As yesterday evening’s EFL Cup clash against Wolves began to reach its conclusion, the dreaded prospect of a penalty shoot-out loomed in the distance like an ominous spectre.
Fortunately for the nerves of Whites fans everywhere such an event never came to pass. Being spared such an experience did not come without a cost, however, as it was Boubacar Kamara’s 85th minute strike for the home side which prevented it from happening.
Despite leaving Molineux on the wrong end of a 1-0 scoreline there were elements to admire in Leeds’ performance, especially considering the fact that – at least on paper – they were facing a side much stronger than their own.
This is not to say all that was displayed was positive. In what was an evenly-contested match statistically, as demonstrated in a 48/52 percent possession split between the home team and the visitors, Leeds’ attack failed to carve out any clear-cut chances after the game’s opening minutes. The Whites’ defensive frailties also came back to haunt them, seen most notably in the goal conceded on the night.
The good: the kids are alright
Jesse Marsch’s side travelled to the Black Country with a starting XI much changed from the one involved in Saturday’s impressive 4-3 comeback against Bournemouth at Elland Road, with Jack Harrison the only player retaining his place.
In essence, the Whites fielded a reserve squad with a keen emphasis on youth – with five of the eleven players starting regularly featuring in the club’s Under-21s set-up. Three of these figures, Sonny Perkins, Mateo Joseph and Darko Gyabi, were making senior debuts.
Considering that Wolves played a much stronger side comprised of six players who could be regarded as regular first-team starters, the match at Molineux was never going to be easy.
Leeds put in a spirited performance regardless and could have even been one up early into the encounter had it not been for a fine Matija Sarkic save from Leo Hjelde’s header.
This trend of younger players dictating much of the Whites’ play continued throughout much of the match, with neat link-up play around the opposition box between Joseph and Perkins providing the forward thrust for much of Leeds’ attack early in the game.
A similarly strong display from debutant Gyabi in defensive midfield signalled a promising start to his foray into the Leeds first team.
In a contest in which older players such as Harrison and left-back Junior Firpo were notably poor, the performances of their more youthful counterparts were more than enough to compensate.
The bad: issues concerning forward threat and defensive deficiencies exposed again
Whilst Leeds’ forward play generated two decent chances in the game’s opening minutes, including Hjelde’s headed effort, the Whites struggled to create anything significant past this point. Often it was the accuracy of the final ball, or an early run leading to the offside flag being raised, that halted the attacking momentum of Marsch’s side.
Perhaps more pressing than this lack of offensive threat, however, is the glaring issues in Leeds’ defence which are yet to be resolved.
Like most teams do when they face Leeds, Wolves exploited Marsch’s narrow 4-2-3-1 formation by repeatedly attacking using width. Most of Wanderers’ attacks came courtesy of wide forwards Goncalo Guedes and Adama Traore, who after having the ball given to them were granted too much time to either deliver a cross or – more dangerously – turn inside and unleash a shot.
The greatest concern for Leeds supporters will undoubtedly be the manner in which they conceded: a strike from distance after leaving an opposition player completely unchecked on the edge of their penalty area. If witnessing such a sight elicited feelings of deja vu from Whites fans it was not without good reason, as the goal was almost a carbon copy of Philip Billing’s second goal for Bournemouth scored against their team last weekend.
Making such an error once is bad enough but to do so twice is unforgivable, and will no doubt add fuel to the fire for those already critical of the defensive shortcomings of Jesse Marsch’s footballing system.
Overall, Whites fans, and more importantly the players, should not be too disheartened by yesterday’s result. Despite losing the game, there are definite signs that the future of the club looks bright. And whilst the drawbacks of Marsch’s playing style were exposed once again yesterday, the American’s present priority is getting his team firing on all cylinders before they travel to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday to give his side the best chance of emerging with some sort of positive result.