Leeds Utd 2 (Struijk 16, Rodrigo 58)
Real Sociedad 1 (Zubimendi 10)
16th December 2022, Friendly.
I thought I’d get back into the saddle after the World Cup break and write a brief report on how I saw the friendly last night against Real Sociedad; let’s face it, we’ve all forgotten about the domestic season these last few weeks! And you know what? I was pleasantly surprised with our performance. There were lots of good things to admire, we looked sharp and up for it and we scored a couple of great goals. The one negative of the night? Well, considering we keep saying we know we have a couple of defensive frailties – balls over the top and crosses for headers – and that we’ve had several weeks to work on them, it was disappointing…no, annoying, that we got done with a simple set piece providing a close range header.
At the end of the day, though we have to remember that we won the game, and probably just about deserved to do so against what is a decent Real side that had most of its top players out there, players who have propelled Real into the top three in La Liga; only the mighty Barcelona and Real Madrid are above them. It was a feisty game too at times, showing I think that Real had the intention to win this one if they could.
I’ll start with that disappointing goal for the visitors, a goal that we gave up only ten minutes into the game. It was a simple Sociedad right-wing free-kick, whipped over towards the Leeds six-yard box. There were plenty of Leeds bodies in there, Cooper and Struijk in particular just feet away from Martin Zubimendi, but it looked for all the world to me as if we were ball-watching again and hence the Real man was able to rise unchallenged to power a header past Robles from 7 yards. Argh!, not good enough Leeds, we have to defend better than that.
OK, that was the low point, from that moment on Leeds dealt pretty well with the Spaniards even mostly controlling the ageless David Silva who still has some silky skills on the ball. It was a game of few real chances (no, pun intended) but the two that were offered to Leeds were snapped up and punished wonderfully. Leeds were level only six minutes after conceding and it was one of those perfect strikes of a football that we will remember for years to come; the Bradley Johnson thunderbolt scored against Arsenal more than ten years ago at that same South End of the ground comes to mind as similar to this one if my memory serves me right!. This time Rasmus Kristensen started it off by winning a tussle in the SW corner and he fed Klich who touched it wide again to Rodrigo in that same corner. Rodrigo’s cross was bundled away as far as Marc Roca on the edge of the area and he killed the ball perfectly, allowing it to drop into the path of Pascal Struijk’s left foot. Pascal hit it firm and true and it flew into the right corner of the net two yards above the turf; a sumptuous strike. Pascal seems to improve game after game despite continuing to be used in a left-back role that is probably not his real forte.
1 – 1 at halftime was about right and the initial XI, looked about the best we could put out at the moment which was encouraging. Even more encouraging though was that despite making five changes at halftime and then two more later in the game, we were still more than competitive throughout that second period. The likes of Sam Greenwood, Darko Gyabi, Leo Hjelde and particularly Cody Drameh all looked comfortable in this company.
The winner was another well-crafted goal built from the back, albeit not without a large slice of luck at the end of the move. The ball was won again by the strength of Struijk who quickly found the ever-eager Willy Gnonto who immediately got Leeds onto the front foot. He passed inside to Joffy Gelhardt and he scuffed the ball further wide toward Rodrigo. It was a hurried and not very accurate pass to be honest and it probably caught the defender unawares. So much so that his touch merely wrong-footed his covering defender and played the ball right into the path of Rodrigo on his favoured left foot! Rodrigo showed though that he continues to be sharp and aware around the edge of the box and he steered the ball first time with that left foot into the right corner; a very tidy finish indeed. Rodrigo could yet turn his excellent first part of the season into a record goal tally by the end of May.
So, overall, not too much to criticise or complain about and I’m sure the majority of the impressive 22,000 crowd enjoyed the game. That first-half-headed goal still bothers me, but surely, the more we concede like that the more it will become obvious that we need to do something about that particular failing. The second half saw Leo Hjelde in that Leeds backline and maybe, just maybe, he could be an answer to the conundrum.