Leeds Utd 2 (Koch 12, Gelhardt pen 90)
A S Monaco 4 (Embolo 25,54, Martins 47, Jakobs 52)
21st December 2022, Friendly.
Some folk, well, a lot of folks if Social Media is to be believed, don’t think these friendly games mean anything at all but I think they are at least worth taking note of. This one against Monaco, a decent French team albeit one that started with a few of their star players missing, was a game of two halves and, for the life of me, I don’t know why. I’d guess it was more to do with Monaco working out a formula to beat us than any particular change on our part.
Throughout the first-half Leeds looked comfortable and were rarely troubled by the visitors and it was great to see a Leeds set-piece pay off for once with a nice headed goal from Robin Koch from a Marc Roca corner; a goal very similar to the Mitrovic header scored against us at the Kop End earlier this season. For the rest of the half, it always looked like Leeds were the most likely team to score again as Rasmus Kristensen marauded down the right wing having a couple of, admittedly wayward, shots and almost getting a rejuvenated-looking Joffy Gelhardt in a couple of times as well. But in the 25th minute, completely against the run of play, Monaco finally found that formula to undo us; I’m surprised it took them so long though as they could have watched any game from earlier this season to spot our weakness.
It was a simple ball across to the back post, a downward header from a free man and then, despite numerous Leeds bodies surrounding the ball, no one was quick enough to stop Embolo from lashing the ball into the roof of the net. It was a carbon copy of several goals we conceded this season before the World Cup break and you would have thought it would have been worked on constantly to get it out of our system.
Leeds made just one change at halftime, Robin Koch presumably being saved for the Man City game and Diego Llorente replacing him after his long absence with what we now understand was a finger injury! Only Leeds eh?
The first ten minutes of the second half was a nightmare for Leeds and, friendly or no friendly, what we did in that period was unacceptable. I’m hoping that a different pairing at CB and the return of others like Rodrigo will go a long way to tightening us up but I have to say, this naïve defending does seem entrenched in our play at the moment.
Monaco were ahead less than two minutes into the new half and it was another classically 2022 Leeds United concession. Monaco won the ball on their left, played it across to their right and then all the way back again and then pierced our right wing like a rapier through a paper bag. A man got away from Greenwood down the Monaco left, the ball was then lifted over Ayling and Kristensen and with all the Leeds defence pulled towards the ball, Martins was left all alone to fire home at the back post. Very, very Leeds United.
A few minutes later and our super porous defense was exposed again; this time from a right-wing corner. Once again we failed to win a back post header, Monaco nodded the ball back into the middle and this time Jakobs smashed the ball home for a goal ridiculously similar to their first!
Move on two minutes more and we were three goals behind. It was another ball down the Monaco left, our right, and this time the ball flew over Kristensen falling for Golovin. He cut inside and, with all the Leeds defence again ball-watching and pulled towards that Leeds right side, Martins was free to either shoot or, as he chose, to pick out Embolo at the back post for him to prod home. For all the world it looked like Leeds were trying to concede goals just like this!
Monaco made many changes in the final half hour, clearly believing the game was done which of course it was. That allowed Leeds to come a little stronger and Willy Gnonto in particular grew and grew in that final half hour with several of those clever slaloming runs he is gaining a reputation for. He took some punishment too in the form of several rash challenges but kept getting back up and had a shot and a header that went close and then won the penalty in the dying seconds that Joffy Gelhardt expertly slammed home. I thought Joffy looked more like his old self tonight and was one of only a handful of players to do themselves justice – Willy Gnonto being the stand-out performer and Rasmus, at least going forward, also putting in a decent performance. His defending though still looks naïve to me.
So, that’s it, a 2 – 4 defeat to complete our post-World Cup break schedule of friendlies and for me, we look to be pretty much where we were before the break; still looking lively and threatening in the top two-thirds but woefully weak at the back. Quite what team we will put out to face Citeh next week I’m not sure as I’ve lost track of who is still injured and who was just being rested last night. I’m guessing that Willy Gnonto will be in there though as we haven’t seen Sinisterra or Summerville yet and I really hope Rodrigo is fit to start. In defence, I’m really not sure it matters, whoever is in there seems to result in the same malfunction! Koch and Cooper in the middle, Struijk and Kristensen I guess.