It may only be ninth taking on 15th in the Premier League, but Tottenham v Leeds has all sorts of talking points surrounding it as Antonio Conte takes charge of his first home league game. It’s the perfect big match for our Game of the Day series.
Pleasingly it’s the 100th meeting between these two great clubs, and for those interested Spurs lead the way with 37 wins to Leeds’ 33 and 29 draws.
There have been some big names in charge of these two down the years but having two such revered managers at the helm as Conte and Marcelo Bielsa is right up there, but they’re both managers who have a lot of work to do.
A win here either would could dramatically alter the perception of how the season is and could be heading, as Spurs aren’t actually that far away from the European places while Leeds are far too close to the relegation zone for comfort.
Can Conte kick-start Spurs?
What can you make of Conte’s first two games in charge of Spurs? Firstly a 3-2 rollercoaster ride victory over Vitesse Arnhem, which would’ve driven the Italian nuts, followed by a 0-0 draw at Everton which would have been a bit more like it.
Although the display at Goodison didn’t see Spurs register one single shot on target, Conte will have been quietly pleased with the work-rate as Spurs produced their most distance covered in a game this season.
You’d think the absolute minimum requirement for a Premier League player would be to run around a bit but it’s incredible how often those running stats drop when a squad senses a manager is on the way out.
“There is a will to build together something important [at Spurs] – Harry knows this”
Tottenham head coach Antonio Conte on Harry Kane’s future at #THFC pic.twitter.com/HQPmyeLuiN
? Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) November 19, 2021
And it wasn’t even close – Spurs covered around 10km more against Everton than in Nuno Espirito Santo’s final game against Man Utd, while they also ran far more sprints, you don’t want to say they downed tools but…
Conte won’t carry any passengers, and there’s clarity in his 3-4-3 system that he’ll only use players willing to work and fit into that, not the other way around.
If he can use that to get Harry Kane back scoring, as he did with Romelu Lukaku, and the intriguing prospect of finally getting the best out of the talented Tanguy Ndombele, then Spurs could be on to something.
Bielsa ball falling flat?
Leeds have just two wins, against Watford and Norwich, to their name this season and although they’re unbeaten in three they’re by no means out of the woods at just three points above the drop zone. They may be 6/1 shots for relegation but for now it’s a prospect they have to take seriously.
It seems even a coach such as Bielsa isn’t immune to second season syndrome in the Premier League, and perhaps opposition coaches are now much better equipped to deal with his unique man-marking style across the pitch.
Injuries haven’t helped, especially to top scorer Patrick Bamford, while Luke Ayling, Junior Firpo and Robin Koch join him on the sidelines for this one. And Bielsa’s system is hardly conducive to easing players back into the team after injury.
Kalvin Phillips has been an issue as well, as he’s the player who makes this team tick but there’s no doubt he was feeling the after effects of the Euros during a slow start to this season – and you get the feeling this Leeds team can only go as far as the Yorkshire Pirlo can take them.
With a full complement of players and a fully fit and firing Phillips and Bamford Leeds will be just fine, but there may be a few more bumps along the way.
Conte v Bielsa: Intriguing tactical battle
These two big-name coaches haven’t played against each other before and aside from the sideshow around their actual teams, the tactical battle between them will be a fascinating contest between two of the sharpest minds in the game.
And the best bit is that neither man will budge, they won’t back down from their principals and they will not be changing their systems for their opposition. Whether that obstinate approach is the right way to go remains to be seem, but they don’t do Plan Bs these two.
Conte has, and will, continue to operate in the 3-4-3 system he switched to at Chelsea as they won the Premier League on 2017. It’s a system that propelled Inter Milan to the Serie A title and has been deployed in his last 147 league games.
Trying to counter that will be ‘Bielsa Ball’ – his 4-1-4-1 system of man-marking almost mirroring the full-court press in basketball. It can be a beautifully flowing attacking system when working correctly but it’s a finely balanced machine and can result in being carved wide open if one player misses an assignment.
Bielsa, though, will not be changing it to try and stop Conte.
“No, no, not us,” he told Sky Sports. “Their system is not only about the distribution of the players on the pitch and where they are positioned.
“I would almost say, in terms of their style of play, the positioning is actually the least important thing. What you really have to prepare for is a dynamic and intense game with a constant back and forth.”
“Their team stay very close together, the players are closely linked to each other, and the transitions are fast.”
Stats to know and best bets
Leeds have won eight of their 11 points against the current bottom five and if they’re as open as they have been then there’s a chance they could get picked apart pretty easily here. Either way the home win is the bet in the outrights.
‘If you don’t buy a ticket, you won’t win the raffle’ the old saying goes (I think) and Spurs haven’t been buying any tickets recently as they’ve gone two straight league games without a shot on target. The stats boffins at Opta have never seen a side fail to hit the target in three Premier League games on the bounce.
Just the FOUR first-half goals for Harry Kane
Where does he rank among England’s greatest-ever strikers? @HKane | @England | #WCQ pic.twitter.com/uAskksHz9a
? European Qualifiers (@EURO2024) November 18, 2021
Only Norwich have scored less than Spurs’ nine goals this season, but with Kane smashing in consecutive hat-tricks for England there’s hope Conte can revive him just as he did Lukaku at Inter. The bookies are also expecting a bounce though as Kane is just 1.84/5 to score and 2.56/4 to get three shots on target in.
If there is a team that can cure Spurs’ shooting problems though it’s Leeds, who will give you plenty of chances and players have been taking pot shots at them all season, with Sadio Mane (10 shots), Michal Antonio (7) and Bruno Fernandes (4) all filling their boots.
To that end expect Spurs to get a fair few shots in on the Leeds goal with Kane leading the way, but there is some better value in his partner in crime Son Heung-min and Brazilian Lucas Moura – who looks the favoured option in Conte’s front three.
Moura’s had 18 shots and five on target in limited playing time, but his pace will be a huge asset against Leeds, as will Son – who averages a short on target per 90 minutes played even across this most turgid of seasons attacking-wise at Spurs.
Roll them up with Raphinha, who is a shot machine for Leeds and Brazil for a nice Bet Builder shots on target treble that shouldn’t have too many problems in landing.
Raphinha is the one bright spark in a disappoiting scoring return from Leeds so far – as while goals have been flying in in the Premier League Leeds haven’t been scoring as freely as they did last season, when they bagged three or more in 10 games, as they’re one of just five teams yet to hit three in a game.
They’ve scored exactly one goal seven times, two twice and failed to score twice and I think one might be the very best they could do here, and even that’s no guarantee as a Spurs win to nil of Spurs win and under 2.5 feels about right if pushed for an outcome.
If anyone, it will be Raphinha, who has five goals this season with a league-best three of them coming from outside the box. No team has more than Leeds’ five goals from outside the area and it’s Raphinha with that quality left peg that has been firing them in.
Raphinha is 3.259/4 to have a shot on target from outside the box and a more juicy 2120/1 to score from distance for the fourth time this season. It’s a far sexier play than just the simple 5.59/2 on him just to find the net.
We’ve saved the best for last though as we’ve squeezed the Betfair traders once again for a bit more juice in a goal-scoring double, and it has to be the main men for Spurs Harry Kane and Son Heung-min to each grab a goal, which we’ve managed to get enhanced to 4.03/1 as our Game of the Day special.
Read Dave Tindall’s preview & tips for Tottenham v Leeds here.