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Leeds United 1 v 2 Everton
Barclays Premier League
Wednesday, 3rd February 2021 Kick-off 19:30
Sloppy defending condemns Leeds to defeat by the Toffees
Thursday, 4th Feb 2021 22:53 by Tim Whelan

If anything we had more of the game against Everton, but two pieces of poor defending the first half cost us dear and the visitors’ stand-in keeper kept us out in the second.

We had just the one enforced change to make for this game, with Rodrigo failing to recover from the injury he picked up at Leicester, so Klich was restored to the starting line-up. Bamford and Raphinha had recovered from knocks they took in the same game, and although Philips was seen having treatment after the warm-up he was also able to start.

We didn’t see what had caused Phillips’ injury scare, but once the game started some of the players seemed to have difficulty keeping their feet on the new pitch, though the persistent rain wouldn’t have helped. It still looked better than the patchy surface we had to endure against Brighton and it aided the passing game of both sides, contributing to an eventful game of football.

If you’d predicted the outcome of this game on the basis of the matches the two clubs recently played against Newcastle, you would have expected an easy victory for Leeds. Everton have been frustratingly inconsistent for much of the season, but after Carlo Ancelotti was very critical of his team’s performance against the Geordies they came out looking determined to make amends.

Like a number of teams, Everton used our own tactics against us in the first half, showing lots of energy, passing the ball quickly and getting back in numbers whenever they lost the ball. And it paid dividends for them after ten minutes when they broke downfield to score the opening goal. Ayling was caught upfield as Digne came down the left, and although Raphinha tracked back he couldn’t get close enough to prevent the cross.

But the most disappointing part was what happened once Digne had sent his dangerous low cross into the six yard box. Sigurdsson was surrounded by three Leeds defenders, but none of them moved to cover his run as he raced through, and he accepted the invitation to send the ball past Meslier from close range and put Everton in front.

And they could have gone two in front when another cross came through to Calvert-Lewin, but their leading scorer couldn’t get the power he wanted into the shot, and Meslier was able to make the save. But as we approached the middle of the first half Leeds managed to get back into the game, though for the time being the Everton defence were able to cope with everything we could throw at them.

A good move ended with Klich trying a curling shot, which Olsen had to turn behind for the first of series of corners. Raphinha’s deliveries were excellent, and he sent one of the corners directly to Alioski on the edge of the area, for the Macedonian to hit splendid first-time volley. It would have been great goal if it hadn’t curled a bit too much and come off the post, though Olsen might say he had it covered.

Then for the second match running Struijk came close to scoring his first ever Leeds goal. He flicked a Phillips header goalwards with the back of his head, but Calvert-Lewin was able to take a bit of the pace off it and Olsen was able to tip it over the bar. Overall we could certainly say that we deserved to go in level at the break, but when a goal arrived just before half-time it came at the wrong end.

Yet again it was our inability to defend from corners that was our undoing. Ben Godfrey flicked a corner towards the far post and Calvert-Lewin reacted faster than any of our defenders to head Everton further in front. According to the people who count these things, that was the eighth goal we’ve conceded from a corner this season.

But could Everton keep up the pace for the second half? If you’re going to try to out-Bielsa Bielsa you need to have the fitness to match, and it became clear that Everton didn’t as their performance dropped and Leeds began to dominate the game. And only three minutes into the second period Leeds had pulled one back.

There didn’t seem to be that much danger when the ball came to Bamford when several defenders were in close attendance, but he managed to find Raphinha in space and the Brazilian placed his shot past Olsen into the far corner. So Bamford produced an assist for his own fantasy team, as well as a much-needed goal and an assist for mine.

Shortly afterwards we were close to getting on level terms, only for Olsen to pull off an incredible triple save. First from Klich, then getting his legs in the way when the ball came to Raphinha from a narrow angle, and somehow recovering in time to save a volley from Harrison. This was one of Klich’s last contributions, and he looked a little bit disappointed to be hauled off in favour of Tyler Roberts.

I would have sent Pablo on instead to give us some much-needed creativity, but he would have to wait until the 78th minute, when he replaced Alioski and Dallas switched to left-back. But Pablo seemed to be lacking a little bit of sharpness, and when his ambitious cross-field pass was intercepted Everton were able to break away and should have put the game to bed there and then.

Calvert-Lewin was put clean through on goal and probably should have tried to go round Meslier, but when he opted to shoot instead our noble custodian was able to make the save. After that scare Bielsa replaced Harrison with Costa for the last few minutes, but it’s hard to see why as Costa looked rather low on confidence and didn’t contribute a great deal.

There were five minutes injury time to be played and long before then Everton had been doing their best to run down the clock by slowing things down at every opportunity. Our final chance to get something from the game was from a Bamford cross which found Roberts twelve yards out. Roberts tried a difficult first-time volley when he might have been better off taking a touch first, and could only send the ball well over the bar.

And so we went down to another defeat which we scarcely deserved on the balance of play. But it’s that pesky defending that let us down again, as Luke Ayling admitted on the official site today. “It was two sloppy goals to concede. The first goal he was free in the six yard box which can’t happen and for the second it’s my man from a corner and I got caught napping,”

While Bielsa said “It is very common that when there is a flick on at the front post from a corner, that someone will get onto it at the second post. Even though it is a frequent move, we maybe could have been intuitive and prevented it from happening.” Yes, we should have been more intuitive, but it keeps happening, so can we please do some work on the training ground to sort out our constant problems from set pieces.

But I shouldn’t grumble too much. We could have sought some defensive reinforcements in the recent transfer window, but the probable reason we didn’t is that now that we are in a comfortable mid-table position the club have decided to save the cash until we get to the summer. Despite the defeat we can feel relatively happy with the performance and with a couple of tweaks in the close season we might be close to challenging for a European place the next time round.

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