For the first time since their promotion, Leeds United have been truly outclassed in the Premier League. Chelsea’s pressing forced multiple errors from Marcelo Bielsa’s defenders - errors the Blues did not even need to score their three goals.
Some will point to back-to-back 4-1 defeats to Leicester City and Crystal Palace, but Leeds had long periods of dominance in both, and the Palace scoreline was particularly flattering to the Peacocks’ opponents.
Marcelo Bielsa: "It was difficult for us to stop them playing out from the back with their centre-backs and [N'Golo] Kante. The difficulty for us was we didn't manage to take the ball of them in their own half." #LUFC https://t.co/Kc7A4WVzRZ— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) December 5, 2020
Having unleashed 48 shots on Arsenal and Everton in their last two fixtures, the Whites were restricted to just nine shots against Chelsea, who registered 23 in return. Frank Lampard’s side also bested Leeds in the chance creation department, enjoying a whopping seven big chances to the Peacocks’ one.
Chelsea ended the match with an xG of over four goals, and while 1-1 was a fair result after a balanced first half, their domination of the second means there can be no complaints over the final result.
However, the issue of players going to ground was brought up when Ian Poveda was caught by Chilwell in the area, only to remain on his feet and see his eventual shot held by Edouard Mendy. Had the former Chelsea youth player taken to ground, VAR would likely favour Leeds. Simply, players often have to go down to win the foul.
Regardless of whether or not Leeds could have snatched a point, it was a fully deserved win from a Chelsea side who are undoubtedly a class above the Whites. As Illan Meslier shined while Diego Llorente was handed a surprise debut, here are five things we learnt from the 3-1 defeat.
Leeds on wrong end of match-winning press
So often supporters marvel at Leeds’ evergreen press and their determination to win possession and commit bodies forward no matter the scoreline. Chelsea turned the tables at Stamford Bridge though, and their gameplan to muffle their opponent’s strengths was evidently successful.
Unlike previous matches, where Leeds’ defenders have been allowed to play a high line and given time on the ball, the Blues put Liam Cooper and company under pressure for much of the match, limiting their influence.
While Bielsa’s side kept 54% of possession, they rarely looked comfortable on the ball in defence. Illan Meslier, who has previously limited his error-making to a minimum, had more than his fair share of heart-in-mouth moments, while Cooper, Diego Llorente and Stuart Dallas also succumbed to the Chelsea press.
As Bielsa himself admitted, his players could have done more to press themselves, and this seemed like the only reasonable way Leeds could have implemented themselves into the game. Supporters will have grimaced when Bielsa burnout was referred to once more by the Sky Sports commentary team, but Leeds were undeniably worked hard by Lampard’s men.
Bielsa's post match thoughts:— Phil Hay (@PhilHay_) December 5, 2020
- felt his team failed to stop Chelsea playing out from the back.
- didn't think crowd influenced the result.
- no comment on the Poveda penalty incident. Said he didn't see it clearly enough.
- admitted that set-pieces were a weakness tonight.
This should not be a reoccurring problem in future matches; Liverpool, wielders of a well-executed gegenpress, needed four set pieces to best the Whites on the opening day, while draws with Manchester City and Arsenal prove Leeds’ credentials in taking on the biggest clubs in the division.
However, just as opponents could take notes from Leicester’s well-orchestrated victory last month, the effectiveness of Chelsea’s press may also have caught the eye of some the more capable sides in the top-flight. There are important lessons to be learnt, even if there was not much Leeds could have done to change the result.
Meslier the difference between fair defeat and drubbing
Leeds were duly dominated by Chelsea, but things could have been far, far worse were it not for 20-year-old Illan Meslier. After keeping two deserved clean sheets against Arsenal and Everton, the young goalkeeper’s upward trajectory has continued, even though he did concede three.
Despite being placed under intense pressure for much of the match, the goalkeeper registered seven saves, six of which were in the 18 yard box. Even more impressively, Meslier completed 93% of his 28 passes, including all six of his attempted long balls.
Illan Meslier vs. Chelsea:— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) December 5, 2020
90 mins played
26 successful passes
6 saves from shots inside the box
6/6 successful long passes
The 20-year-old shot-stopper excelled yet again making SEVEN saves tonight. #LUFC pic.twitter.com/spYB0jYxnZ
It is difficult to deny that there were errors of judgement from the Frenchman, but it is easy to forget that he is still so young, given that he exudes the confidence and maturity of a player ten years his senior on a regular basis.
Meslier made it a particularly frustrating evening for Chelsea’s £50 million forward Timo Werner. The German endured a bizarre moment when he appeared to block a deflection heading straight into the Leeds goal, before seeing his scuffed effort from no more than two yards out blocked onto the bar by the Whites keeper.
Here are our 'Paul Madeley Memorial Award' MOTM— LUFC Trust (@lufctrust) December 5, 2020
nominations after the game against Chelsea.
The person with the most MOTM wins (selected from all your nominations) will be the winner of the award at the end of the season.
