Pragmatist Guardiola has fine-tuned City’s balance between press and defence |

There is perhaps no word so misused in football as pragmatic. The tendency is to deploy it as a synonym for defensive, cautious or gritty, to be set against the attacking flair of the idealists. Coaches are divided into two groups: on the one hand the pragmatic Sam Allardyce, Tony Pulis and Neil Warnock, and on the other the idealistic Marcelo Bielsa, Pep Guardiola and Gian Piero Gasperini. But it is rarely so straightforward as that.

Bielsa is perhaps a special case. The Leeds manager has principles from which he never deviates and his family background means he has perhaps never quite needed a win bonus in the way some other players or managers have – he can afford to be principled. But equally the idea he went to Old Trafford just before Christmas to put on some kind of show or underestimated Manchester United’s threat is laughable. Leeds played that way because Bielsa thinks that is the best way to get results.

It is true his man-to-man pressing style opens Leeds up to the sort of goal Scott McTominay scored to put United ahead, but the second was at least partially caused by Mateusz Klich failing to track McTominay’s run.

Once you are 2-0 down after three minutes, the game is pretty much done, particularly against a team as good on the counter as United. But imagine the first three minutes had not happened, a game Leeds lost the shot count 24-17 suddenly looks far more positive. Had Leeds taken the lead, the dynamic of the game would have been very different.

It is reasonable to highlight the dangers of that style of pressing, to point out the failures of cohesion and the individual errors, but to suggest Bielsa was somehow naive is to misunderstand entirely how he approaches football. He is willing to risk heavy defeats because he believes in the long run the benefits outweigh the negatives. On his own terms, he is pragmatic; the non‑pragmatic approach would be to bunker down and look to mitigate the scale of a loss for the sake of avoiding embarrassment.

This may hint at a wider truth: that few coaches are not pragmatists. For the vast majority, the result comes first and style is a means to an end. Counter-intuitively, José Mourinho is arguably the most idealistic coach in the Premier League given his apparent determination to sweep joy from the land and win only in the most mourinhista way possible.

Against Crystal Palace and Wolves, Spurs have squandered points in games they seemed to be dominating by dropping back to defend their lead: this season they have lost nine points in the final 10 minutes of games.

The classic Mourinho formula has ceased to be efficient, which means some combination of three things: his defensive players are not good enough, he is no longer a master at organising a defence or he is persisting with that approach not because it is the best way to achieve a result but to make a point. Whichever is the case, the Tottenham manager is repeatedly attempting something that isn’t working, which is the very…

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