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Milestones and magic for Leeds in comfortable Palace victory

Raphinha shone as Phillips made his 200th Leeds appearance and Bamford scored his 100th career goal.

Leeds United v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Raphinha continued his electric form in the 2-0 win over Crystal Palace.
Photo by Jon Super - Pool/Getty Images

It makes for a pleasant change to watch Leeds United wrap up a comfortable, lowkey victory for once. With all due respect to Crystal Palace, their lack of top half ambitions was matched by their football, and they rarely threatened to get back into the match after Jack Harrison’s third-minute opener.

Leeds’ 2-0 win over Roy Hodgson’s side was a satisfying recovery from last year’s 4-1 loss in South London, and sees them rise above Arsenal into the top half of the table. It was a solid performance all round, and bar a few slips caused by the new pitch, there was no real danger of the Whites missing out on their seventh clean sheet of the campaign.

With Raphinha starring and two players celebrating important milestones, here are six things we learned from the Peacocks’ 10th win of the season.

Landmark goal tops off Bamford display

Leeds United v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Bamford celebrates his 100th career goal against one of his former clubs.
Photo by Jon Super - Pool/Getty Images

The story of Patrick Bamford draws a larger smile with each game he plays. In 2015, he made just six appearances for Crystal Palace, and faced criticism even after becoming a vital part of Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds five years later. Now, supporters could not be happier for the 27-year-old, who reached 100 career goals last night.

Only five players have scored more than Bamford’s 12 in the Premier League, but his performance against Palace was all about his movement. Before poor old Gary Cahill was sent to his retirement home by Raphinha, he fell victim to the Leeds forward whose clever runs resulted in two headed chances inside the first 20 minutes.

Although his finish for the 22nd-minute chance was awful, the way he created that opportunity for himself was outstanding. His pressuring of the Palace defenders paid off, as he anticipated a misplaced pass, knocked the ball past Cahill and rounded the veteran to get through on goal.

He got the strike he deserved after 52 minutes, again pressuring the Palace defence into a poor pass. Continuing his sprint, he anticipated Vicente Guaita’s parry from Raphinha’s effort, placing himself in the right position to tap in Leeds’ second.

As well as mastering the art of movement, Bamford impressed across other areas of his attacking play, winning all three of his ground duels and two of four aerial duels. Other than his big first half chance, he was relatively clinical with two of his three shots on target, while he also registered a passing accuracy of 89 percent.

There are a number of current first team members who will unfortunately be replaced over the next few transfer windows as Leeds look to build on the foundations they are creating for themselves this season, but Bamford is on track to truly establish himself in this top flight side.

There are not enough superlatives to describe Raphinha with

Leeds United v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Raphinha ran rings around the Palace defence during another outstanding performance.
Photo by Tim Keeton - Pool/Getty Images

The Premier League’s big guns would not have needed that slip of the tongue from Bamford in his post-match interview to turn their attention to Raphinha. The £17 million signing from Rennes was only able to establish himself well into the Autumn of last year, but is already proving to be among the most important members of the first team at Elland Road.

While ‘Championship’ players like Luke Ayling and Stuart Dallas have stepped up brilliantly since promotion, Kalvin Phillips is well on the way to cementing his place as one of England’s best holding midfielders and Rodrigo is boosting Leeds’ underlying numbers in attack, Raphinha is the player who has really added an extra dimension to the club.

He is the game changer, the match winner, the one whose mere presence on the pitch can make all the difference. Some are likely struggling to imagine how Leeds got by without him in the early stages of the campaign, and it is indeed difficult to imagine life without him in the future. However, attention from the ‘big six’ is inevitable as the Brazilian continues his outstanding form for the Whites.

While his impact was more limited in terms of direct goal contributions, his technical ability on the ball made him a nightmare for defenders to face, while his never-ending search for progressive passes made Leeds all the more relentless in their conquest for goals. He plays with the sort of finesse that can only be matched by the true magicians of Premier League football, and has already made himself a player the streets of Leeds will never forget.

Cahill will certainly be glad to see the back of the 24-year-old, who made a fool of him with his superb piece of skill to force a foul during the opening 45 minutes. The Palace defence as a whole was kept engaged by his seven attempted ground duels, while his crossing also proved particularly dangerous as Leeds missed big chances from set plays.

Leeds could already contend with the best Premier League sides without Raphinha, as proven by their 1-1 draw with Manchester City last year, but he is probably the one player every other club in the division would sign without a second thought if they were given the chance to do so.

Struijk is last piece of set-piece jigsaw

Leeds United v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Struijk has emerged as Leeds’ top set-piece threat in recent weeks, but is yet to capitalise.
Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images

It was evident before Leeds’ return to the Premier League that the Whites would struggle with set-pieces, particularly as they could no longer guarantee to be favourites to win every game they played like they could in the Championship. After a low point in the 2-1 defeat to West Ham, though, the Whites have made a considerable improvement.

