Leeds – Crystal Palace: Marcelo Bielsa and Co., cruised to a comfortable 2-0 victory over the Eagles at Elland Road on Monday, moving back into the top-half of the Premier League table as a result.
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Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford scored a goal apiece, early in either half, and Leeds encountered very little resistance from a downtrodden (and injury-riddled) Crystal Palace side.
3 things we learned: Leeds – Crystal Palace
1. On the front foot, Leeds can be devastating: Leeds extended their run of draw-less games to 13 on Monday (7 wins by a combined margin of 19-4, with six defeats by a combined margin of 17-4), and they never looked troubled after taking an early lead inside the opening three minutes. So much of Leeds’ struggles this season have revolved around their inability — or, perhaps a lack of desire — to play a slower, more methodical possession game against sides that are simply better than them. Bielsa’s team will always pull itself out of shape if you are patient enough for them to do so, at which point it’s up to you to finish a few counter-attacking chances. But, when they get a lead and opponents are forced to engage Leeds in a similar manner, they can be ruthless and exhausting to play against, because they’re just better and more accustomed to playing that way. Crystal Palace found that out the hard way on Monday.
2. Having an identity matters: Leeds know exactly who they are and how they want to play, and that fact has carried them through some very dark times this season, always to enjoy brighter days on the other side. Results in recent weeks have been a nightmare roller coaster ride (win, two losses, win, loss, two wins, two losses, two wins, loss, win), but the struggles always feel like they’ll be short-lived, and so they are.
3. Palace poor without Zaha: Going a goal down early didn’t help Roy Hodgson’s side, no doubt about it, but the Eagles are a truly wayward bunch without Wilfried Zaha spearheading the attack. If you don’t have a few crafty on-ball technicians in your team (Crystal Palace have just one, Eberechi Eze), your only hope for scoring chances is an elite ball progressor and shot creator — that’s Zaha. With neither of those components on Monday, Palace were just… out there, on the field, existing without purpose.
Leeds needed fewer than 180 seconds to open the scoring, and it was Harrison who got things going early on. The former New York City FC winger received the ball just outside Crystal Palace’s penalty area and unleashed a right-footed strike, which took an immediate (albeit slight) deflection that appeared to unsettle goalkeeper Vicente Guaita as the ball quickly rose and dipped as it sailed past his hopeless hands.
Patrick Bamford so nearly made it 2-0 in the 10th minute, when Ezgjan Alioski connected with the striker as he made a clever near-post run. Bamford’s header was on target and looked like it might sneak past Guaita and into the bottom-right corner of his goal, but the Spaniard pounced quickly to push it wide.
12 minutes later, Bamford made a terrible mess of a breakaway chance. After winning the ball back himself in the center circle, Bamford touched the ball around the defender and raced into the open field with Guaita’s goal again in his sights. As he crossed into the 18-yard box, Bamford went for a gratuitous left-footed lob that ended up sailing a good six feet over the crossbar.
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Alas, Bamford got his goal — no. 12 in the Premier League this season and no. 100 in his professional career — in the 52nd minute, as Leeds continued to harry the under-siege backline of Crystal Palace. Raphinha forced Guaita into a tough save with Leeds’ initial shot on target, and the ball fell into the path of Bamford with no one rotating back to sweep up the other half of the penalty area, allowing for a simple tap-in and a 2-0 scoreline.
Harrison went inches from making it 3-0 in the 84th minute, as he won the ball back in full-sprint toward Palace’s goal and unleashed an audacious left-footed strike from the edge of the box, only to see it smash the crossbar and carom high into the Yorkshire sky.