Fitness boosts and 'safety' marker cleared but Whites definitely not on the beach - Leeds United Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United complete a Premier League double over Sheffield United, the YEP's Lee Sobot takes a look at a few key talking points from Saturday's 2-1 victory against the Blades at Elland Road.

By Lee Sobot
Sunday, 4th April 2021, 5:20 pm

No relent and definitely not 'on the beach'

Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa said after the 2-1 victory at Fulham before the international break that Leeds United were still not 'safe' from relegation.

In any case, the Whites boss said at his pre-match press conference before the weekend's clash against Sheffield United that there would always be plenty to play for in the Premier League, no matter where any team was on the top-flight ladder.

VICTORY HUG: Leeds United centre-back partners Liam Cooper, left, and Diego Llorente, right, embrace after Saturday's 2-1 victory against Sheffield United at Elland Road. Picture by Lindsey Parnaby/PA Wire.

Not that you would thought any different anyway, but Bielsa's words re-affirmed the belief that there would be absolutely no taking the foot off the pedal in United's last nine games of the 2020-21 campaign and absolutely no thoughts of being 'on the beach' - not that there is anywhere to go anyway.

Saturday's display against the Blades was not quite vintage Bielsa's Leeds, not compared to some of the dazzling displays we have seen earlier on this season.

But Leeds definitely appeared as high energy as they have always been and really should have been out of sight and coming away with a victory via a greater method than a 2-1 scoreline.

Sheffield United deserve credit for battling until the end and with Leeds still only 2-1 up, Paul Heckingbottom's side might even have nicked a draw given the chances that fell their way in the final ten minutes.

But throughout the contest as a whole Leeds had 23 shots at goal of which eight were on target compared to nine attempts from the Blades which produced just one save from Illan Meslier.

Not that possession wins any prizes but Leeds also had 54 per cent of the ball and Marcelo Bielsa's men were good value for a 2-1 victory and undoubtedly worthy winners on a poignant day as Leeds remembered much missed fans Christopher Loftus and Kevin Speight ahead of Monday's 21-year anniversary of their tragic deaths in Istanbul.

Top half - but still not safe

That was the view of Bielsa, even after Saturday's success took Leeds above the magical 40-point marker and on to 42 points in tenth place.

Amassing 40 points is generally regarded as enough to see a team safe in the Premier League although three teams have gone down from a 20-team Premier League with 40 points or more.

West Ham United went down with 42 points in 2002-03 whilst Sunderland were also relegated with 40 points in 1996-97 and the same fate awaited Bolton Wanderers in 1997-98 with the same tally.

But it really would take something out of the extraordinary for Leeds to even get dragged close to the drop zone given that the Whites are now 16 points clear of third bottom Fulham with only eight games left.

The Whites now have three very tough tests on the horizon in the shape of Manchester City away followed by Elland Road dates against Liverpool and Manchester United but the Whites are more than capable of getting a decent haul even from those fixtures and the fact that Leeds are 299-1 to be relegated says it all.

Moreover, victory against the Blades sent Leeds into the top half and tenth, at least until 11th-placed Villa lined up against Fulham on Sunday afternoon, and really it ought to be a case of the only way is up, both in the short term and even more so in the long run.

A full squad - almost

Leeds have been hit pretty hard by injuries this season, even though they are far from alone in that department and other sides have had it worse.

But Bielsa has often had to deal with several players being out in the same position, especially at centre-back given the injuries to Robin Koch, Diego Llorente, Gaetano Berardi and even Liam Cooper's absence at times.

The Whites have also been light at no 10 at times but Bielsa's team sheet was a sight to behold against the Blades as the head coach was able to name a bench that featured the likes of £27m record signing Rodrigo and £13m centre-back Koch in addition to talent such as Pablo Hernandez, Mateusz Klich, Pascal Struijk, Ian Poveda, Helder Costa, Jamie Shackleton and Kiko Casilla.

Despite seemingly being fit, there was no place for Berardi, or talented youngsters like Joe Gelhardt or Sam Greenwood and it now appears that Adam Forshaw is the only absentee through injury.

Struijk, Hernandez, Shackleton, Poveda and Costa did not even get on against the Blades in addition to Casilla whilst Klich and Koch were only given very brief run outs when coming on for Tyler Roberts and Stuart Dallas respectively.

Rodrigo was given 25 minutes when replacing Bamford but there's not much chance of Bamford being dislodged at present and Roberts put in a very good shift in the no 10 role meaning Rodrigo faces a big battle to even get in at present.

These, though, are welcome headaches for Bielsa to have and if Leeds can further strengthen in the summer then the Whites really ought to be aiming for the top six next season, never mind just top half.

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Thank you Laura Collins