Set piece woes, the striker experiment and Helder Costa's full league debut - Leeds United Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United slip to a second Championship defeat of the season at Charlton Athletic, Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday's 1-0 loss at The Valley.

Sunday, 29th September 2019, 5:55 pm
Updated Monday, 30th September 2019, 8:33 am
OFF TARGET: Patrick Bamford and Leeds United fail to find a way through at Charlton Athletic. Picture by Tony Johnson.

More missed chances but only a second shut-out

United's habit of squandering too many chances is a regular occurrence and the stats will say that United again dominated on the figures with 72 per cent of possession and 19 shots on goal.

Yet only four of them were on target and ultimately the Whites failed to score for only the second time this season with both of those games leading to United's only two league losses.

Swansea City provided the other as part of a true smash and grab at Eland Road as part of a game in which Leeds had a plethora of excellent chances only to miss them all and be nailed by Wayne Routledge's 90th-minute winner.

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But Saturday's clash at Charlton was different as while United definitely had the chances to get on the mark, there was a distinct lack of gilt-edged opportunities which was a bit of a worry.

Leeds should really have scored after 25 seconds when Patrick Bamford broke clear only for his square ball to evade Jamie Shackleton and Bamford's header plus two second-half efforts for Eddie Nketiah which went narrowly wide were also fairly decent openings.

But despite Leeds having plenty of the ball and bossing the game, Charlton were able to hold firm and United definitely missed the craft and passing of injured Spanish genius Pablo Hernandez.

Nineteen shots but 15 of them off target really told its own tale with United often restricted to efforts from outside of the box which failed to test 'keeper Dillon Phillips and that will have left Bielsa with plenty to ponder, never mind the problems at the other end.

More set piece woes

United's problems defending long throws and corners over recent seasons have been well documented and it was no surprise to hear Charlton boss Lee Bowyer admit that his men had targeted joy in that department against Leeds.

After 32 minutes, they got it, and with their very first corner as Championship debutante Macauley Bonne netted from close range and an honest Bielsa readily admitted there was a problem in defending set pieces in his post-match press conference.

Leeds have still only conceded five goals in nine games - the best defensive record in the division - but if United are going to squander chances at the other end then clean sheets are going to be more or less a must and three of those five goals conceded have come from set pieces.

Be it zonal or man to man marking, it is clearly an area that needs some work and while Ben White has been a revelation there is a definite feeling that when it comes to defending set pieces that Leeds are missing six-foot-four Swede Pontus Jansson.

The excellent Bowyer also specifically shifted his formation to three at the back after 20 minutes with the Addicks boss having studied United's games and believing Leeds struggle to create as many chances against that set-up.

He was right, and plenty of other teams will surely follow suit.

Helder Costa's full league debut

Losing Pablo Hernandez to injury will always be a blow but that finally meant a first Whites league start for marque summer signing Costa who it was hoped would terrorise the Addicks defence from the right flank with his skill and pace.

The early signs were promising with Costa lively in the opening exchanges and often cutting inside but the winger's efforts somewhat petered out and Costa finished with just two shots on goal, one off target and one blocked, one out of four successful dribble attempts and 61 touches of the ball with 41 passes, 36 of which were accurate and one key pass.

Costa's passing success rate of 88 per cent was United's second best behind Mateusz Kllich with 92 per cent as part of a rare off day for Kalvin Phillips with 79 per cent but Leeds just needed a bit more creativity and flair from Costa especially in the absence of Hernandez.

The Patrick Bamford and Eddie Nketiah experiment

Seeking a response with United 1-0 down at the break, Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa finally decided the time was right to pair Patrick Bamford and Arsenal loanee Eddie Nketiah together in a front two as Nketiah was brought on for Gjanni Alioski at the break with Adam Forshaw also replacing Jamie Shackleton.

That meant Bamford and Nketiah playing alongside each other for only the second time this season with Leeds having netted through Nketiah just three minutes after the England under-21s striker had come on to join Bamford with 13 minutes left of the closing stages of the 1-0 win at home to Brentford.

Bielsa believes Nketiah can play as a no 10 or as one of the two wide men in a front three but the 20-year-old is clearly a natural centre forward and his introduction led to a rare shift in United's formation to a 3-5-2.

Phillips moved to centre-back next to Liam Cooper and Ben White ahead of a midfield that basically consisted of Costa and Harrison on the flanks with Forshaw, Dallas and Klich in the middle and Dallas again did well in another unfamiliar role.

But Leeds just lacked their usual fluency away from the 4-1-4-1 system and perhaps not surprisingly the usual synergy appeared to be missing.

It would be a surprise if Bielsa opted for the same again come Tuesday night's hosting of West Brom who now sit top of the table with United having dropped to fourth but only two points behind and still strong 6-4 favourites to win the league. Fulham (tenth) are next at 5-1 with West Brom 11-2 followed by third-placed Nottingham Forest (14s) and second-placed Swansea City (18s).

No panic with only nine games gone but a reaction from both a performance and results perspective is definitely needed against the Baggies and the returning Tyler Roberts - on for the final 21 minutes against Charlton - also gives Bielsa another option after looking pretty lively on his comeback.

It remains to be seen if Hernandez is back fit, and when the fit again Luke Ayling is introduced.