Two home games to forget for Leeds United fans – heavy defeats to Crystal Palace and Liverpool leave the side with a lot to worry about when looking towards the rest of the season. What exactly went wrong against Liverpool on Monday night?
Leeds defended quite well for a period within the first half – organisation and concentration could be seen in the teams’ rigid formation, with attackers not straying too far forward when Liverpool were in possession. However, as soon as Liverpool broke them down, the shift in mindset was apparent. The organisation of the back line was not maintained, and Leeds players began to chase shadows, something that helped Liverpool break them down time after time.
A big part of this could be down to the fact that the team didn’t really have any proven leaders on the pitch. Despite his age and relative experience, Rodrigo has not proven himself a leader within the dressing room based upon the fact that the side effectively lost their heads following the first goal. Liam Cooper was an unused substitute for the side, and while he may not be as technically apt at the back compared to Struijk and Koch, he is clearly a leader who can inspire the rest of the team.
Not utilising an experienced player like Cooper may have worked against Leeds, as heads dropped before half time – someone like Liam Cooper has the qualities to help teammates pick themselves up during difficult situations.
While the alarming amount of goals conceded is currently the main criticism of young keeper Illan Meslier, his distribution may actually be the cause of some of the teams’ problems. Dithering after collecting the ball or taking goal kicks means the overall pace of the game was slowed down. In addition, oftentimes his kicks did not make the intended target, meaning attacks were broken down before they even had a chance to begin.
Attackers not knowing whether the ball will make it to them means that attacks are flat and predictable, as outfield players lack movement and position themselves in predictable places on the pitch in the hopes that it makes it easier for Meslier to play the ball to them. Opposing defenders can easily break down play straight from goal kicks, which is something Liverpool did very well.
Too little too late
One of the very obvious issues in the clash with Liverpool was that Leeds reacted far too late to setbacks. Not making substitutions until they were 4-1 down meant that players entering the field had little opportunity to make an impact that would change the game. Bringing players on when the game is all but lost seems futile when there were opportunities to salvage the game when it was still within reach.
Not only this, but it has an impact on the players coming onto the field, as it is frustrating to be fighting a lost cause and not being able to make an impact in front of an already disgruntled crowd. In terms of future fixtures, the timings of these substitutions could have negative consequences on the team going forward as mentally, it may demoralise them.
One of Leeds’ major weaknesses this season has to be the lack of clinical finishing. The side made enough chances against Liverpool, but as for much of the season, their finishing in the final third has left a lot to be desired. Matching Liverpool’s total shots yet scoring 5 less goals highlights a serious flaw in the side’s ability to convert chances.
If Leeds United want any hope of avoiding relegation, they need to find goals. Rather than passing it around the box in the hopes the ‘perfect’ chance pops up, players need to take risks and show initiative by taking shots whenever the chance presents itself. The current strategy of playing it safe and waiting for an easier or clearer chance to come along clearly isn’t working for the side.
While all these issues are not new to the side this season, they need to find solutions quickly in order to steer clear of the drop zone. Javi Gracia must find these solutions sooner rather than later, and Leeds fans will be hoping he manages to do so before this difficult run-in.