Grim cup statistic, unsuccessful half-time changes and squad depth - Leeds United Talking Points

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LEEDS United know all too well about succumbing to FA Cup shocks and early departures.

Twelve exits at the first stage in the last 17 seasons, be it in the third round or even round one as a League One side.

But make that 13 out of 18 following the club’s latest cup calamity and one which did not feel like it was coming.

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Therein lies the concern with the Leeds team for Sunday's third round clash at Crawley Town looking more than capable of sending the Whites through yet ultimately getting nowhere near.

UNFAMILIAR ROLE: For Leeds United winger Jack Harrison, above, who replaced Rodrigo upfront as part of a bizarre triple change made at half-time. Photo by Simon Hulme.UNFAMILIAR ROLE: For Leeds United winger Jack Harrison, above, who replaced Rodrigo upfront as part of a bizarre triple change made at half-time. Photo by Simon Hulme.
UNFAMILIAR ROLE: For Leeds United winger Jack Harrison, above, who replaced Rodrigo upfront as part of a bizarre triple change made at half-time. Photo by Simon Hulme.

This was no Leeds United B team lining up against Crawley.

Far from it.

On the contrary, Bielsa selected a strong XI given the circumstances and the obvious temptation for managers to make widescale changes for the FA Cup third round.

Bielsa made seven of them but one of them meant the return of captain Liam Cooper from injury whilst another saw another chance for a winger who cost around £15m in Helder Costa.

United’s magic man Pablo Hernandez also started and the remaining quartet that came into the side in Kiko Casilla, Leif Davis, Jamie Shackleton and Ian Poveda are hardly strangers to the first team.

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Illan Meslier, Luke Ayling, Stuart Dallas, Mateusz Klich, and Bamford were all given the day off and it is that quintet that emerged with the most credit via how much they were missed with Poveda the only player against Crawley to impress.

It should be stressed that Leeds are also currently without Robin Koch and Diego Llorente due to injurues in addition to longer term absentee Adam Forshaw whilst two of United's brightest Academy players Joe Gelhardt and Charlie Cresswell were not involved.

Yet even so Leeds got nowhere near the fantastic levels they have reached under Bielsa in the first half and Crawley deserve credit for their role in that though the Whites still should have led at the break.

Poveda was doing his best to pull the strings and twice went close to setting up Rodrigo and also saw a firm drive from a tight angle saved.

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Rodrigo and Hernandez also blazed efforts off target and Leeds should have had a penalty when Rodrigo was pulled back by Tony Craig.

With Casilla having a decent enough 45 minutes unlike his second half showing and saving a Tom Nichols header, Leeds also stood firm at the other end.

Not great from United but hardly a disaster.

Yet the second half display was pretty abysmal and there can be no doubting that Crawley thoroughly deserved their victory or that the strange triple change made by Bielsa did not work.

Rodrigo was not enjoying a great time of it upfront but fared better than half-time substitute Jack Harrison who replaced him in that position.

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Harrison is a fine player but quite clearly a natural winger.

After replacing Cooper and Pascal Struijk, Whites youngsters Olly Casey and Jack Jenkins also could not stamp any authority on the game with Crawley 2-0 within eight minutes of the triple change.

It then seemed odd that an impressing Poveda was taken off five minutes later and also that Sam Greenwood was asked to sit deep and did not go upfront once he was introduced as Harrison stayed up tops.

Raphinha joined Greenwood from the bench as Davis and Poveda made way but it just never got going.

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Leeds have been brilliant this season but this was all a bit of a mess and one that United and Bielsa got badly wrong.

Even at 3-0 down, you can never write off this fantastic free-flowing Bielsa side but even at 2-0 it never felt like a comeback was going to happen.

Leeds also missed Kalvin Phillips in midfield with Phillips playing as a centre-back as Struijk went into the holding midfield role but was replaced by Jenkins there.

Phillips is suspended for next weekend’s return to action at home to Brighton and the Premier League is of course United’s bread and butter.

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With the familiarity of Bielsa’s first choice XI restored - give or take injuries and suspensions - Leeds will no doubt be much improved against the Seagulls.

But they certainly need to be on the back of an afternoon when the chance of another cup run was blown, as was the chance to impress for those that came into the side.

Worse still, it’s another cup humbling to add to the likes of Newport, Sutton, Rochdale, Histon and Hereford and one there can be few complaints from the men in white.

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Thank you Laura Collins

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