Leeds United’s Premier League safety fight took another hit as they were beaten 4-0 by Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday, with their defence having another game to forget.
Last season, Marcelo Bielsa’s side were excellent in finishing ninth in the Premier League, marking their return to the top flight with a bang. With someone like Bielsa at the helm, Leeds were expected to build on this and become Premier League regulars once again.
But rather than emulating the Wolves side of 2018/19 and 2019/20 when they finished seventh in consecutive seasons after promotion, Leeds look closer to Sheffield United of 2019/20 and 2020/21 when the Blades were relegated one year after a ninth-placed finish in the Premier League return.
Sure, things aren’t as drastic for Leeds as they were for Sheffield United last season, but these are worrying times for the Yorkshire side and there is no sign of them stopping the slide.
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In February alone, Leeds conceded 20 goals in the Premier League, the worst record in a single month by a club in the competition’s history which is some feat considering February is the shortest month of the year. When Son Heung-min made it 4-0 in the 86th minute, there will have been Bournemouth and Norwich fans celebrating too, as their names were etched out of the Premier League history books – though Newcastle of April 1986 remain for another month at least.
20 – Leeds United have conceded 20 goals in February alone in the Premier League, the most a side has ever shipped in a single month in the competition, and most in a month by a top-flight side overall since Newcastle in April 1986 (21). Dire. pic.twitter.com/7OkzzhZn9l
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 26, 2022
Perhaps more packed than usual Februarys, Leeds played five matches across the 26 days so far, earning just one point from a possible 15. And even that point came with a poor defensive display.
Despite coming from behind to draw against Aston Villa, Leeds still conceded three goals at Villa Park and they let in another three against Everton in their next month. Manchester United then hit them for four before Liverpool scored six and Tottenham added three.
All three of Tottenham’s goals came in the first half, the fourth time Leeds have gone into half time of a Premier League game three goals behind this season. Only Watford, in 2016/17, have gone three goals down at half time more frequently than Leeds in a single season, but Bielsa’s side are now just one off tying another unwanted record.
So what’s the problem at Leeds?
“It’s a possible interpretation [that teams have figured out how to beat Leeds],” Bielsa told BT Sport after the game.
“There are conclusions that the reality invites you to make. But there is also another way of looking at things.
“To put a more difficult team out to beat fundamentally you have to use certain players on the pitch that are more defensive. That is what we tried to do in the first half but it didn’t give us the results I was looking for.
“In the two ways we faced the game, with a more conservative profile in the first half and a more daring profile in the second – neither of the two ways gave a result.”
Rio Ferdinand was a bit more blunt with his assessment, saying: “The profile of player doesn’t matter, it’s the tactical elements of it and being able to adapt and be flexible.
“There’s one other element you’ve got to consider as well. Cooper, the captain, Phillips and Bamford, two integral members of this team – three of the best and most consistent players last season are out of this team. So that’s a huge chunk that’s gone out of this team and he hasn’t been able to bring anybody in that can fill those boots.
“But I still go back to the tactics and the way that they press too hard. Once you beat the press, Harry Kane did it every single time, once you beat that first bit of press of your man-to-man marking the floodgates open. The whole game opens up because everyone else is concerned with their own man. so the man that beats the press has free rein to run forward and it happened countless times today.”
If Leeds don’t stop the rot they could be on course for Premier League history. The current record for most goals conceded in a single 38-game Premier League campaign is 89, recorded by that Derby County side of 2007/08. At their current rate, Leeds are conceding on average 2.3 goals per game; if they were to continue that for the rest of the campaign they’re on course to concede 87 in total, just below Derby.
However, they have lost seven of their last 10 Premier League matches, conceding 35 times at a rate of 3.5 per game. If they were to continue that rate for the remaining 12 games, they would end campaign on 102 goals conceded. On course for relegation?