Leeds United’s first season back in the Premier League has to be considered a success. Performances such as the 2-1 victory over Manchester City, the 3-1 win over Leicester and the 3-1 triumph over Tottenham signalled to the rest of the Premier League that Leeds United are well and truly back.
Those successes helped guide the Whites to a top half finish in their first season back in the top flight. These wins were often symptomatic of some outstanding performances which perfectly typified the pros of Bielsa ball as Leeds’ energy often unravelled opposition defences. But, as with every style of play, it didn’t always come off last year and sometimes flat our failed whether due to the execution of the players or the stubbornness of Bielsa himself, there were times where Leeds were the idea who were easily unravelled.
So with that in mind, we’re looking at Leeds United’s five worst performances of the season and breaking down what went wrong as some more surprising losses prevented Leeds from pushing towards European football.
5. 1-0 vs Aston Villa (H) – 27th February 2021
Whilst Leeds didn’t lose this game by a large score line, the manner of the defeat is what will sting the most. Some very sloppy defending meant Anwar El Ghazi had a tap in just 5 minutes into the game giving Villa the perfect excuse to slow the game down.
The goal came from a corner, one of Leeds’ biggest areas of weakness last term, as Leeds failed to demonstrates a clear focused energy in getting the ball away from their line before two players failed to pick up El Ghazi’s run at the far post who was left in so much space even slipping didn’t prevent him from scoring.
Leeds had a whopping 70% possession over 90 minutes yet still only mustered 3 shots on target. Of their 517 passes – a massive amount especially compared to Aston Villa’s tally of 227 – very few saw the ball move into dangerous areas as the Whites were easily kept at arm’s length by a very well executed low block from Dean Smith’s men.
The Villans did what they had to in order to get the 3 points, but Leeds must be disappointed with how little they created in a game where they were allowed so much of the ball.
4. 4-1 vs Leicester City (H) – 2nd November 2021
A Monday night game at home to Leicester started off a week where Leeds would lose back-to-back games by a score line of 4-1. Patrick Bamford missed a golden chance in the opening minutes before Leicester counter attacked and immediately took the lead through Harvey Barnes. Tielemans doubled the lead 20 minutes later to ensure the Foxes went into halftime with a 2-goal lead. A Stuart Dallas cross found it’s way into the far corner just after halftime to reduce the deficit to 2-1, but a vintage Jamie Vardy goal and late penalty from Tielemans finished off the Whites, culminating in a disappointing defeat at Elland Road.
This was another game in which Leeds enjoyed the vast majority of possession with 68% of the ball. Yet that didn’t translate into a superior attack. This game wasn’t the smash and grab some would have you believe from Leicester. The Foxes may have only had 32% possession but Leeds still let them get off 10 shots – just one less than their own tally of 11 – whilst Leicester seemed much more threatening in the final third registering eight shots on target compared to Leeds’ four.
Unsurprisingly, this was one of the games Bielsa was forced to find an alternative in the number six role to Kalvin Phillips. Mateusz Klich was trusted in the position on this night and Leeds’ desperation to get into forward positions left too much on his plate with the Foxes finding large sections of space down either flank allowing Barnes and Dennis Praet to cause Bielsa’s boys endless problems.
3. 2-0 vs Brighton and Hove Albion (A) – 1st May 2021
This defeat stung due to the timing of it. Coming off the back of a 5-game unbeaten run where they played the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and Manchester United, it was typical that relegation battlers Brighton would take all 3 points from Leeds. Ezgjan Alioski gave away a sloppy penalty which Pascal Gross converted early on, before a wonder goal from Danny Welbeck destroyed hopes of a Leeds United comeback on 79 minutes.
Leeds created very little in this game and managed just two shots on target again making their 59% possession and 466 passes somewhat superfluous again allowing the opposition to engineer a greater number of good chances, Brighton registered five shots on target after all as well as 17 shots in total dwarfing Leeds’ 11 shots in an afternoon again where a side were able to keep Leeds at arms length before causing problems on the break.
Of course, these shortcomings came home to roost in the shape of the penalty given away by Alioski. The lack of composure he demonstrated on the floor sums up why Leeds needed to find a new left back as he was bullied in this instance and then showed little in the way of defensive smarts when scrambling on the ground.
2. 4-1 vs Crystal Palace (A) – 7th November 2020
Leeds can count themselves unfortunate to have lost so heavily to Crystal Palace in this game. They were suffering from set pieces at the time, and it took just 12 minutes for Scott Dann to nod home a corner to open the scoring. The wide open spaces left as the ball came into the box here was deeply concerning and the lack of challenge faced by Dann means the Whites deserved to fall behind thanks to a set-piece goal.
Patrick Bamford had the ball in the back of the net, but it was controversially disallowed as Bamford’s arm seemed to be offside only because he was pointing to where he wanted the ball to go. Ebere Eze doubled Palace’s lead with a fantastic free kick on 22 minutes before Bamford had the ball in the net again just a few minutes later, this one stood. Helder Costa scored one of the unluckiest own goals of the season to make it 3-1 to the Seagulls at half time.
Leeds pushed on in the second half before Jordan Ayew took advantage of the open space in their defence to round things off at 4-1. The Whites managed 65% of the ball and 599 and did very little with it finishing the afternoon with less shots and less shots on target than Palace.
1. 6-2 vs Manchester United (A) – 20th December 2020
This was the big one, the one Leeds fans had been waiting an eternity for. Leeds vs Manchester United has always produced classics, but this is one Leeds fans won’t want to remember. A quickfire Scott McTominay double meant the Whites were 2-0 down after just three minutes. Goals from Bruno Fernandes and Victor Lindelof increased the deficit before a Liam Cooper goal just before halftime reduced the scoreline to 4-1. Former Leeds target Dan James netted before a Bruno Fernandes penalty made it 6-1 to the Red Devils. Player of the year Stuart Dallas would score a consolation goal to round things off as the Whites fell 6-2 to their biggest rivals.
To allow the opposition to muster 26 shots whilst enjoying 59% of possession yourself shows an unavoidable failure in defence. The Leeds midfield was simply a turnstile that day as the Red Devils waltzed into dangerous areas again and again.
Ultimately, Leeds made it far too easy for their opponents on this occasion and considering those opponents were their biggest rivals, it makes this defeat all the worse.