In the last several matches, Bielsa’s side have looked more threatening from dead ball situations, and Struijk has been central to that. Standing at 1.9 metres, the Belgian international hopeful is the tallest outfield player at the club, and looks to be getting closer and closer to scoring his first senior goal.

He had three opportunities to find the back of the net against Palace. Raphinha’s 39th-minute free kick won from his exceptional piece of skill just evaded full contact off Struijk’s head, although a more meaningful or better timed leap could have resulted in Leeds’ second.

Three minutes later, timing was certainly the issue as the 21-year-old missed a free header from six yards out. Phillips’ cross was uncontended by a Palace defender and Struijk had to get low to make contact, but the ball struck the wrong side of his head and subsequently bounced wide of the far post.

Another chance presented itself after the interval, again coming from a Phillips cross, but Struijk was unable to make crucial contact at close range and the ball was instead hacked away. Palace have only scored twice from set-pieces this season but are certainly adept at defending them, so it is promising for Leeds to generate more of these types of opportunities.

There is still work to be done, and as the primary target of Leeds’ set plays, Struijk needs to work on his heading to maximise his side’s threat from those situations. Once he does that, another element will have been added to the Peacocks’ football, and although the focus will rightfully be on executing Bielsaball, a few extra goals from corners and free kicks would not go amiss.

Koch and Llorente will have to fight harder than ever for place in starting 11

Cooper has looked more settled in the Premier League in recent weeks.
Photo by TIM KEETON/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Finishing aside, Struijk enjoyed a comfortable display against Palace, as did his defensive partner and club captain Liam Cooper. Summer signings Robin Koch and Diego Llorente, who are both currently contending with long term injuries, must be wondering how difficult it will be for them to stay in contention for a first team place as their teammates continue to settle and build on their blossoming partnership.

No one on the pitch attempted more passes than Cooper (103) last night, making his passing accuracy of 91.3 percent even more impressive. Meanwhile, Struijk bettered his partner in the pass success department, completing 94.3 percent of his 88 passes. The pair also completed six long balls between them.

Having looked comfortable on the ball, Cooper also excelled defensively, and no one completed more tackles (4) than him on the night. He came out on top in four of his six ground duels and three of his five aerial duels, as well as blocking two shots to put the icing on the cake.

Struijk was slightly less busy than the 29-year-old, but still completed two tackles, two ground duels and two clearances. Having both faced their respective challenges this season, they will be confident in their chances of retaining their place in the first team once Koch and Llorente begin the process of returning to full fitness. Regardless, Bielsa will likely be met with a selection headache.

Phillips on pathway to legendary status

Leeds United v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Phillips continued to play an important role on his 200th Leeds United appearance.
Photo by Jon Super - Pool/Getty Images

It has been a long time since Leeds have been in the position to breed a club legend, but now that they are preparing for a long stay in the Premier League, the title is once again up for grabs. No one looks more likely to establish themselves as an icon at Elland Road than Kalvin Phillips, who marked his 200th club appearance with a solid performance and three points.

The 25-year-old was as busy as ever playing in holding midfield against Palace, completing two tackles, two interceptions, two clearances, four ground duels and two aerial duels across his 88 minutes on the pitch. His distribution was equally reliable, with Phillips registering a pass success rate of 87 percent, matching Eberechi Eze with three key passes and completing three crosses and seven long balls.

Having already made his mark in the England squad after turning down a £30 million move to Aston Villa following Bielsa’s first season at Leeds, Phillips is well on the way to becoming a legend at his hometown club having achieved his dream of promotion to the Premier League.

His importance in the starting 11 cannot be understated, either. Despite Raphinha’s impact, he remains the most significant player for Bielsa and performs an essential role in a way no one else at the club can replicate. With presumed Premier League safety likely to dampen any remaining rumours of an Elland Road exit, the road is clear for Phillips to cement his legacy.

The old Klich is back

Leeds United v Crystal Palace - Premier League
Mateusz Klich has endured a difficult period with Leeds in recent weeks.
Photo by Jon Super - Pool/Getty Images

It has been a tough old time for Mateusz Klich, whose recent drop in form led to him being dropped for a non alcohol-related incident for the first time under Bielsa. However, Rodrigo’s injury has opened up a path back into the first team, and the Poland international took full advantage last night.

His best moment came when he created Leeds’ second goal, as his incisive pass fed Raphinha whose shot was parried into the path of Bamford. Moments later, another key pass into the area found the striker, but he was crowded out by Palace defenders and possession was lost.

Regardless, the 30-year-old looked more like his normal self, suffering notably less lapses of concentration when distributing the ball and subsequently boasting a passing accuracy of 84 percent.

Klich will hope to build on last night’s performance and rebuild his confidence, with Rodrigo set to be out for at least a few more matches and neither Pablo Hernandez or one of Leeds’ younger talents looking close to stealing a place in the first team.


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