Marcelo Bielsa appears to be a manager with few regrets given the expansive manner in which his side set up regardless of the opponent, but his record against Jose Mourinho may well leave him with some sort of an uneasy feeling.
The Argentinian has lost all four of his matches against his Portuguese counterpart when they were bosses at LaLiga sides Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid respectively at the beginning of the previous decade.
His fifth attempt comes on Saturday afternoon with Leeds travelling to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in both sides’ first game of 2021, but there is perhaps much greater optimism going into this fixture than during any of the meetings against Mourinho during his time in the Basque Country.
Marcelo Bielsa’s (left) horrendous record against Jose Mourinho (right) has seen him lose all four games against the Portuguese when both were managers in LaLiga in the 2010s
The 65-year-old joined Athletic Bilbao a year after Mourinho had left Serie A for LaLiga in 2010, but a three-goal margin of defeat was the best he could manage against the might of Real Madrid over the course of two seasons.
A 4-1 home victory and a 3-0 away win at San Mames saw Real Madrid deliver ruthless performances on the way to their imperious 100-point La Liga title in the 2011-12 season.
The following season did not bring better fortunes for Bielsa in his head-to-head battle with Mourinho, despite the Portuguese now too struggling to get the best out of his side both domestically and in Europe.
Bielsa was defeated on four occasions by Cristiano Ronaldo’s Madrid between 2011 and 2013
A three-goal margin of defeat was the best Bielsa could muster against the might of Madrid
But that did not prevent further misery for Bielsa, with Madrid recording an emphatic league double with a 5-1 victory at the Bernabeu followed by a second successive 3-0 win in the Basque Country.
Bielsa’s record against Mourinho appears even more tainted when considering the aggregate score of 15-2 in Mourinho’s favour from four league games to date, and with Madrid competing at the top of the table, Bilbao had to contend with mid- and lower-table finishes in those seasons.
But while the riches of the 13-time Champions League winners pitted against a club who only sign players with some sort of Basque link always suggested he would be on the end of drubbings in LaLiga, Saturday’s tie in the Premier League is much more fascinatingly poised.
Just four places and three points separate Mourinho’s Spurs – who last month were spoken about as contenders for the title – and Bielsa’s Leeds, who have blown supporters away with their entertaining, and rather unrelenting, style of play.
Bielsa’s Leeds have recorded some big wins in recent weeks – while their manager sat watching on his trademark bucket, of course (left); Mourinho’s Spurs are on a four-match winless run
The club may have damaged their off-field image after their tweet mocked Karen Carney for saying Leeds ‘got promoted because of Covid’, leading to a barrage of online abuse for the pundit.
But Carney was speaking after they had just blown West Brom away 5-0 at The Hawthorns, just a few days after the Baggies themselves had secured a draw away at champions Liverpool.
Patrick Bamford may not have netted at The Hawthorns but did everything but score and is leading the charge with 10 goals in 16 games so far this term.
No player has scored more goals under Marcelo Bielsa at any club he has managed than Bamford’s 35 strikes, overtaking former Bilbao striker Fernando Llorente.
Patrick Bamford has led the line brilliantly for the Whites with 10 goals in 16 top-flight games
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink believes playing behind closed doors has something to do with Bamford’s scoring return, telling Amazon Prime: ‘Last year, he had lots of chances in every game and it didn’t really work out for him.
‘He’s very confident. The fans not being here, especially at Leeds, has helped him a little bit to gain his confidence back.’
But there is no doubt he is now converting chances that he was not dispatching last season, and whatever the reason, a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s England squad appears to be a matter of when not if.
The supporting cast behind the former Chelsea man have also demonstrated that they fit perfectly into Bielsa’s set up.
Raphinha appears to be one of the bargains of the summer and is a hard-working individual
Raphinha received plenty of praise for his stunner against West Brom but it is his endeavour and work tracking back that has endeared him to the Leeds faithful as much as his two goals and as many assists from 11 top-flight games.
