Defensive concerns, Pablo Hernandez, VAR shambles and Raphinha - Leeds United Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United fall to a second 4-1 reverse in the space of six days, the YEP's Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday's loss against Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park.

By Lee Sobot
Sunday, 8th November 2020, 11:51 am

Defensive worries

Leeds could have gone third with victory in Monday night’s hosting of Leicester City.

Instead, one week later, the Whites are entering the November international break in 15th following consecutive 4-1 defeats.

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EARLY BLOW: Crystal Palace skipper Scott Dann gets above Leeds United duo Robin Koch and Liam Cooper as the Eagles take a 12th-minute lead in Saturday's 4-1 victory at Selhurst Park. Photo by Naomi Baker/Getty Images.

What matters most this season is that Leeds end up 17th or higher.

United have earned rave reviews for their attacking football upon their Premier League return.

Ten points are also safely in the bag after eight games which have included fixtures against four teams who finished in the top seven last year in Liverpool, Manchester City, Leicester City and Wolves.

Yet a ‘decent start’ will only last so long without a quick return to winning ways and Bielsa himself admitted it was impossible not to be concerned about the defensive issues following Saturday’s loss at Selhurst Park.

Those issues have now led to United conceding eight goals in their last two games and Saturday’s reverse at Crystal Palace left Leeds with the worst defensive record in the division before Sunday's games, even allowing for rock-bottom Sheffield United then leaking four more in the evening’s defeat to Chelsea.

It should be stressed that Leeds are rather more potent going forward than the Blades, and indeed more of an attacking threat than many other sides in the division, if not most.

But that threat will only get the Whites so far unless Leeds can shore up matters at the other end whether that be by making defensive improvements or changing the way they play.

There doesn’t seem too much chance of the latter happening with Bielsa usually looking to execute plan A better if plan A fails.

It must also be stressed that in United’s latest defeat, Palace were left benefiting from a freak Helder Costa own goal that squeezed past Illan Meslier at an eight degree angle and the Frenchman had no chance with Eberechi Eze’s stunning free-kick.

But Robin Koch’s conceding of the free-kick in such a dangerous position in the first place led to that goal and United were picked apart with worrying ease for Palace’s other two goals with Liam Cooper and Koch unable to keep out Scott Dann’s header from a corner and the defensive unit as a whole was carved open for Jordan Ayew’s fourth - and there could have been more.

Perspective is always needed - especially with Kalvin Phillips and Diego Llorente injured - and there is no need to overreact to two defeats, especially against sides blessed with the pace of Leicester and Palace who themselves are now up to seventh.

The same football also led to United running riot at Aston Villa, drawing with Manchester City and almost taking something from an away clash at Liverpool on the opening day.

Yet Leeds have now taken four points from a last possible 15 having amassed six from their first nine and the first three games back after the international break will pit United against Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea.

Leeds look bound to even cause the Gunners, Toffees and Blues problems going forward but the worry will be what could happen at the other end which over the course of the season is likely to be the difference to how high United finish on their first season back.

The ridiculous VAR rule

Saturday's contest might have been a different story had Patrick Bamford's strike in the 17th minute not been disallowed by VAR for offside.

Then again, it should be remembered that Palace ultimately won by a three-goal cushion and also had ten shots at goal compared to United's nine and six on target to Leeds' three.

Bielsa himself admitted afterwards that the loss was a fair defeat.

Yet to most, the fact that Bamford's strike was disallowed for offside beggared belief and you really have to be concerned about the lawmakers of the game when efforts like this are ruled out.

Whatever the new handball rule might be, the offside situation should be a separate entity and to suggest or worse still rule that you are offside via a part of your arm is ridiculous, whatever the rules state.

If they are the rules then the rules are wrong and need to be changed.

Offside should be about where your feet are, nothing else, and while in the end it might not have not made any difference to the result, Leeds and Bamford have every right to feel aggrieved.

Pablo Hernandez and Raphinha

Two more notable talking points concerned two players at different stages in their careers in 35-year-old Spanish magician Pablo Hernandez and 23-year-old summer recruit and Brazilian winger Raphinha.

Eyebrows were raised when class act Hernandez was missing from the 18 altogether at Selhurst Park, especially without any suggestions that he was injured, and Bielsa then revealed that he had simply chosen the 18 players who he felt were most apt for the game.

Bielsa then naturally faced questions over whether that was due to Hernandez's angry reaction to being substituted in Monday's loss against Villa with Hernandez hurling his armband to the floor and booting a water bottle as he came off.

Bielsa would then not discuss the matter further when asked if that was the reason, insisting he had already explained his decision and had picked other players.

The problem is that with Rodrigo also missing due to Covid and Tyler Roberts again failing to shine from the bench, the absence of Hernandez felt all the more important and even at 35 the sooner he is back the better.

Jack Harrison and Helder Costa could never really get going out wide and while Mateusz Klich had a decent enough game almost as a no 10, Hernandez would surely have caused Palace problems.

Eventually, by half-time, Bielsa looked to Raphinha who was back on the bench having recovered from an ankle setback and the Brazilian was handed what was still only his second outing for Leeds in replacing Costa on the right flank.

The winger had also made a very bright impression brought on with just seven minutes left of the 3-0 win at Aston Villa and Raphinha again very much impressed with his pace, skill, running and in particular passing, some of which was reminiscent of what Hernandez can do.

On recent evidence, it looks only a matter of time before Raphinha becomes a regular starter and his display was one of the main positives of what was otherwise another day to forget in London.

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Thank you Laura Collins