West Ham 2-0 Leeds United - Issues for Diego Llorente, Patrick Bamford and Mateusz Klich, a VAR rant and two big positives
The appetite for positives when Leeds United lose a second game in succession wanes substantially and understandably, but there were some in the defeat at West Ham.
Taking the half hour period of the first half in which everything went so badly awry, Leeds caused a very good Hammers side a lot of difficulty. That's often the barometre of how big the meltdown should be during a spell of poor results for the Whites because if they're still creating chances then they're always in with a shout of a better result in the coming games. It's when the creativity dries up that you should really worry.
Here are some of the positives and some of the negatives from an ultimately disappointing night - another one - in the nation's capital.
The midfielder took little time to settle back into his role. He popped up in space in order to link play from back to front, drilled some nice passes around and made a few big tackles that showed there are no signs of a lingering injury. The early block on Declan Rice in the middle of the park was a good example. He couldn't do it alone, however, and Leeds' midfield problems in the first half left Phillips with a lot to do, too much on some occasions. But he's back and that is undoubtedly good news for Leeds. His absence is the one they really struggle to compensate for, so keeping him fit for the rest of the season would stand the newly promoted side in good stead. He should never have been booked, by the way.
He's performing better in central midfield against Premier League opposition than he did in the Championship. Perhaps that's just what happens when your manager trusts you and keeps putting you back in a difficult role, giving you the time you need to adapt. In the second half, with Dallas buzzing around, dropping deep to link up with full-backs then pushing forward to probe at the West Ham defence, Leeds suddenly had a presence and Phillips wasn't overrun. It was another impressive display from a player who has exceeded expectation for the second season running.
There were positive elements to his performance. His passing is going to be a real asset for Leeds - the through ball for Patrick Bamford was an example of how effective it can be when your centre-half can stride forward and make things happen in the opposition half. Once or twice in the first half he forced it, however, when a simpler option was available. Coming through a third game with no problems is another good sign. The problems were obvious. At set-pieces he couldn't get to grips with Craig Dawson, getting taken out of the equation by the criss-cross runs of the Hammers players. Even when Liam Cooper picked up Dawson in the second half, Issa Diop got his head to a free-kick in the Leeds area before Llorente, which created real problems. Set-pieces were an issue that predated Llorente at Leeds, however.
This is a real dip for Klich and Leeds cannot really afford for it to continue for too much longer. It's difficult to put a finger on why a player loses form or confidence but it looked as if the game passed him by in the first half and when he didn't emerge for the second half it wasn't a surprise. It has been said before but a goal might do him the world of good - his goalscoring form of Bielsa's first season feels so very long ago now. Or a break from the team might be the answer. Leeds looked a lot better with Dallas in there. Perhaps Bielsa's faith, trust and persistence will see the Polish international come good again. Good players do not become bad players but Klich needs to find his mojo again. The centre of midfield has been an issue and it would be a shock if Leeds didn't add more quality there in the summer.
It won't take many more performances like that or misses like the ones he was guilty of, for the critics to be crowing again. He's kept them quiet for the vast majority of this season with a truly impressive campaign, full of good goals and wonderful, clinical finishing. That golden touch was absent at West Ham, where he should have scored two goals and Leeds should really have got a point. On the evidence he has provided this season so far, you would have backed him to tuck them both away, the second - from such a short distance from goal - in particular. But credit him at least for the run that allowed Llorente to play him in behind the defence, and the movement to get free in the area to meet Raphinha's cut-back. If he stops getting chances, that would be a different problem and arguably a worse one for Leeds.
Having never really felt like video technology had threatened my enjoyment of rugby union, I was enthusiastic at first for the advent of video assistant referees. Little by little, that enthusiasm has been chipped away as lines are drawn and the finest of margins have been found in order to rule out goals. Goals are exciting, they're the whole point of the thing. If VAR is handing the benefit of the doubt back to defending teams then it's harming the sport as a spectacle. What we needed, during this awful period of history, was more entertainment, not less, more joy and less frustration. It doesn't feel like we're getting it right with VAR. If a player's arm is offside because he's pointing to where he wants the ball, that cannot be a reason to punish him if he goes on to score with a lovely finish. If the hairs on a player's kneecap are offside, let the goal stand - regardless of whether the linesman flagged or not. We need goals, not lines and physics.