Tottenham can testify how far an overachieving Argentinian manager can take a team; Mauricio Pochettino steered them to a Champions League final. But as his mentor, Marcelo Bielsa, lifted Leeds to ninth with his brand of vibrancy, energy and a capacity to propel players beyond their natural limits, Spurs’ chances of a return to the European elite were effectively ended.
Leeds set the tone in a game of 25 shots. Their fearlessness and relentlessness enabled them to prevail and they will complete the season unbeaten against the “big six” at home.
“I always think it is possible we can compete as equals,” said Bielsa. But as Leeds looked superior, he concluded: “The difference of two goals is adequate and fair.”
Mourinho frequently implied Spurs’ defence was not good enough; Mason’s more attacking reboot may have proved his point by leaving them exposed and Eric Dier cut a sorry sight, isolated against two rapid substitutes, when Raphinha and Rodrigo combined for Leeds’ third goal six minutes from time.
Before then Tottenham had frequent reasons to thank Hugo Lloris for his damage-limitation exercise in an error-strewn display. The captain denied Patrick Bamford, Jack Harrison and Stuart Dallas. Arguably his best stop still led to the opener.
Harrison, inevitably, was involved when Leeds retook the lead. He fed the overlapping Ezgjan Alioski and as Gareth Bale, the left-back’s immediate opponent, was conspicuous by his absence, he crossed for Bamford to clip in a shot at the near post.
“I can’t really remember what happened in the moments leading up to the first two goals,” said Mason; perhaps he preferred to forget.
If the second goal illustrated why Mourinho was reluctant to select Bale, Dele Alli’s catalytic display suggested Spurs accomplished little by marginalising him for so long. This was the third time Bale, Alli, Harry Kane and Son Heung-min started together. Alli marked the occasion with a belated first Premier League assist of the campaign.
Son maintained his record of scoring in every league game under Mason with a low shot after Alli supplied a defence-splitting pass. Next he provided a second incisive ball for Kane, but the dinked finish was ruled offside by the narrowest of margins by VAR.
“I’m shocked,” said Mason, deflecting attention from the incompetence in the performance by alleging injustice.
“My first look, second look and 10th look tell me that it’s not offside. They got that one wrong. People don’t understand momentum in football and how those decisions can affect you. Two-one is a completely different game.”
But the firepower of his front four gave Spurs a series of further chances. “In the second half we were the better team,” Mason said, implausibly.
Kane clipped the bar with a free-kick, but while Mason denied his players lacked desire Bielsa was unwittingly damning. He said: “The conclusion is linked to the enthusiasm of the players.”