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VAR, deflections, defensive errors: 5 things we learnt from Crystal Palace 4-1 Leeds

It was a harsh scoreline for the Whites, but the defence did themselves no favours as another chapter was added to Leeds’ London curse

Crystal Palace v Leeds United - Premier League
It has been a frustrating week for Marcelo Bielsa’s side, who have conceded eight goals in their last two matches against typically defensive opponents.
Photo by Glyn Kirk - Pool/Getty Images

The decision to disallow Patrick Bamford’s first goal was another painful example of the misuse of VAR, while the deflection off Helder Costa for Crystal Palace’s third was desperately unlucky.

However, for all of Leeds United’s dominance of the ball, it was defensive frailties that once again saw the Peacocks fall to a 4-1 defeat against a stereotypically defensive Premier League opponent.

It was an improvement on Leicester City’s win at Elland Road, perhaps, but similar themes ultimately shone through, most of which can again be linked back to the Wolves loss last month.

Marcelo Bielsa’s side were relentless at times, leaving the hosts unable to escape their own half with possession, but Palace were rewarded when they did fashion opportunities - more often than not due to Leeds leaving the backdoor open.

In truth, the Eagles deserved the three points, and although many fans will understandably brand the final score harsh, these events could well be repeated while the Whites are missing key players through injury and illness.

Here are five things we learnt from another frustrating afternoon in London to add to the collection.

Leeds’ backline has the greatest influence on the result

Crystal Palace v Leeds United - Premier League
Leeds’ defending was not as calamitous as it was against Leicester, but questions still need to be asked as two goals from set pieces and positional blunders resulted in an equally resounding defeat.
Photo by Glyn Kirk - Pool/Getty Images

Even as Leeds looked the more regularly threatening side going forward, it was their defence that determined the outcome of the visit to Selhurst Park, in both positive and negative circumstances.

Plaudits have to be given to Bielsa’s side for the way they built both of Bamford’s goals, which were remarkably similar in their construction. The moves both started with Liam Cooper and Robin Koch feeding the ball to Luke Ayling on the right side, before the right-back burst up the field and fed the ball to Mateusz Klich, who subsequently sent Bamford through on goal.

Both efforts were also in response to Crystal Palace goals, which shows an improvement on the Leicester match where Leeds looked unable to respond after going behind. It was promising to see the visitors keep their heads up, despite the heavy blow of conceding after the cruel VAR decision.

Fingers can unfortunately be pointed at the defence for three of the four goals conceded, however, with two strikes from set pieces putting the hosts ahead before a positional mishap allowed Jordan Ayew to put the match beyond Leeds.

It is hard to judge Koch for the unfortunate deflection that saw Scott Dann’s header fly beyond the reach of Illan Meslier, but there was a lack of conviction in his leap, while Cooper’s late jump was never going to have much impact from behind the Palace defender. While it feels harsh to put any blame on the two central defenders, to concede despite both challenging for the ball implies that more could have been done to mark the towering centre-half.

Koch cannot escape judgement for his poorly judged challenge on Eberechi Eze just outside the area, giving away a dangerous free kick that was put away sublimely by the summer signing. While the Germany international was exemplary further forward, picking out possession to stop Palace’s turnover of possession in its tracks, to make such a sloppy challenge at the edge of the area proved to be detrimental.

The fourth goal came after an extended period of pressure from Leeds as they searched for a way back into the affair, but they fell victim to the counter attack once again. As Wilfried Zaha made inroads in the final third, Ayew drifted away from the blissfully unaware Pascal Struijk, while Cooper was drawn into no man’s land after anticipating an effort from Zaha rather than the pass to his strikepartner.

Despite marking Andros Townsend, Ezgjan Alioski got closest to the Ghana striker, but had too much ground to make up and was subsequently unable to charge down the shot in time. This poor positioning and awareness from Struijk and Cooper wrapped up the three points for Crystal Palace, which felt particularly cruel coming after a period of dominance for the Whites.

Sidelined players are being badly missed

Leeds United v Wolverhampton Wanderers - Premier League
Diego Llorente and Rodrigo Moreno could make timely returns to fitness after the international break, but defensive stalwart Kalvin Phillips faces a longer spell on the sidelines.
Photo by Alex Pantling/Getty Images

For a second match in a row, Leeds’ starting 11 consisted of just one player who was not part of last season’s Championship-winning squad. Although Raphinha made a good impression in the second half, the quality of Rodrigo Moreno and solidarity of Kalvin Phillips were both missed in South London.

Diego Llorente could also provide a new lease of reliability in defence, with Cooper and Koch falling short in recent fixtures. As Koch inadvertently finds himself in the centre of many of Leeds’ conceded goals, it could be beneficial to hand Llorente a first team birth at the German centre-back’s expense.

Although Klich’s performance was a welcome change compared to his display in holding midfield against Leicester, Rodrigo is a class above and was becoming a key cog in Leeds’ attack before testing positive for COVID-19. Dallas put in a workmanlike display in his place, but lacked the Spain international’s technical ability, while Tyler Roberts again failed to make an impact after coming off the bench.

Although it is difficult for the club to go into the international break on the back of two disappointing defeats, Bielsa will hope that his international players emerge from the other side unscathed, allowing him to select a stronger side to get Leeds’ form back on track.

