Puzzling debrief, aerial issues, Marcelo Bielsa's changes and big test to ten-point cushion in twelve days - Leeds United Talking Points

AFTER seeing Leeds United squander a three-goal lead at home to Cardiff City, the YEP's Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points from Saturday's bizarre 3-3 draw at Elland Road.

Sunday, 15th December 2019, 12:09 pm
Updated Sunday, 15th December 2019, 12:23 pm
ALL SQUARE: Leeds United substitute Pascal Struijk and goalkeeper Kiko Casilla can only look on as Cardiff City substitute Robert Glatzel nets an 88th-minute equaliser for the ten-men Bluebirds who were 3-0 down. Photo by Nigel Roddis/Getty Images.

How on earth did Leeds not win?

There were perplexed, frustrating and annoyed looks all around the stadium in the aftermath of Saturday's draw with United looking completely home and hosed for all three points when 3-0 up through Patrick Bamford's penalty seven minutes after the break.

Leeds produced some brilliant attacking football in the first half - some of their best yet felt Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa - with the Bluebirds battered and already 2-0 down inside eight minutes with Helder Costa's strike followed by Bamford's first two minutes later.

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Despite the odd aerial threat from Cardiff, United were completely bossing matters and all that was lacking was a third goal.

When that third goal arrived from the penalty spot, practically every Whites fan will have been reaching for the cigars with Bielsa's men destined to make it eight wins in a row and move to a 13-point cushion in the automatic promotion places with just about every other result going their way.

But while Leeds clearly still should have seen out victory, everything seemed to change when Lee Tomlin capitalised on Kiko Casilla's error on the hour mark with the nerves inside the stadium suddenly obvious with last season in mind, even if Bielsa felt his players did not look nervous on the pitch.

In fairness, they didn't, and with United holding firm for the next 16 minutes, Bamford admitted that he felt he was coming off for Eddie Nketiah with 13 minutes left merely to enjoy United easing to another victory.

But for Bamford and the Elland Road faithful that viewing very quickly became a horror show with a vulnerability in the air then to blame as Sean Morrison nodded home an 82nd-minute free-kick.

Now Elland Road really was nervous and with momentum now firmly in Cardiff's favour it wasn't really a major surprise in the circumstances when substitute Robert Glatzel then capitalised on sleepy defending to make it 3-3 with two minutes left, even after Morrison had been sent off.

Even then United could and should have taken all three points but Nketiah failed to beat Neil Etheridge in the 94th minute with his close-ranger with Ben White then agonisingly seeing the rebound bobble wide.

Two points dropped in a major way and Bielsa was finding it very hard to explain what happened in his post-match press conference. If Bielsa is struggling then good luck to the rest of us.

But in short, rare slack defending and United's well documented at times vulnerability in the air basically cost Leeds dear with momentum also clearly playing a big part too.

It could be argued that Leeds also ultimately paid the price for only netting three times from 25 shots on goal of which eight were on target but really a 3-0 lead ought to be more than sufficient.

Cardiff ultimately scored with their only three shots on target from ten attempts on goal.

An extremely hard setback to take with Bamford admitting his players were distraught but proof if ever it was needed about the unpredictable nature of football at times and a stark reminder that the job is nowhere near done.

The substitutions

Bielsa was asked about his substitutions in his post-match press conference and whether bringing on Nketiah for Bamford, Gjanni Alioski for Jack Harrison and then young defender Pascal Struijk for Gaetano Berardi was the right decision.

The latter looked a particularly big call with 20-year-old defender Struijk having only made his Whites debut on Tuesday as an 89th-minute substitute against Hull.

But you could see where Bielsa was coming from in explaining the advantage that Struijk's height might bring in the latter stages against Cardiff who then ironically scored their third and final goal via a completely different method from a through ball via Lee Tomlin's clever flick which caught Struijk napping.

Really the damage was done before and Bielsa also explained that Alioski was brought on to help Dallas defending with Dallas having been experiencing sickness during the week and Nketiah ofnfor Bamford is not exactly an alien change with the Arsenal loanee clearly needing minutes.

Bamford also admitted he was a bit tired when going off but readily admitted he wanted to stay on to try and bag his hat-trick.

All ifs, buts and maybes and Bielsa was big enough to hold his hands up and take the blame for United failing to take all three points by failing ultimately to stop Cardiff scoring three times after specifically identifying their threats.

As ever, a bit harsh on himself from Bielsa as it was his scintillating football that should have had Leeds booked for victory.

From a defending point of view, the sooner captain Liam Cooper is back from his calf strain the better though it must be stressed that Leeds had kept two clean sheets against Hull and Huddersfield Town without him.

Gallingly, after going 445 minutes without conceding a goal, United then somehow shipped in three in 28 minutes.

A ten point gap but four huge games in 12 days

United ultimately still have a very decent ten-point buffer in the automatic promotion spots back to third-placed Preston North end who took advantage of defeats for Fulham, Bristol City and Nottingham Forest against Brentford, Blackburn Rovers and Sheffield Wednesday respectively to now lead a very tightly clustered chasing pack.

There are now only three points between third-placed Preston and tenth-placed Swansea City and Forest could still go third if winning their game in hand though the signs don't look great after they were walloped 4-0 at home to Sheffield Wednesday.

For Leeds, A ten-point gap one game short of the half-way stage of the season is still brilliant and United are still no bigger than 1-9 to finish in the top two and as short as 1-14.

But more important now will be United's response ahead of four huge games over the Christmas period starting with next Saturday's trip to Fulham who are now sixth and 12 points behind Leeds.

With Preston now third, Boxing Day's Elland Road hosting of the Lilywhites now looks even more important than it was before and IF United were to lose at Fulham and Preston were to win at Cardiff next weekend then defeat to Alex Neil's men could very quickly see a ten-point gap slashed to four.

Leeds, though, clearly have the class and capabilities to beat both Preston and Fulham and the next four games will clearly have a huge say on how the automatic promotion race is looking in the new year.

After Preston, Leeds then face Birmingham City away on the final Sunday of the year before the New Year's Day showdown at leaders and now two points clear West Brom on New Year's Day.

Even then, after the following Monday's FA Cup clash at Arsenal, United then host Garry Monk's Sheffield Wednesday the following Saturday with the Owls suddenly fourth, level on points with fellow big movers Brentford with both only one point behind Preston.

Six huge games including the Gunners clash but they are all big for Leeds from here on in who will ultimately be fine and Premier League bound if reproducing Saturday's brilliant football and proving that the final half hour was only a blip.