Leeds United fell to a third consecutive defeat for the first time this season at the hands of a stoic Brighton team, who ran out 1-0 winners courtesy of a brilliantly created Neal Maupay goal.
Neither team came into this game with much form. Leeds had lost each of their three games in 2021, including an embarrassing 3-0 loss to Crawley in the FA Cup last week.Brighton, meanwhile, had not won in twelve Premier League games.
Both sides made changes from their most recent Premier League fixture: Marcelo Bielsa found a place for the returning Liam Cooper as Pascal Struijk moved into midfield to replace the suspended Kalvin Phillips. Illan Meslier was also unavailable, this time due to illness and so Kiko Casilla made his maiden Premier League appearance.
Brighton made a number of changes from the side that lost at Manchester City. Solly March replaced Bernardo, whilst Percy Tau and Davy Propper also dropped to the bench, with their places taken by Neal Maupay and Pascal Groß.
The game was tense to start, a number of passes were misplaced and neither team seemed willing to play aggressively, perhaps due to the awful conditions of the Elland Road pitch.
Leeds had the first half-chance of the game. Some nice link-up down the left saw Alioski given the chance to put a cross in and the Macedonian smashed the ball across the front of Robert Sanchez’ goal. Rodrigo was inches away from converting a golden opportunity, but the Spaniard didn’t quite have the reach.
Brighton then took the initiative and, minutes after a weak penalty call from Neal Maupay was ignored by the referee, the Frenchman managed to finish off a brilliant team move to put the south-coast side ahead.
Chances in the rest of the first period were limited. Patrick Bamford took an air-shot from a Raphinha cross, but Leeds’ top scorer was offside anyway. Brighton nearly doubled their lead when a powerful Leandro Trossard cross deflected off Luke Ayling and onto the Leeds crossbar and Ben White, former loanee in Yorkshire, went on a long run down the centre of the pitch only to have his attempt blocked by Ayling.
At half-time, the score was 0-1 to Brighton with clear chances being very limited. Leeds had grown into the game by the end of the first period, but had not been able to test Robert Sanchez in the Brighton goal.
The second half started in much the same way. Brighton had a tiny bit of sustained pressure that required some solid defending from captain Liam Cooper to pressure Neal Maupay into dragging a shot wide from the edge of the area.
Leeds then got the closest they had been to equalising. Good play from Raphinha gave Bamford a chance inside the area, but the ball was tackled into the feet of the energetic Jack Harrison who’s curled effort was barely wide of the mark.
Brighton had a few opportunities as the second half progressed. First Ezgjan Alioski lost the ball in his own half, allowing Neal Maupay to set up Leandro Trossard for a first-time shot that went high and wide of the mark. Adam Webster then made a run from deep which ended in a simple save for Kiko Casilla.
These two events were the bookends to a long spell of Leeds United pressure which saw them mount attack after attack on the Brighton box without ever testing the Brighton ‘keeper. Tyler Roberts, Ian Poveda and Pablo Hernandez were flung into the breach and each of them added a new threat, but only the first of the three was able to contribute meaningfully with a shot on target from a narrow angle.
A Hernandez cross was inches away from the hard-working but ineffectual Patrick Bamford as the game neared it’s conclusion and no more chances were created by Marcelo Bielsa’s men. The game ended 0-1 and that was that. An awful start to 2021 for Leeds United but they have a week and a half before their visit to Newcastle, where they will hope to arrest the poor form that has plagued them in recent times.
Kiko Casilla: 6
Solid enough, made a good save from Webster at the end of the game and his interventions from crosses and corners were fine. Much better turnout than his recent appearances.
Stuart Dallas: 6
Tried hard but had limited impact on the actual game. Tried to push on as the game progressed but never seemed to be at his best.
Luke Ayling: 6
Not quite at the level of his recent games at centre-back but was fine. Shifted out to right-back for the last period and it was great to see his typical runs from deep again. Lost Maupay for the goal though, which was poor.
Liam Cooper: 7
As good as Struijk has been in the last run of games, it was brilliant to see Coops back in the starting XI. Made some vital interventions throughout the game and had some heroic moments. Passing was good too. Our best defender on the day.
Ezgjan Alioski: 5
Not his best game. Should have had an assist in the fifth minute, but nobody got on the end of his cross. Lost the ball a few times in our half and lost his man for their goal too. Attacking intent was always there though.
Pascal Struijk: 5
Never as confident in midfield as he is in defence. Was fine for large portions of the game but was run ragged at points by Alexis MacAllister and Leandro Trossard. The passing that we see with Kalvin Phillips wasn’t there and we lacked attacking impetus for that reason.
Maybe the most disappointing game of his Leeds career. Some bright moments early on suggested that he would continue on the vein of form he had hit in December, that waned though and we never really saw the best of him.
Mateusz Klich: 6
Seemed like he benefited from the rest. Played fine without being exceptional, made some chances but nothing clear-cut.
Tried hard to create but nothing really came off for him. Something not quite clicking at Leeds so far.
Jack Harrison: 7
Leeds’ best player, particularly in the first half. Was a real outlet and was playing as a weird right-back hybrid. Good graft, dangerous crosses and solid all-round.
Patrick Bamford: 5
Barely any touches for him. Similar to Rodrigo on the day, tried hard, pressured well but no attacking impact at all. Shame.
Tyler Roberts: 7
Injected a real energy and drive when he came in. Was desperate to create or maybe score and really put the effort in. A huge improvement on his recent involvements.
Pablo Hernandez: 6
Similar to the Crawley game. Tried a lot of passes that could have been unbelievable but none of them found their mark. Good effort and nice ideas, just lacking the final pass at times.
Ian Poveda: 6
Tried,just like his fellow substitutes. Defensively was fine when called upon and was a nightmare to tackle, but last ball was always slightly missing.