An outstanding second-half display from Leeds United saw the Yorkshire club rise back into the top half of the table with a convincing victory over Ralph Hasenhüttl’s struggling Southampton side.
Neither team were in great form coming into the Tuesday night match but, whereas Leeds had lost their last two against Arsenal and Wolves respectively, Southampton hadn’t won in eight games. This was a period in which the Saints had conceded 21 goals and scored only five. The wheels had fallen off the Southampton bus after a brilliant 1-0 win against Liverpool and Leeds, who have been unpredictable this season, to say the least, could be the ideal opponents for a team trying to drag themselves back into the top ten.
It was going to be no easy task though, Leeds United’s performance against Wolverhampton Wanderers was deserving of a point at least and performances were on the up. It was never going to be simple though with these two teams. Both sides have been wrecked by injuries over the course of the season and neither were over the hill yet.
Leeds lost Jamie Shackleton to a knock, only days after the youngster had revealed himself as the most viable replacement for Kalvin Phillips, and so Marcelo Bielsa was forced to reshuffle again. In came Diego Llorente for only his second start for the club, his first had seen him leave the pitch after only ten minutes against Newcastle United and all eyes were focused on whether the Spaniard would stand up to the task.
Southampton didn’t pick up any extra injuries in the period following their recent draw against Chelsea, but with no clear right-back fit and Theo Walcott, Ibrahima Diallo, Kyle Walker-Peters and Michael Obafemi all missing, it wasn’t a full-strength team. It was competitive though. Ralph Hasenhuttl dropped Takumi Minamino and Danny Ings for Stuart Armstrong and Che Adams, with the Austrian prioritising off-the-ball effort for the start of the match.
As the game kicked off, it became clear that Leeds United lined up with three central defenders to combat Southampton’s two strikers. Jack Harrison was on the right-wing and was tasked with tracking the runs of the offensive Ryan Bertrand and it seemed initially to work.
Three minutes into the game, some nice link-up play around the edge of the area presented Patrick Bamford with the opportunity to set Leeds United off to a flyer. With Tyler Roberts making a brilliant run just to his right, Bamford held the ball just a moment too long and then knocked the ball ahead of Roberts and out for a goal kick.
Anyone of a Leeds persuasion hoping that this would be the story of the first half was bitterly disappointed though as soon as Southampton won their first set-piece in the attacking half. James Ward-Prowse has a delivery like no other player in the Premier League and this one was just as quality-laden as one would expect. Jannick Vestergaard was the one that Leeds needed to keep quiet, yet he found himself with the freedom of eighteen-yard box as the big Dane went to meet the ball. It was a surprise to see the header go wide and was maybe a reprieve for the home team after only five minutes.
The Elland Road pitch has been a topic of much contention this season, the initial pitch falling to pieces as Christmas came around and the £300,000 temporary pitch has not been much better. Since the first game played on it, the problems have been clear. It is essentially an ice rink and yesterday was no different.
The eighth minute saw Luke Ayling, Diego Llorente and Liam Cooper all end up on their backsides as they struggled to contend with both the slippiness of the pitch and the skill to the intriguing Nathan Tella when the youngster made his way to the edge of the area and launched a shot towards goal. It had to be saved by Illan Meslier but was another warning sign for the home team that Southampton, despite their poor form, still carried a threat.
It is never easy with Leeds United though and, despite a cagey first period, Marcelo Bielsa’s side started to display their dominance as the match went on. Raphinha laid off Tyler Roberts inside the area but the Welshman’s shot was well over. Roberts has been on a redemption journey since his cameo against Arsenal last week and wasn’t willing to let his miss hold him back though. He launched an all-out attack on the Southampton midfield and defence. Taking responsibility for driving Leeds forward as Raphinha and Jack Harrison struggled to get into the game on the wrong wings. Vestergaard fouled him, Tella fouled him and his ability with the ball at his feet grew and grew.
