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Chelsea 3 v 1 Leeds United
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 5th December 2020 Kick-off 15:00
London hoodoo continues as Leeds go down to Chelsea
Sunday, 6th Dec 2020 21:56 by Tim Whelan

Leeds fought hard throughout this game, but were ultimately overcome by a very expensively assembled Chelsea side, to maintain our recent dismal record in London.

This was always going to be one of the hardest games of the season, against a side who may well end up lifting the Premier League trophy come the end of the season, thanks to a number of expensive signings after completing a ban for their latest indiscretion in the transfer market. They had an indifferent start in the first couple of games of the season, but have since climbed the table with an impressive run, once their team started to get an understanding of each other’s’ play.

This was of course the first time since March since fans had been allowed into Stamford Bridge. The 2,000 of them applauded the players for taking the knee before kick-off, probably to claim the moral high ground after the behaviour at Millwall earlier in the day, but they were to let themselves down later on in the game with some very strange screaming noises.

Marcello Bielsa named an unchanged side for this game, while fat Frank decided to keep Giroud up front at the expense of Tammy Abraham after the Frenchman’s exploits in Europe in midweek. Although facing Bielsa is a new experience for most managers in the Premier League this season, Lampard had that challenge with Derby two years ago, and did of course get the better of Bielsa at the fourth attempt.

You would have thought he would have briefed his players on the Bielsa way, but we were able to surprise them with a breakaway goal in the fourth minute. The ball was played out of defence to Kalvin Phillips on the left, and he played the pass of the match downfield, right into Bamford’s path. Bamford was helped by some hesitancy in the Chelsea defence and Mendy dashing off his line, but it was still an excellent finish, taking the ball past the keeper and then shooting home from the edge of the box.

But we were going to have a lot of defending to do to hang onto this lead, and our cause wasn’t helped a few minutes later when Koch went down, feeling the injury that had made him doubtful for this game. Evidently the gamble to play him hadn’t worked and it was time for Llorente to make his Premier League debut in his place. Llorente has had his own fitness issues but played quite well, yet a few stray passes showed he needs time to develop an understanding with his new team-mates.

And our defence was helped by an extraordinary miss from Timo Werner, who got in the way of a Giroud header that might have been going in. Instead of just knocking it over the line Werner tried to be too clever by taking it along the line and flicking it with the outside of his foot, only to see the ball come down off the underside of the bar.

So our lead was maintained, and Leeds continued to get forward at every opportunity. While Jose Mourinho got a result at the Bridge the week before by parking the bus, that isn’t the Bielsa way and a couple of times we were close to extending our lead. A couple of fine moves saw Klich pull back for Bamford to shoot over, and Alioski crash a shot against the post, though the latter would have been ruled out for offside anyway.

But by now Chelsea were ramping up the pressure at the other end, and a loose pass from Meslier saw Ayling caught in possession before Giroud shot just wide, before they finally got the equaliser in the 27th minute. James overlapped down the Chelsea right and sent over a dangerous cross and while Llorente was busy appealing for offside (it wasn’t, because of Ayling behind him) Giroud was able to nip into the gap to guide the ball home.

Despite this setback we managed to match Chelsea for most of the rest of the first half, with Raphinha hitting the post from a narrow angle, though on the other side Harrison spoilt a couple of good moves with some overhit crosses. But after the break Chelsea managed to take control of the game as the quality of their expensive squad began to show.

They produced the first chance of the second half with a header from Havertz, though we could have retaken the lead with a couple of chances for Raphinha from a corner. His first volley was blocked, though he should have done better when the ball came back to him. But apart from that it was pretty much all Chelsea.

Meslier made an excellent double save to deny Werner, and from the rebound Alioski produced a last-ditch block to keep out a shot from Mount. But from the resulting corner Zouma was able to put Chelsea in front by powering into the six yard box to head home. Leeds argued that his path was cleared by a foul on Cooper, but the replay showed that Giroud accidentally crashed into him while having a tussle with Llorente.

We needed a bit more guile to get back into the game, and Poveda came on for Harrison, and in the 69th minute Rodrigo came on for Alioski, with Dallas switching to left back. But despite these changes Chelsea were still having more of the game, and a scamble ended up with the ball bouncing wide off Giroud when it could have gone anywhere.

Meslier had to make another fine save from Werner, but at least we were still in the game in the final stages, at least in the sense that while we remained only one goal behind we could still snatch a draw. Which we might have done when Poveda cut in from the right and made his way across the edge of the area, before producing a shot that could well have been a goal if it hadn’t been straight at Mendy.

The commentary team praised Poveda for staying on this feet when he was caught by a boot from Chilwell, yet there was only slight contact, and Chelsea man hadn’t made a deliberate attempt to bring him down. The VAR man would have looked at it, but decided that there wasn’t enough in it to warrant a penalty.

The crowd were less impressed by Raphinha for going down after being accidentally caught by a flailing hand, or by Llorente who supposedly let out a yelp after being tackled. The latter was subject to some pathetic embarrassing noises from the Chelsea fans whenever he touched the ball from then on.

We pressed as much as we could right up to the end, only to be caught out right at the end when we lost possession and Werner was sent down the Chelsea right, before crossing for Pulisic to seal the game from close range with their third goal. Their was just time for Raphinha to collect an unnecessary booking before the referee blew the final whistle.

Cue the usual argument on social media between the fans who think this squad isn’t good enough and those who pointed out the quality of the opposition and the fact that Chelsea’s reserve goalkeeper cost more than our entire starting eleven! On the official site Liam Cooper and Marcello Bielsa have been critical our performance, but I don’t think they need to beat themselves up over this.

Cooper said “In the second half we weren’t at our best, we will go away and analyse that and improve in the next game. We are disappointed, I don’t think we got into the game as much as we should have and as much as we have. As a group we’ll stick together and look to improve next game.”

“Chelsea have got very good players on the ball and sometimes it’s hard, they wait for you to come and drag you out then pop it off to the free man. We struggled with that and when we’re not getting there to anticipate the ball it’s always going to be difficult, because we put a lot into that, that’s a massive part of our game. We’re an honest team who will run and run, go to the last second but sometimes these teams have that extra bit of quality and Chelsea certainly had that.

“We’ve got to improve, we’ve got to be better and we know that.” And Marcello Bielsa also thought we could have pressed them better. “It was very difficult for us to maintain the score at 1-1 and we would have needed to defend better. It was because we didn’t press well enough at the start of the game when they played out through their centre backs, that’s why they dominated. We needed to make playing out more uncomfortable for them.”

The result leaves us in 14th place, yet with a comfortable gap of eight points above the relegation places. We’ve played quite a few of the top sides in the 11 games so far, but the fixture list looks a bit easier in the next few weeks. We have West Ham, Newcastle, Burnley and West Brom as four of the next five games, plus Man U, which could go either way.

It’s the results in these sort of games that will define our season, not how we get on against the very deep pockets of Roman Abramovic.

Photo: Action Images

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