Energetic pressing against Spurs from first minute led to a constant, aggressive tempo that gave Leeds the edge
From the opening minute, Leeds' defensive work in the opposition half hinted at an upset. The game was only 30 seconds old when Rodolph Austin closed down Scott Parker, forced him into a mistake, and the home side gained possession high up the pitch to an approving roar from across Elland Road. It set the tempo for a fierce, aggressive and tactically brave performance.
Leeds' pressing was energetic, but also impressively consistent throughout the game. Unlike his opposite number, Neil Warnock is not a modern, suave strategist with buzzwords and detailed instructions for individuals – his final pre-match words probably involved encouraging his charges to "make a nuisance of themselves" when Spurs had possession, although with both Michael Brown and El-Hadji Diouf in his starting XI, such direction was probably unnecessary. Still, that duo were not merely wind-up merchants – Brown's ability to prevent Parker distributing the ball positively was key in slowing Spurs' attacks and Diouf was very disciplined positionally, dropping off the front and occupying Tom Huddlestone, while Ross McCormack made constant lateral runs to close down Steven Caulker and Jan Vertonghen.
But Leeds' commitment in the opposition half led to a lack of security when Tottenham worked the ball forward. There was space in between the lines, occasionally exploited by Aaron Lennon or Gareth Bale when they drifted inside, but surprisingly not by Gylfi Sigurdsson, who had another quiet game, failing to link midfield and attack. There was also too much space in behind the defence – Clint Dempsey got into a couple of promising positions from simple balls over the Leeds back four, although Spurs failed to make the most of these opportunities.
In stark contrast, Leeds ruthlessly exploited the space in behind the Tottenham defence. Their best chances – and both goals – came when they attacked directly. Diouf switched expertly from being an extra midfielder to a useful attacking option, providing the assist for Luke Varney's opener with a clever volleyed flick, and lofting the ball over the defence in the second half for McCormack's composed finish.
Tottenham's defective offside trap was clearly a contributing factor – Caulker and Vertonghen were surprisingly troubled by simple runs from McCormack – but the reality was that Spurs' entire spine performed poorly. Dempsey is not a natural No9 – he found himself on the scoresheet thanks to a fine header but that was his sixth attempt at goal, and possibly the most difficult chance of the lot. The midfield zone, too, was out-of-sorts – Parker still looks extremely rusty, while Huddlestone can distribute the ball delightfully but, against constant pressing, lacks either a burst of pace or dribbling ability to skip past opponents.
That obvious weakness made it surprising André Villas-Boas did not introduce Mousa Dembélé at half-time, and waited until Spurs had conceded a second. Kyle Walker came on for Kyle Naughton and pushed Varney back, while the youngster Jon Obika replaced Sigurdsson, allowing Dempsey to move deeper. Obika provided pace in behind, and had a golden chance to equalise, from a long Benoît Assou-Ekotto ball over the defence, but it was no better an opportunity than McCormack's one-on-one with Brad Friedel at the other end, following Assou-Ekotto's stumbled attempt to cope with yet another ball over the top.
Parker and Brown had a squabble at the final whistle, following a typically unnecessary lunge from the Leeds midfielder in stoppage time but it was fitting that Parker's struggles bookended the game. Even Parker, the all-action, scrappy midfielder who would run through a brick wall for his side was rattled, flustered and unable to cope with Leeds' determined midfield pressure.
Few sides can boast a forward partnership as technical and talented as Fulham's Dimitar Berbatov and Bryan Ruiz, but it's surprising Martin Jol remains committed to playing them together in tricky away matches against good sides.
The 4-1 defeat to Manchester United on Saturday afternoon was another fine example of their unsuitability for these type of matches – Fulham lacked mobility and energy high up the pitch, and although both are capable of hanging on to the ball to relieve the pressure, neither are likely to burst in behind to provide an option for the other.
The result is that Fulham depend hugely upon their wide midfielders making runs in advance of the front two – which is difficult considering they're also expected to form a second bank of four when the opposition have the ball. It's an interesting system – two forwards bringing defenders up the pitch, two wingers darting in behind – but Jol might need to select a more pragmatic system when the opposition dominate possession.
Roberto Mancini's tactical tinkering in Saturday afternoon's early kick-off against Stoke City was, as usual, interesting and baffling in equal measure – Mancini started with a back four, using Joleon Lescott and Aleksandar Kolarov on the left of his defence, with Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta in their usual positions on the right.
But Kompany's injury towards the end of the first half forced Mancini needed to change things. Instead of introducing 18-year-old centre-back Karim Rekik, he chose to bring on Gael Clichy, who played as part of a back three alongside Zabaleta and Lescott, with Kolarov and Milner becoming wing-backs.
Later, Kolarov was sacrificed for Sergio Aguero – and Javi Garcia dropped into a back four, with Milner moving into the centre of midfield. It was all rather ramshackle, and the first change was enforced rather than by design – but the change to a back three allowed City to dominate the midfield zone and the wing-backs forced Stoke's wingers back, before the introduction of extra attacking firepower helped get the breakthrough late on.