In some respects, the visit to Elland Road was Spurs’ first acid test of the Ryan Mason mini-era.
The interim head coach could not have picked two kinder fixtures to acclimatise to the job than Southampton and Sheffield United at home, while Manchester City, who beat Spurs in the Carabao Cup Final, have been a class apart this season.
So an error-strewn, naive and lethargic defeat, albeit against a Leeds side who continue to impress, suggested many of the problems of the Jose Mourinho era have not been eradicated overnight by the Portuguese’s sacking.
The defeat leaves Spurs five points behind fourth-placed Chelsea, who can extend their advantage against Man City on Saturday afternoon, and needing a miracle to return to the Champions League next season.
Consecutive years outside the competition could have serious repercussions in attracting Mason’s permanent successor, keeping Harry Kane and Heung-min Son at the club and rebuilding a squad whose deficiencies were brutally exposed by Marcelo Bielsa’s side.
Spurs could feel aggrieved that Kane’s goal was ruled out by the VAR at 1-1 for a fractional offside – the England captain looked every bit level – but they could have few complaints as Patrick Bamford restored Leeds’ advantage from close range before half-time and Rodrigo settled the game on the counter-attack late on.
Leeds had deservedly taken the lead through Stuart Dallas after familiarly chaotic Spurs defending but Son equalised with his third goal in as many League games under Mason after fine work by Dele Alli.
The South Korean struck the side-netting and Kane clipped the crossbar with a free-kick in the second half but Spurs had Hugo Lloris to thank that Leeds were not out of sight sooner, with the goalkeeper making a number of cat-like saves.
Young pretender falls short against old master
The 35-year age gap between Mason, 29, and Bielsa, 65, was the second biggest between managers in Premier League history – and the inexperience of the Spurs head coach told.
Mason stuck with the same XI and bench that beat Sheffield United 4-0 last weekend but his side was vulnerable to Leeds’ strengths.
Spurs’ forwards were ill-suited to pressing Leeds and their defenders were even more ill-suited to playing out from the back against Bielsa’s infamous press.
The visiting full-backs found themselves overrun and they thrice conceded from crosses from Serge Aurier’s flank, with the Ivorian lacking cover from Gareth Bale in the first half.
Even more significantly, Tottenham’s midfield was swamped and the absence of Tanguy Ndombele – one of the top-flight’s most press-resistant players – was particularly strange.
At the start of the second half, Spurs’ forwards looked sharp on the rare occasions they had possession but the visitors lacked a coherent midfield platform which Ndombele – or even Harry Winks – might have provided from the bench.
Instead, Mason called for Erik Lamela and Lucas Moura for Dele and Bale to change the game.
Lamela had a late effort saved by Illan Meslier but his ill-judged rabona pass straight out of play was more memorable. Lucas, on the two-year anniversary of his heroics in Amsterdam, offered little threat.
By the time Ndombele was introduced for the final 10 minutes, it was too late to impact the pattern of the game and Rodrigo quickly added a third goal for the hosts.
Mason deserves credit for getting Spurs playing on the front foot again and restoring Dele’s confidence. But this was a match that suggested he is not ready for the job on a long-term basis.
Dier struggles in front of watching Southgate
In front of the watching Gareth Southgate, Eric Dier did not enhance his chances of being included in England’s Euro 2020 squad.
On another difficult afternoon, Dier was arguably at fault for all three Leeds goals.
He allowed Jack Harrison’s cross to fly past him for Dallas’ close-range strike and was statuesque as Bamford slipped between four Spurs’ defenders to double the hosts’ lead.
Dier then played Rafinha onside for the clincher, although he had been left all alone by his teammates as Spurs pushed for a winner.
After last weekend’s win over the Blades, Dier spoke about the “unfair” narrative around his season, insisting he has been better than he has been given credit for.
On this evidence, the perception of Dier’s campaign as error-strewn and underwhelming is entirely fair and he has work to do to make Southgate’s squad.
By contrast, Dele’s did his chances of a future England recall no harm with his liveliest 45 minutes of the season.
The forward set up Son’s goal with a fine run and pass and was unlucky not to have a second assist after playing in Kane.
Ultimately Dele’s hopes chance of making a late run into the England squad is surely reliant injuries elsewhere given the competition in his position, but Uefa’s decision to allow 26-man squads and Jack Grealish’s ongoing shin problem mean it remains an outside chance if he maintains this form in the final three matches.