Last night’s game was the equivalent of an afterlife-sceptic hearing footsteps in an empty house; it was irrefutable evidence that the acclaimed London curse does indeed exist. Whether it be a controversial VAR decision or a goal-line clearance, the ball simply refused to hit the back of West Ham United’s net. Spooky, eh?
And if ghosts and ghouls were not enough, infuriating riddles added to the chaos and confusion. For example: what happens when Helder Costa’s right foot is onside, his knee is offside but they are both in line with each other? Who the f*** knows - apparently angles that would be preferable in determining offside decisions are only applicable for action replays, and not by the video assistant referee when, uh, determining offside decisions.
Leeds have now won just one of our last 27 matches played in London across all competitions.— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) March 8, 2021
Make that two wins for the club in the capital over the last seven years stretching back to 2014.
The London Curse continues. #LUFC pic.twitter.com/doPK1oUVhB
We can bemoan yet another blood-boiling, soul-crushing, game-killing VAR call, but fixing up the frailties at both ends of the pitch demonstrated last night is a solution more under Leeds United’s control.
Missing clear-cut chances feels so last season, but it is an issue that keeps creeping into the Whites’ game. Defensive errors have been a much more current theme for Marcelo Bielsa’s side. These will ultimately be fixed by more training, more top flight experience and more signings, but defenders were still too trigger-happy with their clumsy challenges against the Hammers.
Bielsa: “I do not think we are facilitating the goals scored by the opponents... If you look at the season as a whole the GK, defensive line and DM have been the most consistent.” Says all the players in the positions have shone. #lufc— Adam Pope (@apopey) March 8, 2021
Luke Ayling’s was a schoolboy error, leaving out a trailing leg that left little room for argument from Marcelo Bielsa’s side. Illan Meslier was unlucky; he clearly anticipated a more accurate penalty attempt from Jesse Lingard, subsequently overcompensating with his leap and parrying the ball straight back into the Manchester United loanee’s path.
Liam Cooper also picked up some criticism for his poor challenge which indirectly led to Craig Dawson’s header, while Diego Llorente was left chasing as the foul was committed. Fast forward to the resulting corner, and Llorente again lost the battle against his man, this time Dawson, who made easy work of the Spaniard before doubling West Ham’s advantage.
The former Real Sociedad centre-back had another decent game off the ball, completing 84 percent of his passes including five out of six long balls and one key pass. But his presence offered few solutions to Leeds’ set piece problems; he was easily beaten to or muscled off the ball on a few occasions. Of course, he will still need time to settle given his horrific luck with injuries, but it is a part of his game that he can certainly aim to improve.
It is important to remember that Leeds’ defence has been riddled with injuries across the board this season, and it may be unfair to judge a backline that has seen more changes this campaign than the management at Leeds during the entire Cellino era. Once fitness has revealed itself to Llorente and his fellow international Robin Koch, their integration into the man-to-man marking system will surely accelerate.
All four goals West Ham have scored against Leeds this season originated from set-pieces.— LUFCDATA (@LUFCDATA) March 8, 2021
There's a place where you can see all of Leeds' set-piece goals both for and against under Marcelo Bielsa right here - https://t.co/6M9GYPbUn9#LUFC pic.twitter.com/1iyCI8yTaM
Patrick Bamford, meanwhile, will likely fall victim to some of the criticisms he received on a regular basis last season. Having finished his correctly ruled out goal in the fashion we have grown used to in the Premier League, his Championship struggles echoed across the empty London Stadium.
Llorente’s key pass was the through ball that sent the 27-year-old into a one-on-one with Lukasz Fabianski, but he placed the shot agonisingly wide. He had to score. Then later in the match, having miscued his first effort in a crowded penalty area, Raphinha retrieved the ball and played it back into Bamford’s feet, only for the England hopeful to balloon it over the bar. He really had to score.
CHANCE. Bamford mis-hits his first shot, Raphinha retrieves, sends it back into the middle and Bamford scoops it well over. A very, very good chance. Had to score.— Graham Smyth (@GrahamSmyth) March 8, 2021
Matches like these happen, and there are few doubts that fans have seen the lovable striker find the net with a clinical finish for the last time this season. 13 top flight goals shows a remarkable improvement on Bamford’s part, and has presumably been achieved by plenty of training and a motivation to prove critics wrong. This remedy has served him well so far and will do so again as he suffers a minor blip in what is his best campaign yet.
After all, there is an argument that Bamford’s tally should read 15, given the conscientious offside calls he has suffered against Crystal Palace and Wolves over the course of the campaign so far. Tyler Roberts too has every right to believe he should have his first Premier League goal.
It's not just tonight's offside kneecap incident, we're getting weekly examples of good goals and exciting moments taken away by the finest margins. Attackers and creativity are not being given the benefit of the doubt. The pursuit of perfection is harming football.— Graham Smyth (@GrahamSmyth) March 8, 2021
There is something inherently wrong with the way VAR has shunned the concept of players being level, and having made amends to certain rules following a backlash this season, surely a change in the most agonising aspect of this new era of football is long overdue?
Perhaps the scoreboard would tell a different story had Costa’s goal not been incorrectly ruled out, and the same could respectively be said for both of Bamford’s ‘close calls’ too. Leeds have hit the woodwork plenty of times this season, metaphorically as well as literally. Bielsa should count himself lucky that, despite what the more cautious fans think, his side are in for an undramatic mid-table finale this time round.