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Bielsa looks for positives after gut-wrenching defeat
Sunday, 12th Dec 2021 12:42 by Tim Whelan

It was absolutely gutting to end up with nothing from our visit to Chelsea, after playing so well against the title contenders despite our ongoing injury crisis. But in his post-match press conference Marcello Bielsa thought we could take a lot of heart from the performance and look to build on it as our tough run continues.

"I think we can recover the version that allows us to compete with the best. I think the fair result would have been a draw. Both teams played a beautiful game. For us to manage that they didn’t play well was very difficult, and to create danger against them, also. But, in a balanced way, we managed to achieve both things, which wasn’t enough for us to be better than them but we also could not be worse than them.”

“The absences, we resolved them. With an added difficulty that we were missing four players in the same sector of the pitch, Robin Koch, Kalvin Phillips, Pascal Struijk and Liam Cooper. The other two absentees were from the centre of the attack. But I think Adam Forshaw, Deigo Llorente and Luke Ayling resolved that situation very well. The same with Tyler Roberts, Gelhardt and Dan James.”

But despite playing so well for long periods, we still finished the game with the dreaded nul points. Opinion on social media is divided about who was to blame for our defeat. Was it Klich for a tackle, Rudiger for diving, the referee, the VAR man, or Meslier, for failing to cover part of his goal when Mount grabbed the Chelsea equaliser?

Leeds were the better side for much of the first half and came close to scoring from an early Raphinha free-kick that Mendy did well to tip over the bar. And we took the lead in the 27th. minute when Dan James was brought down and Raphinha converted from the spot. Thankfully our Brazilian ace bamboozled Mendy with his stuttered run-up, as his kick was fairly central, and would have been a comfortable save if the keeper had gone the right way.

But Chelsea equalised three minutes before the break when Mount met a cross from Alonso with a first-time finish, with Meslier too far across on his goal-line. We might have seen Mount score against West Ham last week by volleying a cross first time, so perhaps the defence and the keeper could have been more alert to the danger when the ball came to him with a similar opportunity.

Then ten minutes into the second half Chelsea took the lead with the first of their two contentious penalties. Bielsa might have said “I never give an opinion [on the penalties], whatever the referee decides is fine with me”, but plenty of others have given their verdict in the media and online. And in this case it wasn’t the referee who was the problem, as he didn’t initially give the spot-kick, but he was persuaded to change his mind by the VAR mob.

With the naked eye it looked like Raphinha had made a very good sliding challenge and taken the ball, and he was even applauded by Meslier for the quality of his tackle. But when you slow the footage down you can see that he just caught Rudiger with his follow-through. And these days this is deemed to be slightly dangerous, and therefore a foul.

But still we didn’t give up, and to freshen things up Bielsa made a couple of subs to introduce Klich and Gelhardt, who would both change the game, but in very different ways. Young Gelhardt scored with his first touch of the ball as he converted a Roberts cross, a finish that was quite similar to the Mount goal from about the spot.

The young man celebrated in front of our ecstatic supporters, and we seemed to have grabbed the point we deserved from one of the most difficult fixtures of the season. But that was until the 94th minute, when Klich tried to win the ball from behind Rudiger, but the Chelsea man put his foot in the way to initiate the contact before going down.

It might not be the worst piece of inhumanity that a German has ever inflicted on a Pole, but for a self-styled hard man Rudiger fell on the floor quite readily after a slight touch to his heel. In the Final Score studio Stephen Warnock described the penalty award as “embarrassing”, and I’m sure he’s not at all biased, despite being a former Leeds defender.

In truth, Klich’s tackling is always a little bit careless, but normally he operates in area of the field where it’s not so dangerous to give away a foul. The problem starts when he drops back into defence. Remember the penalty he gave away at home to Leicester last season, when he was asked to play as the covering midfielder.

For this incident Klich received so much abuse on social media that he had to close down his Twitter account. He might have made an error of judgement, but this sort of trolling is quite uncalled for. Klich is a fully committed player, and abuse of this sort isn’t going to help us to maintain the team spirit that we need to keep Leeds away from trouble.

And as the final whistle sounded, the players of both sides did their best to uphold the traditions of this fixture, in honour of the famously bruising encounters between Chelsea and Leeds in the 1970s. Our frustrations boiled over as Chelsea kept the ball in the corner for the final seconds, and Rudiger got in touch with his masculine side by running the length of the field to have a go at Firpo and Meslier, before shoving Llorente.

I should have made the effort to work out how to spell Rudiger with an umlaut, but I’ve decided he doesn’t deserve one. It would be nice if the authorities reviewed the footage of his actions, and also the sight of Havertz using his head on Firpo, but I bet they won’t.

After the game young Gelhardt said “Obviously it would have been nice to get a point in the end, but on another day we get a point out of it and go home, but the penalty was unlucky. The lads obviously hate losing, but we’ve got time to put it right." The immediate future might consist of several more games against top opposition with a depleted squad, but the time to salvage our season might be in the new year against the lesser teams.

At least this defeat hasn’t done us too much damage just yet, as all the teams below us who played yesterday also lost, though Burnley and Newcastle are in action today. But if we can maintain the spirit we showed in this game we will surely pick up enough points to be safe, and they say the breaks even themselves out over the course of a season.

Here’s looking forward to Manchester City on Tuesday night. MOT!


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