An efficient Leeds United brushed past a lacklustre Crystal Palace side on Monday night as goals from Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford pushed the home side into the top half of the Premier League table.
Leeds United and Crystal Palace found themselves on equal points heading into this mid-table clash on Monday night, with the form of the two sides reflecting their positions in the table. Leeds were recovering from a midweek loss to Everton, after having beaten a title-challenging Leicester City just over a week ago whilst Palace had beaten both Wolves and Newcastle recently, having lost heavily to Manchester City only a fortnight earlier.
Marcelo Bielsa, despite the midweek loss, opted against making any changes to his starting 11. Pascal Struijk continued his partnership with Liam Cooper in the centre of defence whilst Mateusz Klich was looking to rediscover his early season form after a dip in his performances recently. Pablo Hernandez did drop from the bench though, seemingly trough injury, with Joe Gelhardt making his maiden appearance on the Leeds United bench. Roy Hodgson did make changes to the team that beat Newcastle. Wilfred Zaha was unavailable through injury and was replaced by Jean Phillip Mateta, the club’s new signing from Mainz. Tyrick Mitchell also stepped in for Michy Batshuayi, with Patrick Van Aanholt moving onto the left-wing.
Leeds United have made a habit of scoring early this season, with the Yorkshire side finding themselves amongst the best teams in the league for goals scored in the first 15 minutes of games. Their record was improved in the third minute with the first chance of the game. Leeds worked the ball in from the right-wing to the feet of Jack Harrison. The on-loan winger took the shot on his weaker-foot and a big deflection from Gary Cahill was enough for the ball to fly into the back of the Crystal Palace net.
Any individual who has been lucky enough to watch this scintillating Leeds side will know that they are not a team who will sit back and protect one goal advantages. This was the case here as the home side piled the pressure on a quivering Palace defence. Patrick Bamford drew a good save out of Vincente Guaita with a nice header at the near-post and the striker met good ball into the box with his head, only to watch it fly well-wide.
Leeds United were on the front foot and their opposition could not deal with the high-tempo nature of the game. This was exemplified most when Patrick Bamford, who is in mightily impressive form at the moment, intercepted a loose pass towards Luka Milivojevic and tapped it past the Serb gracefully. The striker made it all the way into the area but miscued his shot and saw the ball balloon up into the stand.
It was another warning sign for the visiting team and one that they failed to heed. After Jordan Ayew had a shot from distance saved easily by Illan Meslier, the game returned to its one-sided nature. Raphinha, who seems to only be growing in influence as the season progresses, produced a genuinely terrific, Berbatov-esque bit of skill to get past Gary Cahill and win a free-kick. The Brazilian took it himself but his cross was just inches too high for the arriving Pascal Struijk and the centre-backs header sailed high and wide.
The young defender is currently being touted for a senior Belgium cap in the next set of internationals but it is safe to assume that, on today’s evidence, it isn’t for his offensive threat. Mere minutes after missing the aforementioned chance, Struijk found himself completely free on the edge of the six-yard box with a Kalvin Phillps cross heading towards him, yet completely misjudged the flight of the ball and ended up putting the ball well wide.
At half-time, it was 1-0 to Leeds United, though there was a general feeling that Bielsa’s side could not afford to keep wasting chances. Roy Hodgson had realised that he needed his team to pose more of a threat, so replaced Patrick Van Aanholt with Andros Townsend at the break.
This change did seem to work early on in the second period. Palace found themselves on a rare adventure past the halfway line when Jordan Ayew was found all alone on the edge of the Leeds area. Out of nowhere, Liam Cooper arrived to make a vital block and send his team forward again.
And forward they came. Mateusz Klich, who is edging back to the player we saw a month ago, picked up the ball in midfield and played Raphinha in behind the Scott Dann. The winger struck his shot hard towards goal but Guaita was equal to it, palming the ball away. It fell directly to the feet of Patrick Bamford, who turned home calmly for his 100th career goal.
Crystal Palace tried to retaliate. Ebere Eze had a shot from distance which was blocked behind for a corner, Andros Townsend forced a save from Illan Meslier with his 18-yard drive and Michy Batshuayi, who came on for Mateta in the second period, created a great chance for Eze which was put over the crossbar. The London side simply could not penetrate the home defence.
Leeds carved out a few more chances for themselves. Patrick Bamford directed a Luke Ayling cross towards goal, which Guaita saved easily. Struijk had another opportunity from a corner that seemed to be heading in before it bounced off Gary Cahill’s leg and Stuart Dallas forced a great save from the opposition ‘keeper with a low drive from the edge of the box. Finally, Jack Harrison had a chance to tie the game up in a ribbon when he was played into the box in the 84th minute, only for his outside-of-the-foot shot to hit the crossbar.
See Leeds United’s player ratings from the game here
That was the game. As neat a performance as Leeds have produced this season. There was minimal fuss, few chances for the opposing team and a comfortable lead for Bielsa’s side from the third minute. A big game against 11th placed Arsenal is up next for Leeds, who will only be buoyed by such a proficient performance.