Leeds United 0
Aston Villa 1 (El Ghazi 5)
Leeds were caught sleeping again right at the start of a game for the umpteenth time this season and this time we didn’t recover. 14 times this season Leeds have conceded first and only Sheffield United, West Brom, and Wolves have done so more than Leeds. A performance as stodgy as the Elland Road pitch and a Villa side that played every trick in the book to slow the game, break up the play and niggle the Leeds players into frequent retaliation. Not much that’s positive to take from this one and yet again we’ve failed to build on the previous victory.
All season we’ve failed to either win more than two on the trot or to lose more than two on the trot and how many times this season have we glimpsed the higher echelons of the table after a good victory only to then fail in the next seemingly winnable game to see that glimmer of the heights disappear? This time Villa arrived with no Jack Grealish and other absences and a good performance from Leeds would have seen them off without too much drama. But, yet again, we got caught early on with a really soft goal after a poor Villa corner; it was another case of shooting ourselves in the collective feet.
When Leeds are good we are generally very, very good, but when we are poor we are often very, very average. It’s games like these that just remove our rose-coloured specs and give us a clearer view of what we really are at this stage of our development. We are, particularly without Rodrigo, Koch, and Kalvin Phillips, no more than a really efficient Championship winning side. Villa have already had the benefit of a full season in the Premier League and were able to splash their first wedge of TV dosh during the summer on some quality additions; notably Ollie Watkins and goalkeeper Emi Martinez and Ross Barkley on loan; that plus a year of learning how to play in the top division has helped them no end. Leeds’ time will come, but today we were short of both quality and knowhow. We tended to get dragged down to the level of Villa even to the extent of some of Villa’s very annoying professional fouls and feigning injury. Call me old-fashioned but I don’t want to see our players going down for no reason or pretending to be injured to get opposition players booked. We can be so much better than that.
Exactly what was wrong with us today I'm not sure; certainly reverting to having Pascal Struijk in the DM position didn't work and I'd have thought we'd now seen it fail often enough to realise it's not worth persisting with. You can't really point the finger at any one player who had a poor game though - I thought Klich was wasteful and Roberts didn't really reach the level we want but those are minor complaints. It was, in many respects, just a bad day at the office and we all have those. Raphinha still looked the best player on the pitch as he always does but without much support today.
The other annoying aspect to this defeat is that it was against another of the several sides battling in ‘our’ section of the table, that middle section where the likes of Palace, Arsenal, Wolves, Southampton and Villa seem to be battling. We’ve just come through a run of five games against sides like this and we’ve lost three of them; two down to our own shortcomings and one down to bad luck.
The Leeds pitch was once again under scrutiny today, and it didn’t really give any comfort that it has either settled or indeed will now settle any time soon. It looks, on the face of it, like a £300k gamble that has failed; it looked almost as bad as the old pitch looked and that one might have started to grow now that the sun is beginning to show itself. How much it is affecting our play I’m not sure but, yet again, despite Leeds having played on it four times, it looked just as tricky for us as it did for Villa and that may just be down to the nature of our more adventurous play. We’ll probably never know.
So a disappointing evening and it’s hard to see how we can now go to the likes of the London Stadium where we head next week and get a positive result. The only positive is that the pitch down there is second to none… although it is in London of course!. We have three games against London opposition in quick succession now – West Ham and Fulham in the smoke and Chelsea on the skid pan. All will be tricky games and, though we must surely be safe now, we might have to get used to a few more reverses especially with a run of games in April pitting us against Man City, Liverpool, and Man United in consecutive weeks! That’s why we’ve really looked a gift horse in the mouth today by not turning up against Villa.
Leeds United Aston Villa
Possession 70% 30%
Shots 13 9
On Target 3 4
Corners 7 5
Fouls Committed 14 14