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5 things we learned from Southampton 1-0 Leeds United

Was Marcelo Bielsa’s 150th game at Leeds the worst one yet?

Southampton v Leeds United - Premier League
A dejected Marcelo Bielsa watching his team fall 1-0 at St. Mary’s
Photo by Alex Davidson/Getty Images

Well, where do we start? A Leeds United team missing its three best players - and three other first-team options - slumping to a 1-0 defeat at the hands of a side yet to win a game this season and with just five wins in 2021. We end the day one place outside the relegation zone, and we could end the week in it.

I think you’d struggle to find a worse performance under Marcelo Bielsa: disjointed, lethargic, disorganised. Defence all over the place, midfield and attack entirely anonymous.

Credit to Southampton who pressed intelligently and aggressively, exploited the space in our midfield and created a myriad of chances - it could very easily have been four or five.

Not many - if any - positives to take from today but, for the sake of our own sanity, I’ll try to pick out a couple.

So, here are five things we learned from the 1-0 defeat to Southampton...

Woeful in possession

We will get to a couple of positives but, ultimately, this was a dreadful performance typified by the absence of composure in possession. All of the negatives can be caveated by the absence of key players and this problem, in particular, will have been alleviated by the presence of Kalvin Phillips.

Southampton’s decision to play a front two meant that Bielsa and Leeds opted to play a back three with two in midfield. Now with, for example, Phillips and Mateusz Klich, a balance can be struck. But by playing Klich with Tyler Roberts you force the Polish international to drop into the deeper role, thus losing his influence and composure between the line whilst simultaneously putting him in pressure situations which he cannot cope with.

Add to that a partner in Roberts who - for all his positive transitional play further forward, and I wholeheartedly agree with Josh’s piece a couple of weeks ago in defence of Roberts - the 22-year-old is neither a central midfielder nor a player good enough to adapt to the demands of a central midfielder.

Southampton’s game plan was executed perfectly and they pounced on a litany of loose passes and hesitant first touches, winning possession high up the pitch and running onto a disorganised and unbalanced defensive unit.

It could easily be argued that Roberts shouldn’t have started in a midfield two - again, this is not to point the finger at Roberts who was one of the only players who showed an inkling of attacking creativity. Adam Forshaw could well have started in the deeper role with Klich in his more natural position, or Jamie Shackleton could have provided the link between midfield and attack with Cody Drameh debuted at right-back.

In the end, we had neither a competent deep-lying midfielder nor a consistently available and composed number eight. And it showed.

An over-reliance on injured trio

This is more a case of not realising what you’ve got until it’s gone, and if any team - apart from the petro-cash top four - is missing the best three players through the spine of their side they can reasonably be expected to struggle.

But the extent to which we looked entirely lost - without Kalvin Phillips providing a constant passing lane to break a press, without Raphinha exploiting space to gain territory and create chances and without Patrick Bamford to spearhead the front-line by holding possession, running the channels and linking play - is worrying.

Questions have been asked of squad depth throughout the summer and were not answered, and whilst missing five of our best possible starting-XI is always going to cause problems, the disparity between our ‘best’ and the ‘rest’ is too great.

Reinforcements in January are necessary, and whilst they do not need to be £30million+ signings they need to be able to come into the side and cover for injuries. Having a substitute bench of which five players are yet to make a senior appearance for the club is not good enough.

Anonymous attack

As already mentioned, this point needs to be made with the knowledge that the likes of Bamford and Raphinha - our two best attacking players - were unavailable, but with the players we had, especially in our front three, the attacking threat was entirely non-existent.

With a front three worth £63 million, consisting of our two most expensive signings ever, we knocked up three shots - none on target.

Rodrigo, to be frank, did not look bothered about what was happening in front of his eyes. Dominated by a defence that had conceded 1.43 goals per 90 minutes prior to kick-off, the former Spanish international failed to hold up the ball, link play between the lines, make any successful runs in behind or provide any sort of promise whatsoever.

Dan James and Jack Harrison provided glimpses of promise on either wing. Neither can be accused of lacking work rate or desire, but neither can also be praised for any telling contribution.

With James, it seemed as though every time he got the ball he was thinking three or four moves ahead without actually thinking about what to do now. With Harrison, it seemed as if he had lost the ability to think at all and just tried to complete 90 minutes on muscle memory alone.

Neither worked, and although both had chances - Harrison jinking brilliantly past Oriol Romeu before having his shot blocked by Mohammed Salisu, and James pickpocketing Salisu himself before poking wide of both Alex McCarthy and the post - they never really exerted serious influence on the game.

A debut for Joffy

Right, that’s enough doom and gloom. I promised some positivity and I’ve got a couple of points.

Firstly, finally, Joe Gelhardt’s senior debut for Leeds United. On in the 77th minute for the out of sorts Klich. In a game where none of those around him could find the spark, however, the 19-year-old brought an enthusiasm to the final 15 minutes that you would expect from a debutant.

You can guarantee that there will be more chances for the young striker, and you would hope that next time he comes on there might be some resemblance of attacking coherence behind him.

Leeds fans are bloody great

It’s like the days when we were the laughing stock of the football league and all we had to smile about was our fanbase, but it’s an important point to make and a positive note to end on: The 3,000 or so at St. Mary’s were absolutely outstanding.

On the very legal outlet with which I watched this match, I could hear the away end singing Marching On Together in the 82nd minute. You’ve spent your Saturday taking a 500-mile round trip, on top of both ticket and travel costs, to watch the most dreadful performance you have seen since the years of David Hockaday and Paul Heckingbottom.

Yet you are the ones singing for your team over a 30,000 strong home support who are seeing their team dominate their way to a first win of the season. Incredible.

And it was like that all game. Had the picture quality on my outlet been any worse I would’ve thought it was at Elland Road.

It’s important we remain that way throughout the season - whether we bounce back and push ourselves up to safety or spend this season in a serious relegation battle.

The fine margins of a support like that - home and away - may well just make the difference come May.