Leeds United v West Ham United - Lessons to be learnt for Marcelo Bielsa’s side
Leeds United were taught a tough lesson about the harsh realities of Premier League life last week.
They travelled to Stamford Bridge in good heart and good shape, buoyed by back-to-back clean sheets which suggested they had learnt from successive 4-1 defeats. They worked as hard as in any game bar one this season. They lost 3-1 to Chelsea.
Sometimes in the Premier League, your best is just not good enough.
Crunching the numbers, as Leeds’s analysts have, tells you something else about their season: teams are wising up to how good Marcelo Bielsa’s team are, and raising their game. They cannot expect an easy ride this evening at home to a West Ham United side who have outperformed expectations so far this season.
Bielsa usually apologises on the rare occasions he gives long, technical answers in his pre-match press conferences.
“The next time you ask me the things we need to improve on you will be more prudent or more reflective,” he chuckled this week.
Actually, though, when a once-in-a-generation managerial talent wants to explain some of the finer points of the game, you do not want him to stop.
The biggest thing about the defeat to Chelsea was less about technicalities, more the amount of sweat Frank Lampard’s side expended after Patrick Bamford put super-intense Leeds ahead.
“We played against Chelsea after we played Arsenal and Everton – they were both positive games for us,” noted Bielsa. “When a team has played well, the rival will notice this.
“Chelsea produced their best game (this season) in terms of physical data. It’s not they improved just a little bit, they increased about 20 per cent in all their physical aspects.
“From a physical standpoint, we played our second-best game of the season. We were better than Chelsea from a physical point of view, but not in the proportion we had over them prior to the start of the game. To be superior to Chelsea from a physical standpoint, we had to play our second-best physical game of the season. There’s not a lot more you can ask for from the players.
“What we have to learn is one of the most difficult things to learn in football: the big, big teams do what’s necessary. When they find out everything they’ve done is not enough, they go above and beyond to make that difference.”
Not that Bielsa had no complaints about his team’s display. He highlighted their defending at set-pieces – a long term annoyance – errors playing the ball out and insufficient pressure on Chelsea’s defensive players.
“We had a marked difficulty defending set-pieces,” he commented. “Usually, we don’t have the same height, as a team, as our opponents. This means we need to add things to our game which are difficult to add.
“Another weakness against Chelsea was we created errors when we tried to play out from the back.
“The third aspect, for me, was the influence Chelsea’s two full-backs had attacking and with (N’Golo) Kante and Thiago Silva in the construction of the game. We have to improve the pressure we put on the opposition’s five defensive players because when we don’t manage to debilitate them playing out it makes us weaker.
“(Reece) James, (Ben) Chilwell, Thiago Silva and Kante had influence when playing out and this is something we should have neutralised.
“If playing our second-best physical game of the season did not apply adequate pressure to the opponent to take the ball off them when they were playing out, this indicates it’s not easy.
“There was a period when we most dominated the opponent, the period we most played in their half because although we had more possession than Chelsea, we had to look at where that possession was. If the possession is in our own half it’s not very useful.
“We didn’t deserve to draw the game, but we could have because between minute 70 and the end of the game we had two chances to equalise.”
Leeds will have to improve without two central defenders who picked up injuries in west London. Robin Koch is expected to miss three months after knee surgery and another muscle problem for his replacement on the night, Diego Llorente, will keep the Spaniard out for at least two to three weeks.
Bielsa named his team (Meslier, Dallas, Ayling, Cooper, Alioski, Phillips, Klich, Rodrigo, Raphinha, Bamford, Harrison) on Wednesday but such is the flexibility of his players they could line up in a number of different formations and combinations against the Hammers’ back three.
Last six games: Leeds United LWDLLW, West Ham United LWWWLD
Referee: M Dean (Wirral)
Last time: Leeds United 1 West Ham United 1, March 17, 2012, Championship.
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