Leeds United goals admission hints at scale of inherited mess - Graham Smyth's Chelsea Verdict

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It says so much about the Leeds United mess inherited by Javi Gracia that he has already admitted they might have to defend their way out of trouble this season.

Their biggest problem right now is goalscoring and it is not one of Gracia's creation, but it is down to him to solve it. Saturday's 1-0 defeat at Chelsea, in which the Whites saw more than enough of the ball in promising areas only to muster two efforts on target, highlighted the restrictions with which the Spaniard is working.

He doesn't have an attacking midfielder capable of consistently dissecting defences with through balls or dribbling wizardry, there just isn't one in the squad, and at Stamford Bridge he did not have a targetman.

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Rodrigo, their only reliable source of goals, is still out following ankle surgery and Patrick Bamford felt something in his leg in training, this latest knock adding to a litany of problems for the number nine since September 2021. That left Gracia with Georginio Rutter, a £28m January signing, a club record transfer no less, up front with Brenden Aaronson in a supporting role.

CAPITAL BLUES: Leeds United duo Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson look on as Chelsea race off to celebrate Wesley Fofana's header which proved the only goal of the game at Stamford Bridge. Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images.CAPITAL BLUES: Leeds United duo Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson look on as Chelsea race off to celebrate Wesley Fofana's header which proved the only goal of the game at Stamford Bridge. Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images.
CAPITAL BLUES: Leeds United duo Tyler Adams and Brenden Aaronson look on as Chelsea race off to celebrate Wesley Fofana's header which proved the only goal of the game at Stamford Bridge. Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images.

Rutter has undoubted potential and will likely go on to become a very good player. He's got size, pace and some lovely tricks and skills that help him go past players. He's an exciting project. He's a player you could see thriving playing off a traditional number nine, or maybe coming in from wide areas in a front three. What he's not, yet, is a Premier League ready centre forward.

As the ball bounced off him or around him and back into the possession of Chelsea players and as Aaronson bounced off defenders in a desperately messy first half an hour in London, Leeds' inability to make the ball stick up front was painfully evident.

It wasn't all down to the strikers, it just wasn't working at all in possession for the Whites in that period of time, Chelsea's midfield three mopping up all the loose balls and running forward, giving Tyler Adams and Weston McKennie a huge amount of chasing to do.

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At least Leeds were relatively solid through the middle, forming three defensive banks and forcing the Blues into wide areas. When they got the ball, however, there was nothing in the way of a reliable outlet. Rutter didn't make it stick, Aaronson didn't get into it, Jack Harrison was anonymous and Crysencio Summerville didn't wake up until the game was 30 minutes old, and Chelsea assumed control.

MESS: For Whites boss Javi Gracia to sort. Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images.MESS: For Whites boss Javi Gracia to sort. Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images.
MESS: For Whites boss Javi Gracia to sort. Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images.

All Graham Potter's men lacked was a finish. Wesley Fofana evaded McKennie but could only head over from a corner, Illan Meslier stuck out a hand to make a huge save from Kai Havertz at the end of a dangerous Chelsea counter attack and Felix crashed a beautiful effort off the crossbar.

But even when Gracia's men settled themselves, worked out how to get on the ball, keep it and then progress it, there remained a problem up top. Their first cohesive bit of play, a move from back to front, failed to involve Chelsea keeper Kepa in the game.

Chelsea remained a threat, Ben Chilwell stealing in behind the defence and shooting wide, but Leeds did grow into the contest and had their best spell in the final 10 minutes of the half. It might only have amounted to a couple of half chances but that was always going to be enough to provoke the first grumbles from home fans.

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Prior to kick-off this game felt like an opportunity to be seized, Chelsea's rancid run of results ramping up the rancour among the rank and file, piling pressure on Potter. Reaching half-time goalless put Leeds in a fantastic position to go and grab something precious and yet they did not. Chelsea found men in space and built a spell of early pressure, then found a goal and built a platform that ultimately kept them out of the visitors' reach.

Fofana got up highest at another corner, evading all and any attempts to mark him, and didn't make the same mistake again, heading into the net this time over Meslier, whose initial instinct to come and challenge left him a yard or so too far forward to save the header. At Fulham in midweek Leeds created a number of good chances to score and lacked the composure or luck to finish them off.

At Chelsea there was a single opportunity for Rutter, a shot from Luke Ayling's cross that was blocked in front of goal, and a Meslier header from a stoppage time corner that Kepa held. The rest was all possession in the Chelsea half, corners that did not bear fruit or crosses of varying quality with no finish.

Taking chances and seizing the moment when it arrives is not just an on-field issue for Leeds. It's plain now that the club did not capitalise on such a stellar first season in the top flight with adequate recruitment.

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Everything that has followed since they disrupted the natural order with a top 10 finish has shed a dim light on decision making, whether that's squad building, the timing of managerial change, the identifying of Jesse Marsch as Marcelo Bielsa's natural successor or the level of time and investment devoted to the American and his style of football.

Running a football club is easy in hindsight, of course, but when results are the proving ground for all your decisions then this is the music you have no choice but to face. The tune that played out in the second half at Stamford Bridge was a familiar one, an opponent requiring just one goal to beat Leeds for the sixth time this season. Where others have been clinical, Leeds have been toothless.

They started the game with a project up top and ended it with a pair of teenagers battling gamely against Chelsea's defence. After the game Gracia spoke of his certainty that he will have more options available to him for the games to come, but then added: "I can tell you it's very difficult [without a natural nine] or whatever you want but I have to look for the solutions. After two Premier League games, we scored one goal and conceded one goal. We need to work on it and if we are not able to score too many goals then we need to be more compact and solid to concede less goals."

He has made Leeds compact and defensively, in the main, they have looked reassuringly solid. That alone will give them a fighting chance. But they won't 0-0 their way out of trouble. Survival will be earned by taking chances. Who is going to take them?