Marcelo Bielsa and Leeds United is rapidly coming to an end. You would say perhaps they were staying together for the sake of the kids, but given that Joe Gelhardt once more did not make it onto the pitch, perhaps not.

FRUSTRATIONS: Marcelo Bielsa watches helpless as his team loses 4-0 at home to Tottenham Hotspur
FRUSTRATIONS: Marcelo Bielsa watches helpless as his team loses 4-0 at home to Tottenham Hotspur

Ever since word slipped out that the Whites had been fluttering their eyelids at Jesse Marsch, things seem to have taken a turn for the worse.

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Leeds United's Marcelo Bielsa love affair feels like it is coming to an end as t...

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If divorce is looming, it will not be bitter - certainly not on Bielsa's part after he went out of his way to defend his players after a soul-destroying 4-0 defeat at home to Tottenham Hotspur. The supporters have too many fond memories to turn completely on the Argentinian but their patience is thinning, as we could hear from the boos at the end of each half. They sang his name, but only before kick-off.

For three years it was brilliant, beautiful. The football Leeds played was often drop-dead gorgeous. Of course it had its moments - Old Trafford in December 2020 springs to mind more easily than supporters would like it to - but even its faults made you smile, and certainly made you forgive.

The odd pundit would tell you he was bad for them - too naive, almost too romantic - but surely it was just jealousy.

Slowly, though, the foibles have started to grate, the weaknesses have become harder to shrug off.

Asked if a central midfield featuring Mateusz Klich and Rodrigo was too open in the build-up to Saturday's match, Bielsa actually tightened up on the teamsheet, the return to fitness of Diego Llorente and Robin Koch allowing for a more solid-looking midfield. But they still lost 4-0.

This was not a blip, it was a fourth straight defeat, 20 goals conceded in five matches.

Even with those reinforcements, Antonio Conte's tactics opened up the midfield once again. With Son Heung-Min and Dejan Kulusevski playing narrow behind Harry Kane, Leeds's man-for-man system could not cope.

With right-back Luke Ayling told to tuck in to mark Son, central midfielder Stuart Dallas was dragged wide to deal with Spurs's left wing-back Ryan Sessegnon, neutralising the decision to bolster the midfield with him.

If the defenders are playing badly, it is under extreme stress. Hollow out the midfield and Leeds are no longer the formidable up-and-down pressing outfit that made them such a success.

"Our way of playing has two great needs: there's a press in the opponent's half that prevents the ball getting to their forwards cleanly so when their opponents' forwards receive the ball they found themselves uncomfortable because the pass that found them was made difficult and in the last three games that hasn't happened," acknowledged Bielsa.

"We didn't manage to press well in the build-up. We made enormous efforts but it didn't work. The passes that came from back to front, they could always pick them."

Winks picked the first, releasing Sessegnon to cross for his fellow wing-back Matt Docherty to score. His midfield partner Pierre-Emile Hojberg picked the third, entering the middle-of-the-field vacuum Llorente's clearance plopped into.

Had Bielsa not been so stubborn in holding out for the perfect midfield signing in January - Brenden Aaronson, he believed - Winks could have been wearing white, rather than Spurs's gaudy away strip. He was offered to Leeds in January but they said no thanks.

In between his two assists, Dejan Kulusevski glided past Junior Firpo and Llorente with far too much ease. The fourth goal also came frim central midfield, where Kane dropped to pick out Son, who beat Meslier.

Leeds's way of playing still created chances - Koch hit the post in the first half, Raphinha smacked a free-kick against it in the second. Klich ought to have had a penalty when he came off the bench, Dallas should have scored after taking the ball past Hugo Lloris about 30 yards out but you could see the belief was gone.

Like a Prime Minister under pressure, Bielsa tried to get out of his problems with reshuffles but when they do not work, they seem more complicated than they need to be.

Klich and Rodrigo's half-time introductions saw a change of position for Dan James (from centre-forward to left wing), for Koch (holding midfield to centre-back) and Adam Forshaw (central to holding midfield). His second saw Ayling become a third centre-back and Dallas move out to left-back to deal with Docherty at the same time as Spurs's substitution moved him to the opposite side of the field.

Amidst all the cleverness, the change the Leeds fans wanted - again - was overlooked, Gelhardt an unused substitute.

Bielsa's insistence on a small squad means he must rely on young players when injuries strike as they have done all season yet he does not seem to trust them to play any more than bit-part roles. Something has to give.

Bielsa has said repeatedly until he is blue in the face he will not change his methods - he remembers all the joy they brought in the good times - but he also admits to "propos(ing) something the players are not able to do (at present)."

"I have to admit that what I'm proposing is not working," he said for the umpteenth time this season.

So the methods are not working but nor are they about to change.

Something, somewhere has to give and it feels like it will be Bielsa. You always have to be careful when you go for someone else on the rebound but a fresh voice - be it Marsch's American accent or someone else's - could reinvigorate things. Otherwise it is hard to see beyond more staleness, sadly, and with the relegation zone still uncomfortably close, that could have serious and very expensive consequences.

Losing Bielsa will be a wrench but there comes a moment where you just have to accept that much as you wish it was not the case, the magic has gone. We might just have reached it.