They say football is a game of two halves, and that was certainly the case for Newcastle United in their narrow 2-1 loss to Leeds United last night. The Magpies’ second half response may have done enough to keep Steve Bruce in the job for another week, while also highlighting multiple gaps in the Whites’ fragile midfield.
Ultimately, Leeds did enough in the dying moments of the match to win a welcome three points, largely thanks to a good performance from the dynamic duo of Rodrigo and Raphinha. Elsewhere, Diego Llorente’s long awaited full debut lasted just 10 minutes as a hamstring injury undid his latest bid to return to fitness.
It could have cost Leeds dearly; substitute Pascal Struijk was drawn out of position, allowing Miguel Almiron to take full advantage of the space left behind for their equaliser. But the 21-year-old was steady throughout the rest of his cameo as the visitors’ defence was bombarded by set pieces after the interval.
Here is what we learned as “Leeds-born Stuart Dallas” helped his side defeat Steve Bruce for the first time ever - if the BT Sport commentators are to be trusted.
Leeds left vulnerable from midfield gaps
Marcelo Bielsa is not one to avoid taking risks. Leaving Leeds vulnerable in defence in order to maximise their chances of scoring is a sacrifice the Argentine is willing to make. However, the abundance of space in central midfield made for worrying viewing in the second half as Newcastle took a stranglehold in the match.
Bruce’s side looked spineless in the first half, and it was almost too easy for Raphinha to score despite the fact that the majority of Newcastle’s defenders had made it back into the area by the time the Brazilian unleashed his shot. With Leeds Keeping 63 percent of the ball, the hosts did not trouble Illan Meslier’s goal once, and Leeds were in full control.
The Magpies reacted well in the second half, though, restricting Leeds to three shots compared to their 15. Most alarmingly, the Peacocks’ passing accuracy dropped from 78 percent before the interval to 66 percent afterwards. Allan Saint-Maximin’s introduction made Newcastle far more dangerous, and gaps in Leeds’ midfield complemented their opponents’ higher line.
Rodrigo’s role in central midfield has been opposed by a number of Leeds supporters ever since Spain’s number-nine established himself in the first team, and although the 29-year-old had a fruitful first half, on other occasions Bielsa’s side have arguably been left lacking regarding their midfield steel.
Raphinha inspirational again
As Robin Koch and Llorente contend with injury and Rodrigo looks to find consistency playing behind the striker, Raphinha has become the frontrunner to become the club’s signing of the summer. The gifted forward’s technical ability was vital for Leeds once again as he scored the opener and assisted the winner against Newcastle.
Despite losing his man on one or two occasions, the Brazilian battled well in the feisty affair, winning seven of his 10 ground duels. The 24-year-old also proved to be a menace for Newcastle defenders, completing both of his attempted dribbles, drawing four fouls and providing two key passes, one of which was the delightful assist for Jack Harrison’s well-executed finish.
Six direct contributions from his six away outings so far this season goes to show how much of a threat the former Rennes winger poses cutting in from the right flank.
Llorente injury curse continues
Poor old Diego. The Spain international cannot catch a break, and seems destined to keep Adam Forshaw company on the sidelines. His latest attempt to return to fitness was scuppered by a hamstring injury sustained early in the first half.
With Koch still recovering from a long-term layoff, Struijk’s involvement in the first team looks like it could continue. Fortunately, Meslier continued to impress between the sticks for Leeds, bailing his side out with four saves.
Will Llorente ever complete 90 minutes for his new club? Will the Whites ever be able to field their first choice centre-backs for consecutive games? There are some questions that science simply cannot answer.
Who was your man of the match against Newcastle?
This poll is closed
What did you take away from the 2-1 win at St. James’ Park? Who was your man of the match? Vote in the poll above (viewable in browser) and let us know on Twitter.