Kalvin Phillips and Mateusz Klich continue to dominate proceedings in midfield with the former particularly impressive in tackling and passing while the Pole has recently shown he can link brilliantly with the likes of summer signing Rodrigo, who will be hoping to kick on now having only shown glimpses of his talent in England.
Leeds may well have conceded 30 league goals – as many as they have scored, incidentally – but there does appear to be a promising partnership growing between Luke Ayling and Pascal Struijk.
Since their 6-2 drubbing at Manchester United, Bielsa has seen his men keep two straight clean sheets against Burnley and West Brom, and the 21-year-old Dutchman and his more experienced team-mate Ayling, along with goalkeeper Illan Meslier, have been central to that.
Leeds have conceded as many as they have scored but have kept two straight clean sheets
And with the 5-0 victory at T=he Hawthorns coming after an impressive win at West Ham and a 5-2 crushing of Newcastle, it appears all the parts of the machine finally appear well-oiled at Elland Road.
In north London meanwhile, the opposite appears to be occurring with Spurs currently on a four-game winless top-flight run.
Head back a few weeks to December 16 and only goal difference separated league leaders Liverpool and Tottenham ahead of their clash, and the possibility of a first league title since 1961 was the talk of the town.
But it appears that Spurs have yet to recover ever since conceding the hammer-blow of a 90th-minute header from Roberto Firmino, who clinched a last-gasp victory at Anfield for Jurgen Klopp’s men.
A sub-par performance against Leicester City then ended in a 2-0 home defeat, and Mourinho and Spurs’ title charge suffered another setback in midweek when Romain Saiss’s late header cancelled out Tanguy Ndombele’s first-minute striker for a 1-1 draw at Molineux.
Spurs meanwhile have stumbled recently and are winless in their last four top-flight games
Mourinho accused his players of lacking ambition after the Wolves draw, stating: ‘I am frustrated with the result, we had control of the game, we had 89 minutes to score more goals and we didn’t.
‘It’s not just about not scoring but also not being dangerous and ambitious and for me that’s the problem.
‘I know the way I prepare the team, I know what I ask from the players. I know what I told them at half time and I say no more than that. I give credit to Wolves but we did not have that ambition or desire to go for more.’
A look at recent statistics would appear to support Mourinho’s claim, with only three Premier League sides having dropped more points than Tottenham have from winning positions (eight) so far this season while in their last seven games they have mustered just 22 second-half shots.
Spurs appear not to have recovered from Roberto Firmino’s last-gasp winner at Anfield
But it appears too that Mourinho’s counter-attacking formula has come to a stuttering halt, which has been brought into question in the stalemates at Crystal Palace and Wolves.
Spurs took the lead in both games with Harry Kane, Son Heung-min and Ndombele all having shown their qualities at various stages in terms of goals, assists and key passes that have made them indispensable assets for the north London side.
But having established that dominance in games, Tottenham have rested on their laurels, being happy from then on to contain the opposition rather than turn the screw and look for ways to wrap up the three points, and Jeffrey Schlupp and Saiss in particular have both made them pay for that approach.
A system of three at the back was also the formation adopted at Molineux which drew criticism for further negativity, and should such shut-up-shop tactics continue they may well cost Spurs any chance of challenging Liverpool and Manchester United for the much-coveted league trophy.
Spurs failed to make early dominance pay against both Wolves and Crystal Palace recently
The visit of Leeds may well force Mourinho’s hand in changing to a more bold approach, given that it may be a tall order to try and contain a side who have only been outscored this season by Liverpool, Manchester United and Chelsea.
But Leeds’ tendency to leave wide spaces while committing numbers forward may persuade the Portuguese to stick with a counter-attacking style of play but one which appears more active than the passiveness shown in recent matches.
Bielsa however admitted he is expecting no ‘tactical mysteries’ from Mourinho as the Whites kick off 2021 with a trip down to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium.
But given the positivity around his club and the commensurate negativity at Mourinho’s, Bielsa will have no better opportunity to turn around his miserable fortunes against the Portuguese who humbled him time and again in Spain and simultaneously hand the visitors a positive outlook for the new year.
Spurs have been unable to build on brilliance from Harry Kane and now face a confident Leeds