Klich was missed in his advanced role

Crystal Palace v Leeds United - Premier League
Having struggled to generate chances in a deeper role against Leicester, Mateusz Klich was often the architect for Leeds at Crystal Palace, linking up well with Patrick Bamford and registering an assist.
Photo by Glyn Kirk - Pool/Getty Images

One of the few welcome sights in Selhurst Park was Klich’s return to attacking midfield, and he shone in his natural advanced role while making up for his struggles in a more defensive position against Leicester.

The Poland international completed four key passes - assisting both Bamford goals - alongside seven accurate long balls and eight attempted crosses, acting as a constant attacking hub.

Despite not being allowed much time on the ball centrally within the final third, to provide two assists for Bamford in that area was an impressive feat, while his cross should have been nodded into the net by the Leeds striker later in the second half.

Klich completed 55 of his 63 attempted passes, and his two aerial duels and three tackles won shines further light on his underrated ability to win the ball back. He is certainly a player who belongs in attacking midfield, a position which suits him much better in his mission to create opportunities for players around him.

Klich’s 76 touches against Crystal Palace highlight how he made the most of little possession in central areas.

He was not missed in holding midfield either; Pascal Struijk, who did not start against Leicester after lasting just 21 minutes in the Aston Villa win, enjoyed a fairly successful return to first team action - other than his lack of positional awareness for the final goal.

His passing accuracy of 88.6% was only bettered by one Leeds player in goalkeeper Meslier, and although his defensive contribution fell short of emulating Phillips, his distribution in the middle of the park went a long way in assuring Leeds dominated large spells of the 90 minutes.

Raphinha looks very promising

Crystal Palace v Leeds United - Premier League
Raphinha proved tricky for Crystal Palace to deal with after he replaced Helder Costa at half time, making some impressive runs and passes.
Photo by Glyn Kirk - Pool/Getty Images

With Jack Harrison and Helder Costa struggling to imprint themselves in the match, deadline day signing Raphinha was introduced to inject further creativity into the wide areas, replacing fellow summer signing (permanently, at least) Helder Costa after 45 minutes.

His impact was felt particularly in the opening period of the second half, beating players in ground duels, completing cross field passes and threading players through into the Palace box.

Every time he is brought on as a substitute, he has a positive impact and shows glimpses of what he is capable of as a first team regular. Surely it is only a matter of time before he starts ahead of Jack Harrison or Helder Costa, and the increased competition he brings to the wide positions should be welcomed by Leeds supporters.

Furthermore, his foreshadowed future as a central player in Bielsa’s system offers yet another reason to get excited about the Brazilian forward; the quality he possesses with the ball at his feet is likely unmatched in the Leeds squad, and adding that skill in attacking midfield places another ace up El Loco’s sleeve.

VAR needs to be used properly

Crystal Palace v Leeds United - Premier League
A Leeds United equaliser was wrongly ruled out by VAR officials. Patrick Bamford’s arm, which he was using to point where he wanted the ball to be played, was ruled offside.
Photo by Charlotte Wilson/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

VAR itself is a good concept. Having a video referee ensure that clear and obvious errors are corrected helps to make football a fairer game and avoid controversies that could negatively impact a team’s season. The issue is that video referees are not using the technology to correct clear and obvious errors.

Instead, goals are being ruled out by elbows, or in this case Bamford’s arm, which he is using to point to the area he wants Klich to play the ball into. The parts of his body which he is actually allowed to score with are clearly onside, and at worst he is in line with the Crystal Palace defence.

If the goal stood, the Peacocks would have been on level terms, and the entire outcome of the match could have changed. Instead, Leeds were put into a position where they were constantly chasing the game, and Eze’s free kick placed the hosts in the driving seat for the remainder of the affair.

Referees need to start using VAR correctly. As it is currently utilised, it is ruining the game for clubs and supporters alike. Drastic change is needed beyond this season to ensure that the integrity of the game remains standing. Every point counts, and however unlikely it seems that Leeds will be drawn into a relegation battle this season, there is no knowing how impactful this decision will become.

What to take away

Firstly, this was an unfortunate game for Leeds United. Bamford’s first goal should have stood, and Costa was incredibly unlucky to score an own goal from an acute angle by attempting to block Patrick van-Aanholt’s cross from the left side.

Secondly, this was one of Crystal Palace’s best performances in recent campaigns, and it is worth remembering they failed to score more than twice throughout the whole of last season. Admittedly, they played attractive football and held strong when Leeds dominated possession.

However, to have conceded eight goals in two games - and 17 goals in total - must be ringing alarm bells for Bielsa. Whether defenders are at fault or simply unlucky, the back line needs to be tightened and players must improve their judgement and positional awareness.

The key to turning around the club’s poor form lies with the players currently sidelined. Llorente’s potential return after the international break could offer some much needed variety at centre-back, while Rodrigo should be able to continue to integrate himself into the Pablo Hernandez role after he recovers from coronavirus.

Leeds were bound to hit bumps in the road in the Premier League, and at this point every team has suffered from controversial VAR decisions. We must trust that the players will avoid injuries during the international break and come back fresh and ready to rediscover their form.

There is no need to panic.


Which was the more frustrating match to watch?

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  • 44%
    Leeds 1-4 Leicester
    (24 votes)
  • 55%
    Crystal Palace 4-1 Leeds
    (30 votes)
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What are your thoughts on the match? Was it a more or less frustrating result than the Leicester defeat? Vote in the poll above (viewable in browser) and leave your comments @ThruItAllLUFC.