HOW bad a shape are Leeds United in right now? It’s a question that could be asked of several top-flight sides this Christmas but for Marcelo Bielsa’s chaotic collective it’s one that is pertinent, both figuratively and literally.
Taking in their season as a whole Leeds have accrued just 16 points from 18 games, conceding an average of two goals per match. They have won only once since October and that required a last-gasp winner from the spot. All told, they have been a pale imitation of the exhilarating creation of a genius that excelled in extremes last term, eventually securing a top ten spot. A glance at their form and the league table instead reveals them to be relegation contenders and their situation only appears to be worsening.
Which brings us to their actual shape, or rather the absence of any. Minus Liam Cooper and Kalvin Phillips – not only two of Leeds’ most important players but also a pair that give this pandemonium of pressing and possession some structure – it was startling to see how easily Manchester City and Arsenal pulled them this way and that in a horrendous week for the Yorkshire giants. In both games combined, Illan Meslier was subjected to a staggering 52 shots which equates to an attempt on his goal every three and a half minutes. That’s a duck shoot. Emphasizing how crucial a component he is meanwhile, Leeds have now lost 12 of the last 15 games Phillips has missed.
All of which spells doom and gloom for their forthcoming Boxing Day trip to Anfield, especially as Bielsa is fundamentally not a man for turning. This means that an injury-ravaged side, sprinkled with teenagers and with players in unfamiliar roles, will man-mark all over the pitch and subsequently leave spaces galore for the likes of Mo Salah and Diogo Jota to exploit. This means that any score-line is possible, even conceivably a ridiculous one.
A useful rule of thumb when assessing if a team is mired in genuine crisis or simply enduring a temporary loss of form is to study the positives, not the negatives which are a given. If the plus-points are a mixed blessing then a team truly are in trouble and sadly that metric applies to Leeds at present with Raphinha’s tremendous campaign a good example of this.
The flying Brazilian has scored a goal every other game this term and furthermore is in the Premier League top ten for throughballs. He has pinged over 84 crosses too, a figure surpassed by only seven players and unquestionably he is a rare bright spark in an otherwise failing machine.
Yet, having scored 44% of his side’s goals it can also be determined that Leeds have become overly reliant on the best form of a winger to get them through, a circumstance that is hardly ideal. Because when his mercurial output drops a couple of levels – as happens to wingers and often – then Leeds become predictable and toothless.
Extending on this curate’s egg theory, we also find Bielsa’s men boasting a decent number of shots taken across the season but with the same amount as Newcastle in the goals for column then clearly finishing has become a real issue.
If Leeds are in turmoil right now, Liverpool’s fan-base are distinctly down in the mouth after leaving Tottenham with only a draw last week, a response that illustrates the extraordinary standards their team have consistently reached to this point.
The old one-two and Liverpool have the lead, courtesy of that man again!
Salah has now equaled Jamie Vardy’s record of scoring or assisting in 15 consecutive #PL games!
— Unibet (@unibet) December 16, 2021
Mo Salah epitomizes their excellence better than anyone, with 22 goals across all competitions a remarkable haul from a player who performs so much of his alchemy wide on the right. The prolific Egyptian has been directly involved in 24 Premier League goals this term and last week he equaled Jamie Vardy’s record of registering a goal or assist in 15 consecutive league games.
Elsewhere, Liverpool’s goal-scoring feats continue to astound, and perhaps the most noteworthy from all the records that are either tumbling or threatening to tumble is that they have scored in their last 33 games without exception. Not even the great teams from the Seventies and Eighties managed that. No Liverpool side ever has until now.
All of which makes it very difficult to imagine the visitors keeping a clean sheet against the odds, especially considering their rudderless performances of late. All of which conjures up the likelihood of Leeds leaving L4 with a mother of all Christmas hangovers as their crisis deepens, while Liverpool plunder once again.
Don’t discount therefore an early lead for the hosts. Leeds have conceded inside 20 minutes on three occasions in the last week alone.