Jose Mourinho does not care much for poets and so the beauty of the Leeds United side that Marcelo Bielsa has created at Elland Road was never likely to bewitch him or his Spurs team in the way that it has dazzled others this season.
Mourinho sees fragility in beauty and when he confronted it at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, he exposed that fragility ruthlessly and all too easily.
This first meeting of Mourinho and Bielsa in English football pitted the pragmatist against the adventurer, the cautious man against the cavalier, the cynic against the romantic, and those who feared that Leeds’ swashbuckling, crowd-pleasing style would play straight into the hands of the Spurs counter-attacking machine were proved correct.
Leeds played some fine attacking football in patches but they were undone by two mistakes from goalkeeper Illan Meslier and were simply not good enough in defence, where they are depleted by injuries, to cope with their opponents, who moved up to third place with this comfortable win.
Mourinho’s team ended the match with 10 men after the late dismissal of Matt Doherty for a second bookable offence but they snapped a streak of four League games without a victory and now sit only four points behind leaders Liverpool and Manchester United.
And if Mourinho’s tactics are sometimes characterised as anti-football, there is beauty in his team, too, particularly in the attacking partnership between Harry Kane and Son Heung-Min, who are so talented, so clever and so attuned to each other’s game that they are often unstoppable.
Leeds presented their defence to Kane and Son gift-wrapped and they accepted with both hands.
Spurs had taken the lead against the run of play after 29 minutes with a penalty that stemmed from Meslier playing the ball straight to Harry Winks but it was a fine move between Kane and Son that provided the match’s decisive moment just before half time.
Kane was the provider, Son the finisher. It was the 13th time they had combined for a goal this season, equalling the record for an entire campaign, set by Alan Shearer and Chris Sutton for Blackburn Rovers in 1994-95. The strike was also Son’s 100th goal for Spurs.
Bielsa had lost all four of his previous matches against Mourinho when they were bosses at Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid respectively, and Leeds never looked like improving his record for him. Mourinho appears to have his number: his teams have scored 18 times against Bielsa in five attempts and conceded only twice.
The furore over Leeds’ response to pundit Karen Carney’s comments about their hard-running style, and the subsequent deluge of misogynistic abuse she suffered on social media, had cast a pall over the club’s week but Spurs were not without issues of their own as they approached the game.
The build-up to the match was overshadowed by the emergence of a photograph showing three Tottenham players — Giovani Lo Celso, Erik Lamela and Sergio Reguilon — among a group of 18 people celebrating Christmas Day together with West Ham star Manuel Lanzini in contravention of Government rules.
The news was particularly embarrassing for Mourinho, coming just a few days after he had mocked the Premier League for the late cancellation of Spurs’ game against Fulham last Wednesday, when several players from the west London club had tested positive for the coronavirus.
Mourinho branded the league ‘unprofessional’, so the actions of his own players must have come as a particularly unpleasant surprise.
Spurs did not duck the issue and condemned the actions of the three players immediately.
Reguilon was left out of the starting XI but pragmatism dictated that Mourinho included him among the substitutes. Lamela, however, was left out of the squad altogether. Lo Celso was not in the Tottenham 18 either, but he is still recovering from injury.
Leeds threatened in the early stages. Ezgjan Alioski hammered a shot into the side-netting, Jack Harrison flashed a cross behind the Spurs back four and Mateusz Klich lifted a shot over the bar after an attempted cross had hit Doherty on the arm. VAR checked the incident and decided no offence had been committed.
At the other end, Luke Ayling was giving the ball away with alarming regularity and Kane blazed a shot over the bar but Leeds should have taken the lead midway through the half.
Raphinha stepped inside his man on the Leeds right and curled a delicious ball into the box but Patrick Bamford, who has been so ruthless in front of goal this season, could only loop a free header over the bar.
Leeds soon paid for that profligacy. They had been careless in possession for much of the game and just before the half hour, Meslier played a ball out of his area straight to Winks. He passed the ball to Steven Bergwijn on the edge of the Leeds area and the Dutchman was brought down by Alioski.
Referee David Coote pointed to the spot and a VAR check decided the foul had been made just inside the box. Kane took the penalty and sidefooted it down the middle into the net.
Leeds tried to hit back. Harrison curled a shot just over the bar and Bamford directed an effort from the edge of the box straight at Hugo Lloris. But two minutes before half time, the visitors were hit by another sucker punch. Inevitably, it was the result of a combination between Kane and Son.
Kane drifted out wide to the right and saw Son beginning a darting run down the middle. Kane timed his pass perfectly and weighted it perfectly. Son ran on to it without breaking stride and was too quick for the Leeds centre backs. He met it first time with his right foot ten yards out and clipped it past Meslier. It was another example of just how good Son and Kane are together but it was also another indictment of the Leeds defence.
Five minutes after the interval, Spurs put the game out of reach. Son hit an outswinging corner into the six-yard box and Toby Alderweireld stole in front of his marker and glanced it goalwards.
Meslier dived to stop it but only succeeded in carrying it over the line. Leeds were being sabotaged by their defensive errors.
Spurs could have scored more. A bigger margin of victory would not have flattered them.
‘Poets,’ Mourinho observed when he was manager of Manchester United, ‘they don’t win titles.’
Spurs may not make the soul sing but they are contenders once more.