Leeds United 2 (Rodrigo 20, Summerville 90+1)
Fulham 3 (Mitrovic 26, Reid 74, Willian 84)
23rd October 2022, Premier League.
Leeds are now in a real rut. Every game is following a predictable pattern; we are defensively naïve and offensively weak. With that knowledge now indisputable, it is hard to not mention the one aspect of this team’s development under Jesse Marsch that everyone knew about but no one acted upon. We knew at the end of last season that we needed a proved goal scorer and a quality left back, and neither arrived.
That is no criticism of Pascal Struijk who has performed admirably at left back for most of the season but had we of recruited a specialist left back in the summer then maybe we could have found a better and more settled and secure defence by now; as it is, the one we have, almost regardless of who is in there, just is not fit for Premier League purpose. Up front we remain largely toothless and one wonders how many more chances Patrick Bamford has to squander before we accept that he’s not the answer for us.
Today’s performance was very similar to the Leicester debacle on Thursday, except this time we even managed to squander the platform we gave ourselves of an opening goal. Rodrigo looks a better option up front to me than Bamford and at least was the Johnny on the spot we needed when the ball looped up at the back post and he finished neatly enough. That got the crowd settled and it should have got the team settled but the signs were very quickly apparent that we’d need more than the one goal to defeat a confident and efficient Fulham.
To then concede a goal at a set piece yet again, and to do so by allowing Mitrovic to rise unchallenged at the near post to glance the ball home, would be criminal at the best of times but to do so in our precarious position and having earned that one goal lead with a decent opening twenty minutes was, well, suicidal I guess is the phrase. Luke Ayling was closest but didn’t feel the need to attack the incoming ball while Meslier didn’t fill me with confidence the way he flapped at an admittedly close range header.
We ought to have been 3 – 1 down by the break and only a last ditch goal line block by Marc Roca and a decent save from Meslier in yet another one-on-one situation, with Andreas Pereira, kept the score at 1 – 1 at the break.
If Jesse Marsch does get fired in the coming days or weeks then it will be his seemingly random substitutions that will surely attract most criticism. Today, still holding that 1 – 1 scoreline and with Leeds looking reasonably solid, he twisted just after the hour mark by removing our goal-scorer Rodrigo, who at least had shown he knows how to score, and replaced him with Patrick Bamford who seems to have forgotten how to! Indeed within moments of his arrival Bamford had a clear sight of goal but, once again, he seemed clueless how to finish it as his first touch was poor and his second was tame. In an equally unfathomable move, Marsch once again withdrew our most inventive and potent looking winger, Luis Sinisterra, and threw on young Crysencio Summerville again. Again, I should say that this is no sleight on Summerville, who I thought did well again when he came on, but surely it was the anonymous Jack Harrison who deserved the hook and not Luis?
Whatever, that’s what we did and within ten minutes we were behind. It was another shocking piece of defending that this time allowed De-Cordova Reid the freedom of Elland Road and he was able to steer another glancing header past Meslier. If something isn’t done to tighten this defence of ours then it will almost certainly be the one thing that returns us to the Championship. Quite what we can do about it is beyond me but, as it stands, it’s just not good enough and I shudder to think what the Liverpool attack will do to us next Saturday.
The third Fulham goal was not much better from our point of view either. A Mitrovic back-heel on the byline, a Fulham player then skates easily around Robin Koch, and this time Willian got himself free to poke it home. I’ve seen better defending on the local park.
Leeds, to their credit, at least kept trying as did the Elland Road faithful, but the one goal we did get back raises another question for me. It was created by a piece of determined battling by Joffy Gelhardt who, having fought to get the ball at his feet then played a delightful little pass through for Crysencio Summerville who, credit again, was on his toes enough to spot the chance and launch himself at the ball to poke it home. The question in my mind though is why have we not given Joffy more game time this season? We know we have struggled to create much up front and yet we also know that most times when Joffy is on the pitch he does make things happen – we saw it time and again last season of course. I know Joffy has failed to look inspiring sometimes this season on the rare occasions he’s had a few minutes but I’d bet my bottom dollar he will always create something whether for himself or others. How to get him in this team I’m not sure, but we need to try, we have fewer more appealing options to my mind.
So, there we have it, a home defeat to one of the teams we ought to be battling with in mid-table. We were not particularly worse than Fulham but those defensive errors are killing us, killing us perhaps even more than the rare chances up front we are squandering. Do I want Jesse Marsch fired? Well, actually no I don’t, I like the bloke and I don’t think he’s the problem (well, apart from those seemingly unfathomable substitutions he makes). The problem is starting to be glaringly obvious; our players, on average, are not good enough. Sinisterra looks to have the Premier League x-factor but who else in this team does? Every Premier League side has two or three players with real star quality, players that affect a game on a regular basis. Fulham have Mitrovic of course and Willian and Cordova-Reid, Leicester have Madison and Harvey Barnes, players of real quality, the best. I don’t think we do and that means we are struggling. Struggling in defence where our defenders are making more mistakes than those of other sides and struggling up front where our players typically are not finishing the type of chances other sides are gobbling up. It’s a real problem but one I don’t think a different manager will solve. We have to start ringing the changes in personnel, initially to see if we have more reliable players in the reserves – when are we going to let Sonny Perkins or Mateo Joseph at least show us if they have the talent to do in the big league what they are regularly doing in the U21s. What about Willy Gnonto – and Italian international starter – and what about giving Joffy more than a few minutes when the game is already lost. If they are not the answer then we have to bring in better players in January and at least this season, with the World Cup break halting the season for six weeks, then any players coming in will have time to affect the course of our season.
I don’t mind one way or the other if Jesse Marsch goes but let’s not kid ourselves a new man can transform our fortunes with the same players; Bielsa managed to get Championship players to survive in the Premier League through driving them to their absolute limits but that only lasted so long and I doubt there is another man that can do that!
Possession 58% 42%
Shots 14 11
On Target 5 5
Corners 3 6
Fouls 12 8