Leeds United defeat at Southampton could have been worse and problems are obvious for light Whites

There have been plenty of games under Marcelo Bielsa where Leeds United deserved more than they got.

By Lee Sobot
Sunday, 17th October 2021, 4:15 pm

But not this time, and the bigger worry about Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Southampton is that the Saints could and should have been out of sight by half-time.

Having six players out including probably their three best was clearly a factor but it’s difficult to fathom just why the Whites were so limp, although the problems seemed to stem from the middle of the park.

The fact that Leeds looked to get the ball out wide too often and too early as opposed to also going through the middle of the park was highlighted by Bielsa at his post match press conference.

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SOLE ATTEMPT: Tyler Roberts, centre, had Leeds United's only shot on goal in an awful first half for the Whites as part of an overall extremely disappointing display at Southampton. Photo by GLYN KIRK/AFP via Getty Images.

The Whites boss clearly saw the need for something different in that department over and above anything else as Adam Forshaw was brought on as his first substitute in the 64th minute.

Forshaw was introduced as record-signing Rodrigo was withdrawn following an extremely disappointing performance in the centre forward role.

Rodrigo did not have much service but was unable to offer anything on the few occasions that he received possession in the final third and Bielsa then opted to push Tyler Roberts up front who did not fare much better.

Roberts had previously been in the no 10 role behind Rodrigo, flanked by Dan James and Jack Harrison on the wings.

Yet Leeds were unable to muster any shot on goal until the 45th minute when Roberts turned and fired over the bar as part of just about the only decent piece of attacking play by the Whites in the first half.

As a side who have continually created a boatload of chances under Bielsa, that is a huge concern and Leeds were then unable to take advantage of the few chances created in the second half.

Harrison briefly threatened to get going and was unfortunate to see a fierce effort deflected wide whilst James could only roll the ball the wrong side of the post when robbing the Saints defence to be almost one on one with keeper Alex McCarthy.

But by that point the Whites were already 1-0 down and the fact that United did not manage a single shot on target in the whole game told its own tale.

The Whites only had three shots in total whilst the Saints managed 19, five of which were on target.

Leeds once again came out on top in the possession stakes with 55 per cent of the ball but that means nothing if you don’t do anything with it.

And that was the overriding factor for Leeds as an attacking force minus the services of Raphinha and Patrick Bamford in the final third and Kalvin Phillips in the middle of the park.

Leeds lined up with a three-man centre-back axis of Liam Cooper, Pascal Struijk and Diego Llorente in a bid to combat Southampton’s attacking threat but the sheer number of chances created clearly highlight how Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side should have scored more than once, wasteful finishing the main reason why they did not.

Ahead of United’s back three, Stuart Dallas, Mateusz Klich and Jamie Shackleton effectively filled United’s midfield, Shackleton and Dallas essentially playing as wing backs.

Thereafter, the Whites had Roberts, Rodrigo, James and Harrison as their front four.

But at no point did Leeds get going and the introductions of first Forshaw and then young stars Joe Gelhardt and Crysencio Summerville did little to change that although neither were given much time on the pitch and it could be argued that both should have been brought on sooner, especially Gelhardt given Rodrigo’s display.

It remains to be seen how Bielsa looks to improve United’s fortunes but it’s always been a case of trying to make plan A better as opposed to deviating to a plan B.

In short, Saturday’s display once again clearly highlighted the importance of not just Raphinha and Bamford but also Phillips in the middle of the park.

It can only be hoped that one, two or all three of them are back for next weekend’s hosting of Wolves or that Bielsa is able to shuffle his pack accordingly to produce something drastically different to what was seen at St Mary’s.

Longer term, ie when the January transfer window opens, it is pretty clear that Leeds need strengthening in the middle of the park, especially when Phillips is out.

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Thank you Laura Collins