Diving condoned but European prospects still alive and what Leeds United need to make Europa Conference League - Talking Points
AFTER seeing Leeds United record a third-straight Premier League win for the second time this season, Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Tuesday evening's 2-0 win at Southampton.
Top-half finish and still a chance of Europe
Tuesday evening's victory mathematically assured a top-half finish with Leeds now up to 56 points with one game still remaining. Outstanding for a newly-promoted side.
The Whites are now guaranteed to finish above 11th-placed Aston Villa plus all of the other teams below Dean Smith's side, and there is still a chance that Leeds could qualify for Europe, albeit a very slim one, even given a victory against Sunday's visitors West Brom.
Finishing seventh is set to seal the division's final European qualification spot via a passage into next season's first ever Europa Conference League which is effectively a third tier of European competition operating below the Champions League and Europa League.
Victory at St Mary's sent Leeds from tenth to eighth and only three points behind both sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur and seventh-placed West Ham.
But both Spurs and the Hammers have a game in hand and the picture will change one way or the other on Wednesday evening.
Ninth-placed Everton and tenth-placed Arsenal are the other two teams in the European picture and both have also played one game less than Leeds.
The Whites are ahead of the Toffees due to a plus three better goal difference and United are one point ahead of the Gunners.
Spurs, West Ham, Everton and Arsenal all play their extra game on Wednesday evening and from a Leeds point of view, victories for Villa, West Brom, Wolves and Palace respectively in those games would do very nicely indeed.
Realistically, it is very unlikely to happen and if the Hammers and Spurs both pick up a point in either of their next two games then United's European bid is over - or if just one of them does and Everton also amass four points or Arsenal collect six.
Those permutations are also without considering the goal differences and both Tottenham's and Arsenal's in particular is noticeably better than United's but it's been some achievement from Leeds to take it this far.
Kiko's clean sheet and Berardi's Premier League debut
Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa sprang a major surprise by handing Spanish goalkeeper Kiko Casilla a second Premier League start as Illan Meslier dropped to the bench.
Asked why, Bielsa said he wanted to see Casilla finish the season and that he had made the decision himself.
The move clearly raised eyebrows given Meslier's stellar season which has featured 11 clean sheets but fair play to Casilla for keeping one himself in his first start since January.
There were a few dicey moments when Casilla flapped at crosses and the Spaniard's trait of racing off his line is clearly still a thing.
Liam Cooper saved the day with a headed clearance to a Theo Walcott cross when Casilla was left out of position.
Yet the former Real Madrid stopper produced some very important saves in Tuesday's contest at times when the complexion of the game could have changed had the Saints scored.
Quite what the future holds for him remains to be seen but Bielsa has already confirmed that Casilla will start Sunday's season finale at home to West Brom and his confidence should certainly have been boosted by his display at St Mary's.
Tuesday's contest also featured a first Premier League outing for United's warrior defender Gaetano Berardi who has had to be extremely patient having torn his ACL last July.
But Berardi has been a terrific servant for Leeds since joining the club way from Sampdoria way back in July 2014 and settled in seamlessly upon replacing Diego Llorente at the break.
Again, what the future holds remains to be seen but Berardi is adored by his club's fans and deserved this moment which he can always now cherish. A Premier League defender.
Another Premier League first presented itself at St Mary's as Tyler Roberts finally bagged his first goal in the top flight and record signing Rodrigo also needs highlighting for some outstanding passing in the no 10 role.
Ridiculous diving message - and fans return
There are plenty of laws and rules that need altering in the beautiful game and the ongoing VAR debate needs no introduction.
But a different issue raised its head at St Mary's in terms of should players go to ground given contact in the box when it is possible for them to stay on their feet?
On Tuesday's evidence, yes they should as the laws basically condone diving.
Patrick Bamford should be commended for attempting to keep going when clipped by 'keeper Alex McCarthy after rounding the Saints stopper despite clearly losing his balance.
The contact was obvious and Bamford would have been looking at a stone-waller had he gone to ground.
Instead, the Whites no 9 tried to play on but had no chance of netting after taking the ball so wide and the chance was basically gone.
But surely it should make no difference whether the player goes to ground or not and the whole thing just looked wrong.
Bamford ended up netting anyway to take his tally to the season to an impressive 16 goals but he quite clearly should have had the chance to net with a spot kick too.
The Whites no 9 had hoped to get to 20 goals this season following his impressive start but 16 is still a very impressive return and the Whites no 9 now has one more chance to boost that tally in Sunday's finale at Elland Road against West Brom.
Actual fans will be in the stands for the first time since March 2020 and even though away supporters were not permitted to attend, it was fantastic to see supporters back and an actual atmosphere at St Mary's.
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Thank you Laura Collins