Leeds United ‘will keep learning’ and build on the lesson from Tottenham
Marcelo Bielsa’s men kicked off the new year in the capital but were well beaten by Jose Mourinho’s side.
England captain Harry Kane opened the scoring from the spot after Gjanni Alioski was adjudged to have tripped winger Steven Bergwijn on the line of the 18-yard area.
Son Heung-Min then doubled the advantage a short time later as he calmly converted a low cross from Kane to give the hosts a two-goal cushion at the half-time break.
Toby Alderweireld completed the scoring five minutes after the interval with a header that required goal-line technology to rule whether it crossed Illan Meslier’s line.
United had claimed back-to-back festive victories over Burnley and West Bromwich but stand-in captain Ayling admitted that this defeat was another learning curve.
“The game changed from their second goal. They were all sloppy goals,” said Ayling.
“We are still learning in this league and we have been caught out a few times. We are learning the hard way a lot of times, so we will keep learning and trying to put it right.
“We are still only 17 games in, it takes a while to settle down and I think we are doing all right.
“It has been a really tough week. Three games in six days is what we live for and to take six points from those games makes it a good week.
“We’ve worked under the boss for a while, it’s our third season with him and we know what he wants.
“We just go out there, try to play and score goals. I think it’s been good so far. There have been ups and downs but we’ve got 23 points and it’s still a good start. Now we need to make sure it’s a good middle and ending.”
While there was no shame in losing, there was irritation for Leeds.
It is a sign of how far the club has come under Bielsa that players who might well have been pinching themselves walking out at the £1bn Tottenham Hotspur Stadium before kick-off were kicking themselves at full-time.
Leeds errors, coupled with the ruthless efficiency of Mourinho’s attack, proved the difference, said Bielsa.
It was the quality of the world-class attackers in the Spurs side and their counter-attacking ability as a team that was expected to prove the difference in this game.
In Son and Kane, Mourinho has two of the best players with deadly individual threat and a wonderful connection that makes them even more dangerous as a pair. They need very little in the way of help from opposition sides yet that is exactly what Leeds gave them.
A poor pass and a clumsy challenge handed Kane the chance to open the lead from the penalty spot.
A lost duel in midfield and a missed tackle allowed Kane to clip the ball into the path of Son for the second.
Leeds threw in the obligatory goal from a corner, failing to do anywhere near enough to stop Alderweireld from heading in from Son’s corner.
The third, which came five minutes after half-time, was the comfortable cushion the hosts needed to sit back and defend, packing the final third and frustrating Leeds to the final whistle.
Spurs ‘did a job’ on Leeds, according to former England captain Alan Shearer on Five Live but United lent a helping hand.
When Leeds were sloppy, the punishment was swift and decisive.
If the timing of the second goal, just two minutes before the break, was frustrating for Leeds, the arrival of the third was maddening.
That, in essence, was that.
The scoreline does not reflect Leeds’s relentless search for a route back into the game or the wave after wave of attack as they dominated the ball, but the realisation had long since dawned that Spurs were quite happy to defend their lead, in numbers, by the time Kalvin Phillips headed over from Raphinha’s corner and Pablo Hernandez, on for the faded Rodrigo, had a pair of shots deflected wide.
Phillips had started quietly, struggling to find space in order to receive the ball, so Ayling took it upon himself to carry it upfield, by-passing the first line of the Spurs’ press and allowing Leeds to build from the back.
When Phillips did start to get on the ball, good things happened, Leeds putting together several quick counter-attacks including one that ended with Patrick Bamford heading Raphinha’s dangerous cross over the top.
But, at 3-0 ahead, the second yellow and subsequent red card shown to Matt Doherty in stoppage-time came too late to trouble the hosts.
“We have gone through similar problems to the ones we faced today,” said Bielsa. “It’s not through a lack of experience or the need for a longer adaptation period to the league, we are in condition to take better decisions than the ones we took.”
The performance against Spurs could have been better but life could be so much worse.
Tottenham Hotspur: Lloris, Doherty, Alderweireld, Dier, Davies; Winks (Sissoko 76), Hojbjerg, Bergwijn, Ndombele (Lucas Moura 78); Son, Kane (Vinicius 87). Unused substitutes: Reguilon, Hart, Rodon, Alli, Tanganga, Fernandes.
Leeds United: Meslier, Dallas, Ayling, Struijk, Alioski (Shackleton 64); Phillips, Raphinha, Rodrigo (Hernandez 65), Klich; Harrison (Poveda-Ocampo 61), Bamford. Unused substitutes: Casilla, Helder Costa, Cresswell, Jenkins, Casey, Huggins.
Referee: D Coote (Notts).