'He's not injured' - Brighton game is one big Leeds United head-scratcher but Whites landscape could soon change
There have been plenty of occasions when Leeds United’s football under Marcelo Bielsa did not produce the rewards it deserved.
Not this time, Saturday’s goalless draw at Brighton extremely disappointing from a performance perspective, the biggest positive being that Leeds left with a point.
Personnel-wise, the other main positives concerned players at opposite ends of the pitch, Illan Meslier to thank for a vital role in keeping a clean sheet and Tyler Roberts threatening to change the ever-evolving landscape once again when it comes to the Whites no 9 role in the absence of Patrick Bamford.
Injuries have clearly not helped but Leeds are uncharacteristically difficult to predict at present and the first half of Saturday evening’s game at Brighton was worryingly similar to what United offered at Southampton in the contest as a whole.
But unlike at St Mary’s, this time Marcelo Bielsa’s side left the south coast having boosted their points tally by bagging a point which put fourth-bottom Leeds three points clear of the drop zone although third-bottom Burnley now have a game in hand.
Leeds improved slightly but not wildly after the break, albeit Roberts would have scored a late brace but for two fantastic saves from ‘keeper Robert Sanchez.
But the Seagulls could and should have been out of sight by half time and the sooner Kalvin Phillips is restored to the holding midfield role the better.
Saturday evening’s clash at the Amex was a real head-scratcher when it came to some of Bielsa’s decisions, the first of which involved Joe Gelhardt dropping to the bench despite his brilliant display upon his first Premier League start in the previous weekend’s 2-1 loss at Tottenham.
It must be remembered that ‘Joffy’ is still only 19 years old and very much one for the future but he already looks like United’s second best option in the no 9 role behind Bamford who is thankfully now in the final stages of his recovery from an ankle injury.
Bielsa, though, returned to starting Dan James upfront against the Seagulls and it’s something that is not producing a great deal of joy, James clearly looking better on the wing.
At the other end of the pitch, there were also raised eyebrows as Phillips lined up in the centre of defence as part of a back three when the Yorkshire Pirlo is clearly best as a CDM.
Bielsa looked to have pulled off a masterstroke the previous weekend at Tottenham as Phillips lined up as a sweeper and produced a brilliant first half display to keep Harry Kane quiet before it all went wrong in the second half.
But it was a surprise to see Phillips in more or less the same position against Brighton and even more surprising to see him taken off at the break having moved into midfield, Bielsa insisting afterwards that he was not injured
Yet another surprise was then in the offing as Bielsa made his third and final change in the 62nd minute as Roberts and not Gelhardt was called for as a different striker option, Jack Harrison taken off as James moved out wide.
That looked a strange call given Gelhardt’s display against Spurs but Roberts had a very positive impact and served up three of United’s four shots on goal in the contest’s entirety.
Stuart Dallas had the other but the fact that Brighton had 20 attempts at goal compared to United’s 11 tells its own tale, Leeds saved three times by the post.
Unusually for Leeds, the Whites also offered just 43 per cent of possession.
It’s hard to put your finger on just what went wrong at Brighton but Jermaine Beckford hit the nail on the head when assessing the first half display on Sky Sports.
“It’s bad,” admitted the former Whites star and he was not wrong.
So was Southampton away - but some three weeks later, Leicester at home was great.
Bielsa’s Whites have bounced back in style before and should be given the chance to do so again in this weekend’s clashes against Crystal Palace and Brentford at Elland Road.
Six points from those and the picture will look rather different and with injuries finally relenting it’s time for the real Leeds United to now stand up.
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Thank you Laura Collins