Football Features

Leeds 0-0 Chelsea: Five things learned as Havertz experiment shows promise

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 15:04, 13 March 2021

For the first time since December 2003, historical rivals Leeds United and Chelsea squared off in a Premier League game at Elland Road.

On this occasion the spoils were shared, leaving Thomas Tuchel’s men to rue a missed opportunity to put increased pressure on Manchester United and Leicester City in the fight to finish second.

As for Leeds, it ended a two-game losing streak, but no further ground was made up on those sides above them, including Arsenal and Aston Villa, who also dropped points in this latest round of fixtures.

With the dust beginning to settle, here are five things we learned from this encounter.

1. Familiar but unfamiliar

Kai Havertz made 150 appearances for Bayer Leverkusen in all competitions before joining Chelsea last summer. Across those outings, the attacking midfielder led the line on no fewer than nine occasions and each time it proved to be successful. The 10-time capped German international bagged eight goals, including a couple of Bundesliga braces against Werder Bremen and Borussia Mönchengladbach.

On completing his £71m switch to Stamford Bridge, though, very few envisioned he’d resume this duty considering Timo Werner followed him from Germany’s top division and Tammy Abraham and Olivier Giroud were already on their books.

Then boss Frank Lampard followed that Bayer blueprint on matchday two when champions Liverpool visited, though Havertz’s lasted just one half, during which time he’d produce no attempts on goal or created a single chance. Thomas Tuchel, no stranger to the Aachen-born footballer, sprung a tactical surprise on Marcelo Bielsa’s men and reintroduced the experiment, thus presenting Havertz another opportunity to shine in the ‘false nine’ role. It proved to be a marked improvement from one measurement. Havertz, who often dropped into midfield, had a gilt-edged chance to put Chelsea ahead in the early stages. He’d enjoy three more attempts, but it wasn’t enough to breach Illan Meslier in the Leeds goal. That said, Havertz looked comfortable and it wouldn’t be a surprise if Tuchel plays with him through the middle again this season.

2. More important than you know

No one was looking forward to facing Chelsea more than Patrick Bamford, who joined the Blues from Nottingham Forest on the same day as Kevin De Bruyne. Neither, as history showed, quite made the grade and if anything they are their present sides’ most important player. De Bruyne’s universal class is well-documented and we are starting to see Bamford get his flowers after years of hustling up and down the leagues. He is not only Leeds United’s leading marksman on 13 goals but pivotal to Bielsa’s executing his game plan. Before today’s clash Bamford never missed a game, subsequently completing the full 90 minutes 22 times and being subbed off on five occasions.

Bamford started this meeting like he had a point to prove and if not from a mistimed run, leading to him being offside, Leeds would have broken the deadlock. Unfortunately his involvement wouldn’t last the opening half as Bamford — on his 100th appearance for Leeds — struggled to run off a leg injury and was replaced after 35 minutes. It was a blow for the hosts, as the Grantham-born marksman was the Peacocks’ most threatening individual, having created their only chance in the first half. Once departed, and with Spain international Rodrigo coming on before going off himself (for the second time this season), the game slowly moved into Chelsea’s favour and though Leeds continued to go forward at every opportunity, Bamford’s absence was still felt as no one really offered what he brings to the table.

3. Proving his worth

The introduction of a new manager often means every player begins with a clean slate. Not exactly a forgotten man, it’s fair to say Antonio Rüdiger wasn’t a focal part of Lampard’s plans, though he did return to Chelsea’s starting lineup before the club legend was ultimately dismissed. Tuchel, nevertheless, has entrusted the centre-back and to say he’s been repaying his manager’s faith ever since would be an understatement.

Rüdiger has stepped up and been integral to Chelsea’s newfound defensive mean streak. Today was another perfect illustration. He completed three attempted tackles while making six important clearances and on both metrics there wasn’t anyone in a blue jersey that bettered him. Rüdiger, oozing confidence, feels like a new signing (pardon the cliché) and could very well fulfil that potential under his countryman.

4. History beckons

Bielsa was the latest Premier League coach tasked with bringing Tuchel down to earth. The former Borussia Dortmund and Paris Saint-Germain tactician couldn’t have asked for a better start to life in England’s top-flight. Heading into this afternoon’s showdown he’d overseen nine league outings, claiming six wins and three draws, Chelsea under him registered 11 goals while only conceding on two separate occasions.

Given their unpredictable nature, many felt Leeds would push the Blues. Instead Edouard Mendy and his defence were never really under a serious period of sustained pressure. Two points dropped will sting, but Tuchel is now ten games unbeaten and on the cusp of equalling a record. Only Maurizio Sarri (12) and Frank Clark (11) have enjoyed longer runs without defeat to start their Premier League managerial careers.

5. Jury still out

A year ago the die was already cast, meaning Hakim Ziyech was Chelsea bound, thus ending an illustrious chapter with Ajax where he truly announced himself as a playmaker par excellence. It goes without saying there’s a gulf between the Eredivisie and Premier League when it comes to intensity and consequently we’ve seen players who have made this switch before really struggle. In the case of Ziyech, he’s not been afforded that consistent run; a hip injury sidelined him in December, making him miss five league games, but since returning he’s been in and out.

This afternoon, though, was a third start in four matches and looked to be a promising outing. Ziyech created three chances, which is more than any Chelsea player. His final season in Amsterdam saw Erik ten Hag field him on the right flank to devastating effect, but that wasn’t the case today as Ziyech took up a deep-lying forward role. Coming off in the 69th minute, there was a feeling of understandable frustration. But, if anything, in this fluid Tuchel system, there are promising signs and he shouldn’t be written off even if supporters and observers want instant gratification.