|Brighton and Hove Albion 0 v 0 Leeds United|
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 27th November 2021 Kick-off 17:30
Leeds grab a point despite poor performance at Brighton
Sunday, 28th Nov 2021 08:31 by Tim Whelan
This was probably the worst Leeds performance since Southampton, and the fact we came away with a point owed much to the poor finishing of Brighton and Hove Albion.
There were three changes to the starting line-up, all of which involved players coming back from the sick and injured list. Firpo, Rodrigo and Raphinha were all back, with Struijk, Klich and Gelhardt making way. So Dan James was again moved inside to operate as a central striker.
Bielsa again played Phillips in central defence, despite his supposed grumbles about that role, due to his preference for using three central defenders when the opposition have two up front. The alternative would have been to start with Struijk there and have Phillips in midfield, which would have had both in their favoured positions, though that might have meant taking Forshaw out, which would have been hard on him after the way he has played after coming back from injury.
But from the start, it was clear that our biggest problem was elsewhere in the back line. Firpo endured a dreadful time, being booked in the fourth minute after being caught out, and seemingly afraid to make another challenge from then on. It might have been that he is still getting back to fitness after his injury and illness problems, but the lively Lamptey was having the freedom of the right flank, and a lot of Brighton’s best moves came down that side.
Graham Potter had adopted Bielsa’s tactics of high intensity and closing the opposition down quickly, and thankfully they also copied us by failing to make their possession count when they were well on top. Moder and Maupay shot well over from good positions in the early stages, and then Maupay sent a tame effort straight at Meslier.
Their best chance of the half was a shot from Trossard that Meslier just managed to turn onto the post, while Moder also hit the woodwork from a narrow angle, but Meslier might have had it covered if it had been on target. Then just before the break Maupay put a shot wide from the edge of the six yard box, with the Brighton striker lacking in sharpness having been out of the side for a few games.
We did occasionally get down the other end of the pitch, and there was a shout for a penalty after Raphinha was caught by Trossard, but it was probably accidental after the Brighton man went head over heels. We also had a free kick from a promising position near the right hand corner of the box, but Raphinha’s effort deflected off the wall, and it would have gone for a corner if James hadn’t touched the ball while trying and failing to turn it back across goal.
It was no surprise to see Firpo taken off at half time after his torrid 45 minutes, with Shackleton coming on and Dallas moving over to left-back. But it was more of a surprise that Phillips was replaced by Struijk. It’s reported that Phillips wasn’t injured (apart from the black eye that hasn’t fully healed after Monday night’s ‘team bonding’) and the change was tactical.
Phillips hadn’t looked happy at the back and had been straying into midfield, and perhaps Bielsa didn’t like his reluctance to the job he’d been asked to do. Let’s hope it’s not a sign of a permanent breakdown in the relationship between the two men, as Leeds have got enough to do as it is to get away from danger, without losing the influence of our key midfield player.
But even without Phillips, Leeds seemed to benefit from the two changes overall, and we got into the game a lot more in the second half, though we were often frustrated when promising moves broke down as passes went astray. But we still produced our best chance for a while when Sanchez had to save a fierce shot from Dallas.
There was more wasteful finishing from Brighton, with Trossard and Moder shot wide, before Bielsa made his third change in the 63rd. minute. Apart from being risky to make his final change with a fair chunk of the game still to play, I would have brought Gelhardt on instead of Roberts, and I wouldn’t have chosen Harrison to come off, when he had been involved in most of our best moments of the game.
If anyone I would have removed Rodrigo, who had been anonymous, though at least Bielsa’s change meant that James could go back to playing as a winger. Having said all that, Roberts had one of his better games and could well have confounded his army of social media critics by grabbing a goal. His first chance came from an excellent ball from Struijk, and though he was forced to shoot from a narrow angle, Sanchez still had to make the save.
Brighton then made some changes of their own to try to re-establish their grip on the game, and their substitute March produced a deflected shot that Meslier did well to tip over the bar. The longer the game went on with no score, the more we thought we might be able to sneak a victory, though if we had managed to win it with one of our chances near the end if would have been daylight robbery (or floodlit robbery, thanks to Sky’s late kick-off).
Forshaw created another chance for Roberts by winning the ball and then playing a clever pass, and although Roberts slightly scuffed the shot, Sanchez still had to react quickly to keep it out with his legs. And from the corner another shot from Roberts was deflected and spinning towards the far corner, before Sanchez again did well to keep it out.
At the other end, Meslier had to save in a similar fashion, just managing to tip a shot onto the post and gather the rebound after it had bounced onto his head. As Leeds pressed forward at the end we had the obligatory shot well over the bar from James, and three minutes of injury time wasn’t enough for either side to find a winner.
The players went off to the sound of booing from the crowd, which annoyed Graham Potter, as you couldn’t fault the Brighton performance apart from their inability to take their chances. Meanwhile, Marcello Bielsa squatted by the touchline staring straight ahead, no doubt reflecting on another poor performance. Though he did share his thoughts with the media after the game.
“In the first half, the differences were clear. In the second half, the game was even, with opportunities for both teams and we improved in everything. In the first half there was a lack of organisation and a lot of things for us to correct. In the second half we managed to look a lot more like our usual selves, without managing to shine or unbalance them.”
Inevitably, he was asked about his decision to replace Kalvin Phillips at half time. “It was a change because I thought the characteristics of Pascal Struijk were better suited to the game. The game positionally had a lot in similar to the game against Tottenham Hotspur. I thought forming a back four of Kalvin Phillips, Diego Llorente, Liam Cooper and Junior Firpo would help us to neutralise Brighton.”
“I associated their number 11 with Son and their number nine with Kane and their number two with Moura due to their position and function they had. We started the game like that, but it wasn’t the correct decision.” Perhaps he had been over-thinking it then, because most people wouldn’t rate Brighton’s strike force as highly as Tottenham’s front three, but at least he is flexible enough to react when plan A doesn’t work.
Adam Forshaw also thought the second half performance will give us something to build on, when he gave Sky a post-match interview. “It wasn’t our best game. If you break it down though, it is a clean sheet away from home and another point on the board ahead of Tuesday’s game, so there are definitely positives.”
“We played well against Tottenham Hotspur last week and didn’t get anything, so we will take it. We stayed in the game, we’ve got lads coming back and close to being fit and we know we have the quality in the team to put a run together. We train really hard, believe in our ethos and we will keep going.”
It’s lucky that we did grab a draw from this game, but it still leaves us only two points above the dreaded bottom three, and we would drop into the relegation positions if Burnley win their Sunday match at home to Spurs. We certainly need to get points from the two games next week at home to Palace and Brentford, as the four fixtures after that are horrendous.
So we can only hope that we can build on the improvement we showed in the second half at the AMEX. MOT!
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