West Bromwich Albion 4 (Robson-Kanu 51, Phillips 67, Barnes 82, Gayle 83)
Leeds United 1 (Hernandez 90+2)
Well, it’s hard to know how to respond to that result and performance! I guess the first thing to say is that yes, it is only one game and yes, at the end of the day, we go into the international break in 3rd spot in the table after 17 games and well placed for the next stage, the run up to Christmas. What’s to worry about? I’ve already seen a lot of Leeds fans saying exactly that on Social Media tonight some even suggest we shouldn’t dare criticise Bielsa or the team for this aberration. Well, I’m sorry folks, but for me it’s part of why we watch the game, so we can chew the fat with our mates and have a good old debate about what we think is wrong and what we would do if we were in charge! It’s half the fun!
The one thing that is crystal clear is that Leeds do have an issue at the moment, and it wasn’t just apparent today, it has been apparent for weeks; we are still dominating the possession in games but, unlike those halcyon days at the start of the season when we were able to convert that possession into chances and goals now we are struggling both to create chances and then, even when we get them, struggling to stick the ball in the net. Despite having only a third of the possession we had today, Albion managed 20 goal attempts to our 15 and they hit the target with 6 compared to our three and, perhaps more critically, they got four of theirs past our keeper. West Brom had been scoring lots of goals all season until that little rocky patch over the past month and it was easy to see why as they clinically finished almost every shot they had on target. Four different strikers got their names on the score sheet – names we are all very familiar with – Robson-Kanu, Matt Phillips, Dwight Gayle and the young pretender, Harvey Barnes. They are all good finishers. When Leeds took aim, our shots invariably went wide or high and seldom troubled the Albion keeper. We have to become more clinical in front of goal and we have to find a way of converting overwhelming dominance of the possession into chances.
Most fans understood exactly why Bielsa dropped Samu Saiz; Samu is often wasteful with the football. He is on the ball an awful lot in a game but he can frustrate the hell out of us by giving it away cheaply. It is probably no coincidence that our possession stats have been even higher in the recent games when Samu has been missing. Adam Forshaw is far more “careful” with the football. But thereby is also the problem. To make an omelette you have to break a few eggs and a mate and I have for many months understood this by shouting “Omelette” at each other every time either Hernandez or Samu gives the ball away while trying to thread it through to a colleague. It is our way of saying that we know those two play the more risky passes and inevitably they will often fail but, if they keep trying it, we both know sooner or later the killer ball will be found. Take Samu out of this side of ours and we significantly reduce our creative flair. We saw a classic example of what Samu can bring today as he lifted the ball into a space he just knew someone ought to be in and Pablo, being of similar intuitive mind, read what he was going to do. So, in my humble opinion, we need Samu in the side even at the risk of those possession stats falling; what’s the point of having it if we don’t do anything useful with it apart I suppose from stopping the opposition using it!
The other slight worry is that we are seeing the start of a downward slide similar to that we saw last season, have we actually been performing above our true abilities? Is that even possible? Maybe the levels of performance we saw earlier in the season are not sustainable and we are starting to see the “normal” level of a group of players who in the main we relied on last season and, as we know, came up short. It is too early to conclude that as today was “only one game” but it’s another worry, as is the form of Bailey Peacock-Farrell who continues to look less agile than we’d like him to be without being able to go as far as to say he’s actually making mistakes.
No one appeared to have “a bad game” today and yet we got thumped 4 – 1 so, other than the observation that we had so much ball and yet created and took so few chances, I guess we have to keep the faith, hope it is just a one off and see how Bielsa responds; let’s hope we come out fighting against Bristol City at Elland Road in a couple of weeks and we can get back on the optimistic train.
West Brom Leeds Utd
Possession 28% 72%
Shots 20 15
On Target 6 3
Corners 3 3
Fouls 10 12