One such foul won Leeds a free-kick in a position that was eerily reminiscent of those set-pieces against Wolves that weren’t converted by Liam Cooper. Raphinha whipped the ball in, Llorente headered it across and there was Liam Cooper to put the ball over.
Jack Harrison, back on the left-wing, was then played in behind the Southampton defence when a brilliant tackle from Bednarek forced him to stop in his tracks. Just as the winger was about to turn and play the ball into the box himself, we saw the biggest slip of the match and the attack was done.
Nathan Tella worked his way into the Leeds area with some lovely trickery and promptly through himself to the ground, kicking his foot out at Diego Llorente to guarantee contact as he went. It was a dive and, though there was a tetchy few minutes whilst Andre Marriner examined the incident on the pitchside monitor, the right decision was reached.
Leeds then had an excellent chance when Raphinha was given the freedom of the Southampton half following a counter from a Ward-Prowse free-kick. The Brazilian had not been himself in the opening period, struggling to keep up with Ryan Bertrand defensively and not having his usual attacking influence, this felt like an opportunity to get back to himself. He took it inside, took one touch, then another, then another and suddenly there was Oriol Romeu, making the tackle of the season to keep the scores level.
The half went on and chances came and went for both sides, but there was one moment that made the Sky commentators and pundits very confused, despite it’s simple nature. Southampton had been given a free-kick in the centre of the pitch. The referee had told Ward-Prowse to wait for the whistle, he didn’t. Pass, whistle, whistle, shot, pandemonium. As Ward-Prowse took the free-kick, Leeds were waiting for the whistle, the ball moved and Marriner whistled to stop play. Che Adams put the ball in the back of the net and the Southampton player were incredibly angry, but again, Marriner had made the right decision.
At the break, it was still 0-0 and a wonderfully even game. Marcelo Bielsa decided that more pace was needed to expose Ryan Bertrands attacking preferences, so hooked Jack Harrison for Helder Costa to battle against the Southampton full-back.
The two teams didn’t take long to get back into the high-tempo flow of the game. Che Adams battled with Pascal Struijk and managed to pull the ball back to the arriving Nathan Redmond who shot right at Meslier. Leeds held onto the ball and made the all-important breakthrough.
Diego Llorente found Tyler Roberts in midfield. He took a touch, turned and played in Patrick Bamford. A quick stepover and a perfectly placed shot got the striker on the scoreboard for the first time in three games to put him level on goal with Harry Kane.
Stuart Armstrong had been one of Southampton’s better players in the first half and the Scot tried to get his team back in it immediately with a low shot to the near corner that drew a great save from Illan Meslier, but from then on, Leeds were on top.
Tyler Roberts ran on to a cutback from Raphinha and did well from a tough chance to cut across the ball and direct it towards the far post, which it just glanced past. Stuart Dallas went on a long run from deep and did well to find Patrick Bamford in the area. The striker shot straight at McCarthy though. Diego Llorente then brought the ball forward. The defender made his way into the box and got on the end of a Raphinha cross, drawing a brilliant save from McCarthy for his trouble.
The visiting team were well on the back foot now and even the substitutions of Danny Ings and Takumi Minamino did little to drive them forward. Vestergaard had a header cleared off the line by Bamford, but that was the only time that the Leeds goal was threatened.
Leeds’ challenge now came from building on their lead, which they did through Stuart Dallas. Pablo Hernandez, subbed on the excellent Tyler Roberts, passed the ball to the Northern Irishman after another Saints attack had been thwarted and off he went. A quick one-two with Helder Costa saw Dallas with room on the edge of the area and he, with Quaresma-esque technique, trivela’d the ball into the back of the net.
The scoreline was increased once again through an excellent free-kick courtesy of Raphinha and that was the game.
A brilliant win for Leeds United as the Yorkshire club jump back into the top half of the table. There will be fears for Mateusz Klich, who left the field injured following another knock to his hip and potentially leaving Leeds short in midfield ahead of next week’s Aston Villa game, but they won’t want to cross that bridge until it is necessary. For now, simply bask in the job that Marcelo Bielsa has done in his first Premier League season.