Leeds United and Chelsea - no fireworks between old foes but an absorbing draw

THE most famous draw between these two old rivals was played out on a battered pitch left ravaged after staging the Horse of the Year Show.

Raphinha crosses past Reece James to the ball (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

This latest meeting could again not separate the pair like on that FA Cup final day at Wembley in April, 1970 – on a surface which was also tricky.

Keeping in the equine theme, Saturday was also an afternoon when Leeds United proved they will last the Premier League course in 2020-21. They possess some thoroughbreds and have the look of stayers.

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In many ways, this game was a highly unusual one as far as the Leeds narrative has gone under Marcelo Bielsa.

Tyler Roberts impressed (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

They registered around half the goal attempts and efforts on target as their visitors. Instead of feasting on possession, their statistics were also inferior – 38 per cent to Chelsea’s 62.

It was the lowest percentage count recorded in any of Leeds’s 120 league games under Bielsa.

Leeds managed this game well enough and could even have nicked a famous victory. In the absence of the sick Liam Cooper, they were largely on-message at the back. Even reassuring.

At the other end, the departure through injury of top-scorer Patrick Bamford – who hobbled off on 35 minutes in front of the watching Gareth Southgate – did not disrupt the hosts either.

Luke Ayling beats Mason Mount (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Without Bamford, Tyler Roberts was handed responsibility down the middle in the second half and did not disappoint. Bielsa duly noted developments after.

Chelsea’s backline may have recorded a tenth clean sheet in 12 unbeaten matches under Thomas Tuchel, but Roberts – who popped up in corridors of uncertainty – gave them a certain amount of grief on occasions.

Earlier, operating in the ‘No 10’ role, he went as close as anyone to breaking the deadlock when his curling shot was pushed onto the crossbar by the finger-tips of Edouard Mendy. Replays did the blinding save even more justice.

The Chelsea custodian also showed his flexibility in the second half by making a fine one-handed save to thwart Raphinha.

Patrick Bamford and Andreas Christiansen challenge for the ball. (Picture: Bruce Rollinson)

Mendy initially expected the low shot to be going towards his right-hand post, but readjusted splendidly at the last minute to keep out the effort which was more central. It made the block even more eye-catching.

It was a day for goalkeepers, Illan Meslier was decisive in his work and made a fine tip-over himself early in the second period to keep out Kai Havertz.

By contrast, it was not a day for the £72m German, operating as a ‘false nine.’ The extra touch he took before unleashing the strike was confirmation of that.

That was a chance that his compatriot Timo Werner, had he started, may well have gobbled up. Havertz also lacked the razor-sharp instincts of a natural striker when provided with two good chances in the first half, which were easily saved by Meslier.

The watching Werner, who came on later on, would not have been amused.

But this was not an occasion when Leeds had to repel wave after blue wave and there was nothing akin to a late onslaught after Tuchel threw on Werner, Callum Hudson-Odoi and Reece James – in a bid to push for a win to take Chelsea up to third place.

The main contribution came from the latter in deflecting a goalbound shot from Diego Llorente over the crossbar.

At the other end, the decision-making at the back from Leeds – with Pascal Struijk deputising for Cooper – was sound, with the only truly dodgy moment arriving early on.

That came when Luke Ayling’s clearance diverted off the midriff of Llorente, spun over Meslier and hit the crossbar before being gratefully gathered by the Leeds keeper. It would have made for a crazy own goal.

Llorente was another to produce a diligent performance in a white jersey alongside Struijk, United’s 13th different centre-back partnership this term.

Another striking statistic is the fact that for all the talk of Leeds’s perceived charitable status at the back, they possess the joint sixth-best record in terms of clean sheets, which is decidedly healthy for a promoted side.

Offering his take, Ayling said: “I think it was a fair result.

“We tried to press them high up the pitch and make it hard for them.

“I think we did that and broke the press a few times, but there weren’t many chances for either team. Our chances were probably the best. Rapha (Raphinha) on another day probably should score, but it is a good point.”

Against one of the division’s form horses, indeed it was.

The one worry was the exit of Bamford on his 100th appearance for Leeds. He landed awkwardly after an aerial challenge with Antonio Rudiger and after initially carrying on, he had to make way – and was clearly in discomfort.

The hope will be that it was an impact injury and nothing else.

For his replacement in Rodrigo, it was also eventful in later finding himself substituted. The forward, shortly after heading a good chance straight at Mendy, made way on 79 minutes, but there were no histrionics.

When venerated figures like Bielsa and Tuchel – who recently did the same when he brought off a substitute himself in Hudson-Odoi at Southampton – make their move, it is best to take it on the chin. They are two coaches who invariably know best.

While this first meeting between the pair ended in a goalless stalemate – and lacked the whiff of cordite of those classic matches between these two clubs – it was an absorbing watch for the discerning eye all the same. And a good point for Leeds.

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