Leeds United 1 (Raphinha 90+3 pen)
Crystal Palace 0
Blimey! These games this season are all bloody close aren’t they! Our nerves will be shredded if they all carry on like this one last night. Either side could have taken the points in a hurly-burly game played in drifting rain and a blustery wind throughout but Leeds edged it with another fine stop from Meslier late on from Benteke, a dire miss from the Palace striker and a piece of mind-numbing defending from the Palace defender Marc Guehi who stopped a late header by Liam Cooper with his hands above his head. Raphinha put the penalty away with one of those 'hop, skip and a jump' efforts. The luck was on our side for once with a decent penalty shout for Palace in the first half discounted by VAR, backing up the on-field decision, but that late handball deemed a penalty despite Kevin Friend initially waving away our frenzied shouts!
Bielsa changed his starting XI around again for this game – Tyler Roberts played from the start in a more authentic centre forward role which many fans have been calling for and Jack Harrison was left on the bench while Mateusz Klich was back in midfield. Dan James was finally able to show us his pace down that left wing. If anything it was a sort of 4 – 2 – 3- 1 formation although it could equally be described as the traditional Bielsa 4 – 1 – 4 – 1 depending on where Adam Forshaw was at the time; he had another strong game and to me seems to be the player who’s made most difference in the last four or five games in always providing an outlet for a pass and adding some steel into the centre of the park.
Leeds grew into this game, it was a tentative start that saw Palace giving as good as they were taking, both sides having odd pops at goal from distance and both operating at pace with quick one-touch passing at times. In my opinion, there wasn’t a lot between these sides in that first 45 minutes and the 0 – 0 halftime score looked about right with neither side having their shooting boots on.
Pascal Struijk had gone down with an injury when he made a clumsy tackle that earned him a yellow card towards the end of the first half and it was no surprise to see him subbed at the break by Junior Firpo. It was a surprise though to see a second sub at the same time as Rodrigo replaced Matty Klich. I don’t think anyone would argue with it though as Matty was decidedly ‘ordinary’. Initially, the changes didn’t look to have improved us; Junior Firpo started very slowly, being dragged out of position and just not looking positive, while Rodrigo too was loose with his passing. Gradually though both improved, Firpo in particular started to maraud up that left-wing as we’ve hoped he would start to do and his link-up play with Dan James started to give us a real threat. In fact we should have gone ahead when Raphinha, head and shoulders the best player on the pitch as always, and putting the very visible Wilf Zaha in the shade for once, played another sumptuous long diagonal pass from right to left.
Dan James was under it and controlled it perfectly and instantly rolled it across the box to where Rodrigo had got free, eight yards out. Sadly, it wasn’t Rodrigo’s night and he got his feet all wrong and merely stabbed the ball wide of a gaping goal. That could have been a costly miss and I’m sure Palace thought they could take advantage when they brought on the dangerous Benteke in the 68th minute.
Benteke was a menace from the moment he came on and he was a real handful for Liam Cooper. Thankfully, Benteke had neither luck nor accuracy on the night and he put one point blank, unchallenged back post header wide and then, when Cooper badly misjudged a cross and missed the ball, Benteke stuck out a boot to knock it towards goal with Meslier wrong-footed. Somehow our super agile young keeper was able to dive back towards his line and clutch the ball just before it rolled into the net! It was a brilliant piece of keeping that wiped away any responsibility he may have had in misjudging the earlier cross when Benteke fluffed his header.
Step up the Leeds United crowd; a few crunching Leeds challenges got the crowd going and suddenly it was all Leeds in the final few minutes and Elland Road was rocking again. Corners were won and scrambled away by an increasingly shaky Palace defence and then, as the board went up for five added minutes, that important breakthrough.
The positive from this performance was undoubtedly the urgency and power of our pressing that was back to its very best. There were top performances from Tyler Roberts, Adam Forshaw, Dan James, Phillips and Raphinha as always, and that save from Meslier and defensively, that failure to deal with Benteke and Pascal’s daft “laying on of hands” that could have given away a penalty apart, we looked strong. The negatives were another lacklustre showing from both Klich and Rodrigo and the usual one of not hitting the target often enough; just three of our 15 attempts hit the mark.
Above everything else though, this three points was vital and immediately gives a different look to that league table. Another three points against the Bees on Sunday and this will have been a cracking week of results. Don’t forget, this Palace side are no mugs, well organised by Vieira and full of decent players we’ve all seen do the business at Palace or elsewhere; Zaha and Benteke of course but also Ayew, Schlupp and Gallagher. It looks as though there are no easy games to be had this season but the battling spirit we saw again last night will carry us through more often than not.
Leeds United Crystal Palace
Possession 62% 38%
Shots 15 9
On Target 3 1
Corners 7 4
Fouls Committed 15 15