|Leeds United 2 v 0 Crystal Palace|
Barclays Premier League
Monday, 8th February 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Leeds coast to easy win over Palace
Tuesday, 9th Feb 2021 22:19 by Tim Whelan
Leeds enjoyed a comfortable win last night over a Crystal Palace side who offered very little, and the only thing I could find to moan about was that the final scoreline should have been far more emphatic.
Marcelo Bielsa named an unchanged line-up, as unfortunately it looks as though our various injured signings will all be out for quite a while yet. The most notable selections were young Gelhardt and Cresswell on the subs bench, even though both played for the under 23s this week. Palace also had their injury problems, most notably the absence of their main man Wilfried Zaha.
Leeds made an excellent start to the game and took only three minutes to take the lead. Our attack seemed to have broken down as we lost possession in the corner, but as Palace came out Klich won the ball back and Dallas fed Harrison just outside the area. Palace gave Harrison space to work his way into the area, before his shot took a deflection off Cahill to loop over Gaita and drop into the net.
Leeds continued to dominate the game, with Palace able to offer very little going forward. Sky delighted us with the statistic that they had lost 18 of the last 20 games they had played without Zaha, and you could see why, as they looked bereft of ideas. Even Eze was struggling to get into the game, despite his past record of decent performances against Leeds for both Palace and QPR.
And we could have gone further in front when Alioski came down the left and Bamford got a neat touch to his cross to divert the ball just inside the near post, only for Gaita to get down well to keep it out. The chances kept coming for Leeds, but Bamford headed well wide and then failed to capitalise on his own good work for what would have been a classic goal.
He picked up a loose Palace pass and flicked it round Scott Dann to put himself through on goal, only to send his finish high and wide. He ended up in a position which favoured a right foot shot rather than his stronger left, and whether he was trying to chip Gaita or side-foot into the corner, he got it horribly wrong.
Perhaps he could blame the new pitch, as once again the players of both sides were struggling to keep their footing, though another night of wet weather didn’t help. Perhaps it will bed in eventually. Raphinha was the next to go close, sending a free kick just over the bar, before Palace had their only decent chance of the half, and that was a shot from Ayew that was straight at Meslier
Raphinha was impressive once again and a great turn took him past Cahill on the edge of the box, with the veteran Palace defender resorting to bring him down. It needed VAR to confirm the offence was just outside the box, but Cahill picked up a yellow card for his trouble as his torrid evening continued.
Raphinha was back on his feet to take resulting free kick, which produced the first of several misses from Struijk, who headed wide despite being afforded plenty of space. And his next effort was even further off target as he seemed to get his bearings completely wrong. So he’s still looking for his first Leeds goal, but he’s getting into the right positions and his luck might change one day.
And there was another miss from Bamford who casually flicked at the ball in front of goal, seemingly thinking he must have been offside after stepping forward while Raphinha delayed his ball into the middle. But the replay showed that he would actually have been onside, with a stray defenders leg playing him on, so he should have just put it in the net and then worried about the flag and VAR.
Roy Hodgson made an attacking substitution for the second half, with our one-time loan player Andros Townsend coming on for van Aanholt, and I wondered if it would be one of those games where we would regret not taking our chances when we were on top. But I needn’t have worried, as we began the second period like we did the first, with a goal in the first seven minutes of the half.
Klich played the ball through as the Palace defence seemed to have lost track of Raphinha’s diagonal run, and when the Brazilian’s shot came back off Gaita, Bamford reacted faster than three defenders to guide the ball into the corner of the net. Another very welcome goal and assist for my fantasy team.
We continued to come forward and produced a series of corners, all of them excellently delivered by Raphinha, though one of them was to produce another unfortunate miss from Struijk. At the other end Palace started to look a bit more lively once they had brought on Batshuayi, and his first contribution was to set up Eze for an excellent chance, but he could only send his shot well over the bar.
Another scare came from Townsend, who cut inside for a powerful shot that could well have pulled a goal back had he sent it anywhere other than straight at Meslier. And apart from these moments Leeds coped very well with the Palace attack, even when Benteke replaced Ayew for their final throw of the dice, with Struijk doing fine in his day job as a central defender.
In the closing stages it was Leeds who came closest to scoring, when a stray Palace ball from the touchline went straight to Harrison, but as he raced through he got underneath his shot and hit the bar. He might have been trying a clever chip as Gaita was off his line, but if so it didn’t quite come off.
The only worry in the last few minutes was the fitness of Phillips, who had already gone down once and continued before being forced off with some sort of leg injury in the 88th minute. Let’s hope he didn’t do himself a mischief by playing on, and he’ll be OK for the Arsenal game on Sunday. Shackleton came on as our only sub of the evening and we comfortably saw out the remaining time.
After the game Marcello Bielsa told the official site “The team didn’t lose life or vitality in the last 15 minutes. It was very important for us to keep the ball and when we lost the ball, it was important that they didn’t create danger. I think we managed to do this. Although we attacked less, we didn’t stop creating.”
No doubt he’s pleased that we managed to pick up a rare clean sheet, but after a couple of hidings perhaps he’s learned that we shouldn’t be quite so gung-ho at all times in the Premier League. In the last few games we’ve shown signs of toughing it out when we need to, starting with the second half at Newcastle when the Geordies came back strongly after the break.
Or perhaps we look more solid now Struijk is playing as a specialist central defender, rather than having Phillips or Ayling there out of position, giving the defence a patched-up look while the first choice pair are out injured. Against top opposition we need the right formation at the back, and the young dutchman is helping to provide that, whatever his failings when he goes forward.
Despite the unlucky defeat to Everton we now have three wins from the last four, which has taken us to the dizzy heights of the top half of the table. Who knows where we can end up by the end of the season.
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