Tottenham Hotspur v Leeds United – Meeting of intense rivals Antonio Conte and Marcelo Bielsa makes for fascinating clash

Sometimes life is all about timing, and on paper it would seem Leeds United’s is not great this weekend.

A month ago Tottenham Hotspur were exactly the sort of team you would love to play with your season struggling to get going, as is the case for Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites.

Nuno Espirito Santo was embattled, struggling to show Spurs fans he ought to have been higher on their long list of managerial targets before they finally settled on him in the summer. Harry Kane has only scored once in this season’s Premier League – level in the charts with Leeds centre-back Diego Llorente, who has played three fewer matches.

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Two-and-a-half weeks ago, Spurs got the shock treatment that is Antonio Conte arriving as manager. They would have loved the explosive Italian to replace Jose Mourinho directly but were unwilling or unable to make it happen.

Antonio Conte, pictured during his Chelsea days. Picture: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Almost any team looks better with Conte screaming instructions at it from the technical area. Bielsa, another intense coach who does a good line in intense football teams, is a big fan of the serial winner.

“To compare him with me, all you need to do is just look at the achievements of the two of us and then you can see the differences,” he says modestly.

Whether Kane has changed for the better too, we will find out tomorrow.

It is an unfair exaggeration of course, but almost from the moment he broke into the Spurs first team, it feels like Kane has been carrying 10 team-mates on his shoulders. Even at international level his goalscoring record – 48 from just 67 caps – means Gareth Southgate cannot rest him from the must-win games. His hunger for goals and records means he refuses to sit out the won’t-lose games and his willingness to rush back from injuries is both admirable and slightly concerning.

Leeds United head coach Marcelo Bielsa Picture: Bruce Rollinson

At times over the last six months, it has shown. Too often Kane has not moved like a 28-year-old athlete. It is a warning to Leeds, who this season have been in danger of becoming a one-man team too because of Raphinha’s outstanding form.

Seven of Kane’s England goals came in just two matches during the last international break and perceived football wisdom has it that any goals, no matter how they are scored (and Kane’s hat-trick strike against Albania at Wembley was far removed from “in off your backside”) or against whom, automatically have a transformative effect on a centre-forward. So far this season, however, he has been brilliantly disproving that.

Albania and San Marino’s generosity took him to 17 in all competitions already, marking him out as the cruellest of flat-track bullies. Even so, there will certainly be no lack of respect from the visiting coach tomorrow.

“For a goalscorer to score is always good for them but with or without the international goals, (Kane) is a player to be respected and Conte is a manager who has a set style of play that distinguishes from all other managers,” says Bielsa.

England's Harry Kane Picture: Nick Potts/PA

“He is a genuine representative of his country in terms of managers, he has triumphed in every team he has managed, he is a reference (point) in world football, not only in the league he participates in, and a coach who gets very high performances from his players.

“What unifies all the coaches is the virtues they extract from the players they coach. That is about how you prepare them and convince them and in those two aspects, he is a master.”

Ask Bielsa what impresses him the most about the reigning Serie A champion and former Premier League winner and it brings him onto his favourite subjects.

“Intensity, in a collective sense,” he replies.

“(Conte’s) teams attack with a lot of players but do not defend with fewer players because of this. That is very hard to get in a team. Those things are very difficult to achieve, to attack with many but you still don’t defend with fewer or defending with many and that not meaning you attack with fewer players.

“That is very marked in the teams he has managed and something that stands out.”

Leeds too are built around the collective but with Patrick Bamford and Luke Ayling in particular injured, Raphinha has stood out a little more than is comfortable at times, carrying the goalscoring burden in the way Kane too often does for his teams.

Whether it proves unfounded or justified, Spurs embody how confidence in football can turn so quickly, and after playing so well against Leicester City in their last game before the international break and still not winning (it was 1-1), Leeds must hope they are next – or rather ensure they are.

For that to be the case, Bielsa has to keep getting the best out of his brilliant Brazilian winger – or rather, he says, Raphinha and his team-mates do.

“More than what I do, it is what he does,” stresses his coach. “The players that unbalance (opposition teams), what is most convenient for them is to receive a lot of balls far away from the markers they are up against, more on the move rather than standing still and managing to take the ball in spaces where the opponent doesn’t expect it.

“No player that unbalances ignores how to resolve these issues, to receive the ball in good conditions. More than the power to eliminate players one-v-one, the virtue that allows them to shine is how they receive the ball.

“Another characteristic of the elite players is they are ambitious and the demands and limits they put them themselves don’t need an external stimulus.”

Conte, Kane, Bielsa and Raphinha are certainly not people who need motivating. If Leeds travel south this weekend expecting to be worked hard, the same will equally be true of their hosts. Whose time is it to shine?