|Southampton 1 v 0 Leeds United|
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 16th October 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Leeds need big improvement after Southampton debacle
Monday, 18th Oct 2021 22:03 by Tim Whelan
There has been plenty of moaning on social media and both Marcello Bielsa and Captain Cooper have admitted on the official website that the performance at Southampton wasn’t good enough. So what do we need to do to turn things around?
I had been looking forward to this trip as one of the games where we ought to pick up some points to pull away from the wrong end of the table, but what promised to be an enjoyable day out ended up being spoilt by a game of football. The 3,000 Leeds fans at St. Mary’s were in good voice throughout the game, but this performance wasn’t matched by those in front of us on the pitch.
The team news revealed that we had suffered yet another injury problem, with Firpo sidelined with a muscular problem for an unknown period, just when he was showing signs of adapting to the Bielsa way Raphinha was rested after playing for Brazil less than 48 hours previously, and Phillips, Ayling and Bamford were still out.
So we had Dallas at left back, Struijk in midfield and Tyler Roberts leading the line up front. In his programme notes Ralph Hasenhüttl said that he was going to combat our usual style by asking his players to work very hard and deny us space, but despite this advance warning of these tactics we didn’t manage to find a way of combatting them.
Thankfully Southampton also copied our method of dominating possession but failing to make it count, in the first half at least. We were simply outfought as they battled hard throughout the game, with Redmond threating to run us ragged, while we looked lacklustre at times and lacking the energy we’ve come to expect from a Bielsa team.
Redmond and Djenepo were very close to scoring for the Saints early on, then Redmond forced Meslier into a fine save with a shot from distance. Their best chance of the half came from the resulting corner, whic Broja flicked on but Elynoussi just failed to get the contact he needed at the far post. As they continued to press, Djenepo, Perraud and Livramento all shot over, and Meslier made another good save, this time from Perraud.
The best we could do before the break was a free kick where about three players were offside before it was swung into the box, a cross that James sent far too close to McCarthy, and a shot from Roberts that was well over the bar. And that was about it. But at least we had somehow managed to get to half-time with the scores level, so could we make them pay for the failure to take their chances?
I was getting optimistic at the second half as it looked like we had woken up and come out looking far more determined. Harrison had a shot deflected over the bar and after the corner we kept them pinned in their own box as we passed it around looking for an opening. But just as it looked as though we might be getting on top, the Saints very sneakily broke down to the other end of the field and scored.
A careless pass conceded possession and Redmond was away down the length of the field, and with our defence out of position, his cross found Broja in acres of space, and the Albanian international from Slough couldn’t miss. To be fair, we didn’t crumble after this setback and the second half would be far more even, but we never really looked like forcing an equaliser.
We really should have gone further behind when Broja broke through and should have returned the favour to Redmond by crossing to the man in the clear, but thankfully took the shot himself and sent it over the bar. And after Elyounoussi had shot narrowly wide on 62 minutes, Bielsa decided to make his first change.
Rodrigo had again allowed much of the game to pass him by, so Forshaw was sent on to give us a bit more bite in the middle of the field. And our best chance of the game arrived when Salisu lost possession to James on the edge of the box, but with McCarthy closing in the Welshman had to take the shot first time and rolled it wide of the post.
In the closing stages young Gelhardt and Summerville came on for Klich and Roberts as Bielsa chased an equaliser, but to no avail. We were hoping that Southampton would lack the fitness to maintain their intensity till the end, but although there were five minutes of injury time to be played, they didn’t flag and were able to close the game out for their first victory of the season.
Liam Cooper admitted it was a poor performance when he spoke to LUTV, and promised an improvement. “We weren’t at it in the first half, we didn’t win first balls, we didn’t win second balls and when you come to away grounds like this, you are going to struggle. We started the second half well and then conceded on the counter-attack.”
“When you go behind in this league, it’s always hard to come back into the game, we stuck at it and that is the only positive we can take really. We’ve got to put it right and if there is any team in the league that is going to analyse it and put it right, it is us. We will train hard next week to try and get the result.”
While Marcelo Bielsa said “It was a fair result. We didn’t play well in any moment in the game. Perhaps the goal was scored in the only minutes we were playing on an even keel with them. It was very difficult for us to recover the ball, it was difficult for us to provoke the opponent to make mistakes and it was difficult for us to stop them getting from defence to attack.”
And he didn’t use the missing players as an excuse “It’s not common that we are missing six players, but the players who started the game was formed of players who usually play. We were in conditions to play a more even game and we thought we could dominate and impose ourselves. Clearly this didn’t happen, to ignore the absentees wouldn’t be convenient or logical, but the players we counted on, as I said, were in conditions to play a more even game and take forward our style.”
The poor start to the season has led to the first grumblings about Bielsa on social media, though most of us point to where we were when he came to us and still trust him to sort it out. But on the long car journey back from Southampton I heard a few criticisms from a couple of Leeds callers to 6-O-6. Perhaps playing with two wingers leaves us light in midfield, his training methods cause too many injuries, and some of the recruitment has been poor (hello, Rodrigo).
And we can all see that some of the players are struggling to recapture the form of last season. It might be that this time we haven’t been able to summon the same intensity that came with the excitement of promotion and then this squad’s debut in the Premier League. Or is the bigger problem that we’re no longer an unknown quantity, so opposition managers have worked out the tactics they need to adopt against us (as per Hasenhüttl’s game plan this time) so Bielsa needs to find a plan B?
This result leaves us in a difficult position in 17th place in the table. At least Spurs had the decency to beat Newcastle on Sunday so we remained outside the bottom three at the end of the weekend, but with their newfound wealth they could well overtake us by the end of the season. We can probably pencil Norwich in for one relegation place and Watford might help us out by dropping into trouble, but the third slot could still be up for grabs.
Next Saturday won’t be easy against a Wolves side who have improved in recent weeks and will be confident after coming back from 2 down to beat Aston Villa 3-2. But we need a result and we will just have to hope that some of the key players will be back to give us the big improvement that Bielsa and Cooper have promised.
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