Leeds Utd 2 (Rodrigo 53, Raphinha 54)
Man United 4 (Maguire 34, Fernandes 45+5, Fred 70, Elanga 88)
No one can say watching Leeds in the Premier League is dull, can they? Another game, another rollercoaster of emotions and every facet of this current Leeds United side was on show again. It was bitterly disappointing to come out of the game with nothing but there are some aspects of this team of ours that are starting to give cause for concern.
The first half today was, by turns, both annoying and frustrating. OK, let’s first mention the conditions, they were horrendous with the wind and rain swirling around the ground and the pitch resembling a paddling pool at times. But it was the same for both sides. Let’s also mention that yet another injury caused us to reshuffle the defence for the umpteenth time this season when Robin Koch was forced to leave the game with a head injury that threw Junior Firpo into the fray. That also meant Stuart Dallas swapped to the right, Luke Ayling went to centre back and Pascal Struijk shuffled forward a bit!
So, none of that helped our cause but, regardless, the ease with which Harry Maguire beat a flailing Diego Llorente to head home past an Illan Meslier who looked unsure whether to stick or twist was galling to say the least. This inability to defend corners has haunted us on and off for a few years now; it goes away for a few games then reappears as if we’ve once again forgotten how we do it!
If that wasn’t bad enough, just when we were about to go in at halftime with just a one-goal deficit, we switched off again! Another simple dinked cross from the Man U right and there was Bruno Fernandes of all people to head home another ridiculously easy chance with Llorente once again out of position and Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas ball watching. It was quite simply shocking defending.
2 – 0 down at halftime we looked beat, we’d not been quite as lack-lustre as we were at Everton but then again Man U don’t press like that, do they? Yet still, we were two goals down and hadn’t really shown anything much in the way of attacking intent. It should have been three of course had Meslier once again not defied the laws of physics with another outrageous point-blank save from Ronaldo!
The appearance of Raphinha and Joffy Gelhardt after the break immediately got the Elland crowd going, we were demanding that, if it was to be that we were going down, then with Joffy on the pitch at least we knew we’d go down fighting! Then, suddenly, Rodrigo was sprinting down the left and looking across to see where Raphinha was at the back post. Rodrigo launched the ball across but, with great plumes of water coming off it, it squirted off his boot and flew right over de Gea into the far top corner of the net! Bedlam broke out all around as we sniffed the slightest scent of a comeback and certainly a change of fortune! The crowd was still roaring and baying, urging the Whites forward just 24 seconds later!
Another huge roar greeted a fearsome challenge by Adam Forshaw, showing that grit and determination we were missing so much before he eventually appeared up at Goodison. He won the ball and then touched it to Dan James. Dan jinked left and right and then found just the yard he needed to send the ball across the face of goal and there was Raphinha, sliding in through more great plumes of water, to sweep it home.
For a few minutes, 16 glorious ones, we were level and indeed we were now on top with players launching into tackles urged on by the raucous Elland Road faithful. 16 glorious minutes when we were going toe to toe with the old enemy, creating the better chances and looking back to our Bielsaball best.
In typical, and I guess predictable, Leeds United fashion of course it didn’t last. Towards the end some of the Leeds players were clearly on their last legs – Junior Firpo, in particular, had run his into the ground coming so soon after a lengthy spell on the sidelines and on a pitch that would have sapped the legs of the fittest of players. On 70 minutes, one of the Man U substitutes, with fresher legs than us of course, Fred, was given too much space on the left of the box and he simply blasted the ball past Meslier at his near post. There was still hope but our fading energy was almost gone while the visitors had those fresh legs of Fred and Elanga and later Varane to re-energise their batteries and it was Elanga who finally killed off all hope in the 88th minute as Pascal Struijk made a rare error to gift the ball to Fernandes. He set up Elanga for the simplest of finishes. All four of the visitors’ goals were to some extent gifted by Leeds and that was 50 we had now conceded this season; only Norwich have shipped more.
I do worry, looking at the tired and weary Leeds players at the end, that the game on Wednesday against Liverpool will be too tough and too soon for us to do ourselves justice – a bit like it felt at Everton after the exertions at Villa Park; only time will tell. One thing is certain though, if we defend as poorly at Anfield then spectators will need more than the fingers of one hand to keep the score.
This was a game of three distinct stages for Leeds, that uninspiring first half, the first 25 minutes of the second half when buoyed by the crowd, we found our attacking mojo. And then those final twenty minutes when it looked like we ran out of steam. Throughout it all though, our defending was suspect and those 50 goals conceded is telling us something.
Leeds Utd Manchester Utd
Possession 54% 46%
Shots 16 15
On Target 6 9
Corners 3 3
Fouls Committed 13 19