Choose one of these four;
The 24-year-old then had two more efforts denied in quick succession, as the former Lorient stopper pulled off a terrific double save before Ezgjan Alioski blocked a third effort with Chelsea piling on the pressure.
Later in the second half, Werner broke free of the Leeds defence and looked set to complete an admirable solo goal, only for Meslier to make himself big and block the shot for a corner.
⚽ @LUFC fall to 3-1 defeat in London. Despite the result, Illan Meslier produced some impressive saves throughout the duration of the game. #MOT @Schools_UK— Leeds United StatZone (@lufcsz) December 5, 2020
Take a look at his stats from the game below. pic.twitter.com/wIBAdQacjX
There was little Bielsa’s first choice could do to stop Chelsea’s three goals, and even on a night littered with Leeds errors, Meslier continued his fine run of form. He has an immensely bright future ahead of him.
Goalscoring return to the Bridge for Bamford
In the five years Patrick Bamford spent at Chelsea as a youngster, he was sent out on loan six times. Three of those were to Premier League clubs, where he amassed just 336 minutes of football and failed to score a single goal. All he wanted was an opportunity to prove himself at the highest level.
It was therefore touching to see the 27-year-old score just four minutes into his first meeting with his former club, leaving the revered Mendy in the dust to score his eighth goal of the season.
His involvement in affairs may have dried up in the second half, and he may have ended up on the losing side, but it was a personal triumph for a player who, in Bielsa, finally has a manager who truly believes in him.
Bamford registered three shots against Chelsea, two of which were on target, while he also won all four of his ground duels. He took the one major chance that fell his way, and was clinical in scoring just the second goal Mendy has conceded this season.
Only Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Son Heung-Min have scored more than the Englishman, who is level with Jamie Vardy and Mohamed Salah. Bamford fully deserves the company of some of the best forwards in the Premier League.
Llorente thrown into deep end
For a while, you could not even be sure if the man existed. But sure enough, in came £18 million signing Diego Llorente to make his long overdue debut when Robin Koch came off injured early in the first half.
Bielsa admitted prior to the game that he wanted the former Real Sociedad defender to get some minutes with the under-23s before he made his first team bow, but his surprise inclusion among the substitutes, paired with Koch’s knock, led to a tricky introduction to his Leeds career.
Diego Llorente debut vs. Chelsea:— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) December 5, 2020
81 mins played
62/78 succ. passes
4/4 tackles won
4 ball recoveries
3/4 aerial duels won
3/7 final third passes
2 blocked shots
0 dribbled past
Tough debut venue & booed endlessly but did well. pic.twitter.com/NUhpr3z3jg
Singled out by the 2,000 Chelsea fans who heckled him with every touch of the ball, the Spanish international would have hoped to make his debut under easier circumstances, but he still put in an impressive defensive display.
The 27-year-old won five tackles, five ground duels and four aerial duels, while also registering four clearances, two blocked shots and one interception. However, the pressure Llorente found himself under is implied by the 18 occasions when he lost possession; only Luke Ayling lost the ball as many times.
It could be that there’s only 2,000 of them but Chelsea fans making the weirdest jeering noice I’ve ever heard when Diego Llorente is on the ball.— James Marshment (@marshyleeds) December 5, 2020
Sounds like we’re at a pantomime
He was also central to the two of the Chelsea goals. Tasked with marking Olivier Giroud, Llorente allowed the France veteran to drift away from him, and he was helpless when Kai Havertz blocked his path while the striker poked home a superb equaliser.
USA international Christian Pulisic then got the better of Llorente for the final goal, surging past the defender at the edge of area so that he was unchallenged when Werner squared the ball into the six yard box.
It was certainly an important learning curve for the debutant, who will fancy himself to impress against more favourable opposition in the coming weeks.
Players have to go down in football
One of the gripes more traditional fans have with the modern game is the tendency for players to go to ground too easily, even if there is minimal or no contact. However, last night’s match shone further light onto why the epidemic of going down with ease has spread so far in football.
Looking to win a high ball at the edge of the area, Ian Poveda looks to perfect his first touch as Ben Chilwell challenges him. The Chelsea left-back misjudges his effort to clear the ball and instead catches Poveda’s ankle, but the 20-year-old stays on his feet, eventually seeing his shot from outside the area held by Mendy.
VAR seemingly brushed over the incident, despite the fact it occurred in the penalty area. Now, suppose Poveda had gone to ground when Chilwell fouled him? The incident would certainly be analysed by the video assistant referees, and given the excessive number of penalties given already this season, Leeds would have had a golden opportunity to make it 2-2.
If there is still time for VAR to win over football fans, then it must seek to end the festering culture in football that if a player does not go down, they do not win the foul. Not that supporters should hold their breath, though.
Who was your man-of-the-match against Chelsea?
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What are your thoughts after last night’s 3-1 defeat to Chelsea? Who was your man-of-the-match for Leeds? Vote in the poll above (viewable in browser) and let us know in the comments below and on Twitter. Onto West Ham!