Leeds United 0 Chelsea 3: Whites see red again as relegation fears grow

Such a pleasant man off the field, Leeds United coach Jesse Marsch likes his players to be aggressive on it.

Last month the American even complained some of his opposite numbers in the Premier League are “too nice” to him after games and the passion of Elland Road always feeds into what he is looking for but there is a balance, and Leeds have completely failed to strike it in the last two matches, making an already difficult fight against relegation even tougher.

In both a key player committed a brainlessly reckless foul in a part of the field where there was absolutely no need, leaving the team to play for more than an hour with 10 men, and ending their own season in the process.

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Already a goal down to Chelsea, another Leeds defeat became an inevitability as soon as Dan James was sent off after 24 minutes. “We’re not giving ourselves the chance we want,” admitted Marsch.

Chelsea's Romelu Lukaku smashes the ball past Leeds keeper Illan Meslier to score the third goal. Picture: Tony Johnson

It ended 3-0 because that was enough for the Blues, who have bigger fish to fry this week.

Kalvin Phillips’s first-half booking, scything down Christian Pulisic, was their 97th of the season, a Premier League record.

The fight Leeds actually needed was absent, failing to have a shot on target all night.

Indisciplined, dispirited, unlucky and out of their depth, they looked a lot like a team heading for the Championship. Only their supporters looked willing and able to fight it.

Leeds's Kalvin Phillips challenges Chelsea's Christian Pulisic. Picture: Tony Johnson

In possession, in their tackling, even in their decisions on the touchline, minds appeared scrambled.

Marsch spoke about learning but last summer’s big signing let his team-mates down by leaping into the same trap Luke Ayling did. Lunging at Mateo Kovacic with both feet off the ground he planted his studs just above the midfielder’s left ankle.

There was a time when challenges like that would have earned no more than a stern rebuke in a Leeds versus Chelsea game, but it was before James was born.

“I got the ball!” as he rightly protested is no longer a defence.

Leeds United’s Dan James received a straight red card for his tackle on Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic. Picture: Tony Johnson

“I’m not going to sit here and blame anyone,” insisted Marsch but perhaps a few home truths are needed behind the scenes to hammer these lessons home.

Having only seen it in real time, Leeds fans took their frustration out on Kovacic and referee Anthony Taylor but they ought to have been more angry with the players letting them down.

The red card left Raphinha even more exposed at right wing-back, though not for long as a little over 10 minutes later Jack Harrison was going off injured, Junior Firpo’s introduction freeing Robin Koch to take up that position. Raphinha would go off with cramp.

Even before the dismissal, Leeds were up against it.

It took Chelsea just four minutes to score, the Whites standing off as the ball was transferred from left-back to right wing – Marcos Alonso into Romelu Lukaku, to Mason Mount to Reece James. The wing-back laid the ball off for Mount to score.

Chelsea were playing with the intensity of a team who had forgotten they had nothing to play for until Saturday’s FA Cup final and Leeds only helped their momentum. Koch and Raphinha hit clearances straight at blue shirts and Harrison miscontrolled the ball out of play to keep the hosts pinned back.

Lukaku had a goal disallowed for offside and a James cross was glanced wide by Lukaku.

With just 36 minutes gone, Leeds supporters went into full-on defiance mode. Their team, though, were struggling to resist, conceding again in the 55th minute, once more standing off as Trevoh Chalobah fed James, then Jorginho, then Mount produced a funky touch which allowed Pulisic to stroke the ball in.

Even when Leeds tried to do the right thing they could not, Rodrigo dropping deep to help out but only turning over possession. This time Pulisic missed.

Lukaku dragged one wide and had another deflect off target before scoring almost in agonising slow motion, toying with the defenders in front of him until a chink of light opened.

Plenty headed for the exits, although those that remained upped the volume to compensate. A few booed at full-time, but only a few.

It was not just on the field where minds were scrambled. Sam Greenwood was preparing to come on as Leeds’s final sub when Liam Cooper had to have his bleeding nose patched up. Long before the blood was staunched, Greenwood was sat down and another young centre-forward, Joe Gelhardt, came on for Raphinha instead. No one seemed to be thinking straight.

Leeds United: Meslier; Koch, Llorente, Cooper, Raphinha, Bate, Phillips, Struijk; James, Rodrigo, Harrison (Firpo 37). Unused substitutes: Klaesson, Gelhardt, Hjelde, Cresswell, Greenwood, Klich, Shackleton, Gray.

Chelsea: Mendy; Chalobah, Christensen, Rudiger; James, Jorginho, Kovacic, Alonso; Mount, Pulisic; Lukaku. Unused substitutes: Arrizabalaga, Thiago, Werner, Loftus-Cheek, Barkley, Ziyech, Azpilicueta, Havertz, Sarr.

Referee: A Taylor (Greater Manchester).