Leeds United’s problem identified by Marcelo Bielsa after defeat to Manchester United at Elland Road

MARCELO BIELSA put Leeds United’s 4-2 defeat to Manchester United down to a shortage of defensive midfielders and a lack of “efficiency” in attack.

In a see-saw game, the Whites made 16 chances to the Red Devils’ 15, yet the visitors found the net twice as often.

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The loss means Leeds have drawn closer to the Premier League relegation zone over a weekend where Burnley and Watford enjoyed surprise wins. Their cushion is now five points with a difficult week ahead which sees them travel to Liverpool on Wednesday, and host Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday.

Leeds United's players show their frustration after the second Manchester United goal at Elland Road. Picture: Simon Hulme.

Even though the last game at Elland Road was 0-0, Manchester United have scored 15 goals in four matches against Bielsa’s Leeds, and the Argentinian coach felt his side once more lost control of midfield. For Bielsa to bring up injuries, even though they have clearly been such a handicap this season, is uncharacteristic.

They were already missing England midfielder Kalvin Phillips until March with a hamstring injury and his replacement in the match, Robin Koch, went off after 28 minutes with what looked like a concussion injury suffered 14 minutes earlier. Pascal Struijk replaced him until half-time, where he returned to centre-back in the reorganisation which saw Joe Gelhardt and goalscorer Raphinha come on.

“We’ve conceded a lot of goals,” said Bielsa. “The amount of goals conceded is not linked to the individual skills defensively.

“It’s difficult for us to prevent the opponent creating danger. To form a more compact block is not simple. The fundamental problems are with the recovery of the ball in the middle of the pitch.

Adam Forshaw celebrates the Raphinha goal for Leeds United. Picture: Simon Hulme

“We had to be without Phillips, who is a defensive midfielder, after that without Koch and without Pascal, who is another defensive midfielder.

“In the second half we had to put Pascal back in the defensive line. Due to the absence of three players who can do that function, the composition of the midfield doesn’t have a defensive profile. That had an influence in the defensive behaviour of the team.”

Leeds have conceded 50 goals this season, as compared to 54 in the whole of last.

Leeds United's Raphinha slides in to equalise against Manchester United at Elland Road. Picture: Simon Hulme.

But they have also only scored 29 in 24 games, compared to 62 in 38 last term. Their two yesterday, by Rodrigo and substitute Raphinha came 24 seconds apart after Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes gave the visitors a 2-0 lead at half-time. “As the team was recomposing itself, we missed a very clear chance to score to make it 3-2 (through Dan James),” he noted. “They went down the other end and scored (through Fred).

“They missed very few chances, but they were very efficient and we were less efficient, and the difference comes through that. We had seven or eight chances to score, just like the opponent, but they scored a higher proportion.”

Koch came off looking concussed 14 minutes after a clash of heads with Scott McTominay drew blood. If he is, protocols will rule him out of this week’s games, but Bielsa suggested that was not why he came off. Leeds were not allowed to replace him with an extra concussion substitute, although the television reporter at the game said it was because Leeds had not asked in time.

With heavy rain falling on Elland Road throughout, conditions were very difficult for both sides but it did nothing to spoil a thrilling game.

Leeds United's Marcelo Bielsa on the touchline during his team's 4-2 defeat to Manchester United at Elland Road. Picture: Simon Hulme.

“It was very intense and – if you were a neutral – you could say an entertaining game,” said Manchester United’s interim manager Ralf Rangnick. “There were only very few moments where nothing happened on the pitch.

“It took us 10 or 15 minutes to get into it, the last half-hour before half-time we did great, put them under pressure, it could have been three or 4-0 at half-time but we were fully aware at half-time they would have a go at us and play with aggression.

“I think we showed maturity. There were quite a few tackles that in Germany there’d be no discussion – it wouldn’t even go to VAR. I spoke to the referee about the (Bruno) Fernandes tackle (made by Adam Forshaw and rightly deemed fair) in the lead-up to Leeds’s second goal, he said, ‘That’s probably why you had to come to England.’”

Meanwhile, the Football Association is to investigate after an object was thrown at Anthony Elanga as he celebrated Fred’s goal.

Burnley’s Matt Lowton and Brentford’s Sergi Canos have also been hit this season at Elland Road, where a fan was arrested in December for racially abusing the Arsenal bench.