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Leeds take hard-won point from Chelsea
Saturday, 13th Mar 2021 22:29 by Tim Whelan

It was an eventful game that fizzled out a little towards the end, but after a couple of defeats this is a reasonable result against a Chelsea side who have high hopes of a place in next season’s Champions League.

There were a couple of changes to the starting line-up, with one enforced as captain Cooper has fallen ill, so Strujk came in alongside Llorente. Klich was rested after a couple of lifeless performances of late, with Alioski at left back and Dallas in midfield. Finally, Harrison was back for Costa, as the latter has also struggled to make an impact in the last few games.

For the second game running Leeds had the ball in the net in the first couple of minutes, only for the goal to be ruled out. And once again it was Tyler Roberts who was denied by someone else being offside, in this case Bamford, who was marginally off when he was played through, before squaring the ball to Roberts.

And all thanks to Chistensen, who stepped forward just before the through-ball to catch Bamford out. At the other end we nearly conceded in a bizarre fashion, with Ayling hitting his attempted clearance straight at Llorente, with the ball spinning up over Meslier before coming down of the crossbar and straight back into the keeper’s arms.

And a few minutes later we hit the bar at the right end. Bamford found Roberts on the edge of the area, and just as I was cursing him for not playing the pass earlier, Roberts found space to send a delightful chip curling towards the top corner. But Mendy just managed to get the faint touch he needed to tip the ball onto the crossbar.

The ball was close to hitting Mendy’s back on the way down, as happened to Meslier in the Wolves game, but maybe those things happen against us. And for much of the rest of the half Chelsea would dominate the possession, and were directing many of their attacks down their right, where Alioski was beginning to struggle defensively.

Although Alioski began his career at left-back he is a bit of a makeshift in that position, and while he always contributes to our attacking play down that side, against the top teams we really need a better defender on the left. But Chelsea compensated by also having a player out of position, with Havertz up front in place of any recognised striker, with Giroud and Werner both on the bench.

They were saving their specialist forwards for Athletic Madrid next week, and it certainly showed. Havertz wasted a good early chance with a feeble finish, and the best opportunity they created for themselves before the break was a Mason Mount shot from distance, which Meslier couldn’t hold first time, but there was no Chelsea player on hand to capiltalise.

By the time we reached the interval Leeds were also a forward down, with Bamford being forced off after failing to recover from a dead leg. This led to a row between Chelsea boss Thomas Tuchel and our own Victor Orta, when our very vocal director of football loudly complained from the stands after Chelsea didn’t put the ball out for Bamford to get treatment.

Rodrigo came on, for a rare opportunity to play as a striker, the role he performs for his national side. At half time the commentary team were wondering how it was still goalless, but the action had levelled off a bit after the frantic opening, and the game didn’t get a lot better after the break. Tuchel was to blame the pitch for his side’s lack of fluency, although it certainly seemed to play better than a few weeks ago. All things are relative.

Chelsea produced the first chance of the second period, with Meslier getting a strong hand to shot from Havertz, after the Chelsea man had got past a couple of defenders to make space. But Leeds were closer when Mendy reacted brilliantly to get to an excellent shot on the turn from Raphinha.

Shortly after the hour mark Bielsa made his second substitution, with Costa coming on for Harrison, perhaps thinking that Costa’s best contributions this season have been from the bench. Then Rüdiger forced Meslier into another fine save with a swerving shot, but for the most part Llorente and Struijk were looking solid at the back and restricting Chelsea to few openings.

So in the 69th minute Tuchel finally decided that he might need a specialist striker after all, sending Werner onto the field, but the German wasn’t about to add to the disappointing goal tally he’s managed during his first season in England. And Leeds were the next team to go close, with Llorente seeing a shot deflected over the bar by James.

Then Rodrigo had a free header from close range, but could only direct the ball straight at Mendy rather than into the corner. That proved to be his last contribution before he suffered the indignity of being a substitute who was substituted himself. It seems the reason was that he had run out of energy after being out for so long, and no doubt he would not have been sent on so early if not for Bamford’s injury.

While Klich was warming up the commentators thought Alioski would be the man replaced (with Dallas going to left back) as he had already been booked and was seen to get a final warning from referee Kevin Friend. Friend had been irritating throughout, giving yellow cards to three players for innocuous challenges, so god knows what he would have made of the clashes between the two sides in the 1970s.

Roberts went up front for Leeds but the game continued to fizzle out, and three minutes of injury time weren’t long enough for either side to produce a winning goal. A draw was a fair result, and probably one most of us would have taken before kick-off, against an expensively assembled side who have improved a great deal since they got rid of fat Frank.

And surely a similar result against their local rivals Fulham next week will see us absolutely safe.

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