Raphinha took responsibility but Leeds United win over Crystal Palace was not based on individuality - Graham Smyth's Verdict - YEP 30/11/21


The Leeds United that Marcelo Bielsa has built is one founded on collective responsibility but from time to time someone needs to take it upon themselves to be the man.

By Graham Smyth

In the promotion season it was Luke Ayling in that crazy game at Birmingham City, refusing to lose, driving his team forward again and again to score and make goals.

Last season at Manchester City it was Stuart Dallas, putting tiredness and the host’s numerical advantage to the back of his mind to go on a do or die run and win the game for Leeds.

This season Raphinha has been that man. He’s had to be, with injuries ravaging Bielsa’s squad in an arduous, often joyless slog of a start to the campaign.

But against Crystal Palace, with all of Elland Road jittering on the very edge of their frayed nerves, he could have let someone else take the stoppage time penalty.

Rodrigo has scored from the spot this season, Tyler Roberts would have fancied it and Kalvin Phillips was willing to have one in the Euro 2020 final so would have stepped up.

Raphinha wanted it, though, accepting all the risks that came tagged on.

When the ball hit the net to give Leeds a 1-0 lead that they held to the final whistle, he basked in the wild outbreak of joy the entire club has been yearning.

He also handed his team-mates a just reward for a performance that was all about collective responsibility.

From the start it was evident they had it in mind to make their opposition uncomfortable at Elland Road, Mateusz Klich haring after the ball as Palace kicked off, his eagerness conceding a foul inside 10 seconds.

That set a tone, in a way Leeds failed to do at Brighton on Sunday.

There was an intensity to their play again, whether defending or attacking. It was there in a nice bit of early play from Tyler Roberts, turning the corner to take Leeds forward, passing into space the other side of Joel Ward to give Daniel James a chance to run and shoot.

It was there in Kalvin Phillips’ first half defending, smashing into Conor Gallagher to win a 50-50 tackle. It wasn’t the welcome Leeds wanted to give the Chelsea man but he opted for Palace instead of a move to Elland Road in the summer.

Regardless of the impact Phillips’ challenge left on Gallagher, he struggled to pull the strings to any real degree from that point onwards.

As the game approached the 10-minute mark Leeds were all over their visitors, pressing high up the pitch and winning a pair of corners before Dallas hammered a ball into the goalmouth, Roberts unable to connect.

Palace had a moment or two of their own in the opening quarter of an hour, mostly when space opened up through the middle or when they got the ball to Ayew, while Leeds carried a little more threat than they did at Brighton and went close again through Forshaw’s effort that curled just wide.

Control slipped from Leeds’ grasp and it became more even as the sides traded attacks. Jeffrey Schlupp turned to run away too easily from a clutch of Leeds players and shot just wide, before Phillips’ pressing forced an error in the final third and he too was off target.

Friend’s constant whistling then took over, both teams giving him justification with a series of niggly fouls, blocks, trips and barges. Dallas’ battle with Wilfried Zaha got a little heated and so too did the contest, Friend’s interventions escalating. He booked Ward for hauling down Daniel James, Gallagher for lunging in on Raphinha and Pascal Struijk for clipping Ayew’s heels.

The stop-start nature did no one any favours, neither side able to build a rhythm in between the whistles.

With Struijk struggling with a knock Bielsa sent on Junior Firpo at the break, replacing Klich with Rodrigo at the same time.

Both men were quickly into the action, the left-back giving the ball away and fouling Ayew in a desperate, clumsy attempt to get it back.

The yellow card that followed, two minutes after his introduction, did little to suggest he had recovered from Sunday’s horror show.

Rodrigo’s first major contribution was arguably even more disappointing. Raphinha got on the ball on the flank, checked to give himself an angle on his left foot and swept the ball perfectly across the pitch into the path of James who touched it in behind the last defender for Rodrigo. It needed any kind of contact with an open right boot but he met it with his left and sent it wide.

Leeds, though, had a fire in their belly and some momentum.

James was right into it, getting at Ward at every opportunity with the ball and getting in his face when Palace had it. A pair of big tackles lifted the crowd and won the ball back to create a shooting chance that Forshaw lifted over the bar.

He and Firpo began to link up, the left-back building his way back into the game impressively.

Palace though, equipped with such pace and skill, remained a threat when Leeds gave the ball away. Rodrigo was the most relieved man in Elland Road when he lost possession and the resulting counter ended with Christian Benteke heading a glorious chance wide.

The striker then got a touch on an Ayew pass into the area, knocking the ball past Meslier who managed to claw it back from the line with inches to spare. A Benteke run at the Leeds defence and a shot that seared wide threatened to put Vieira’s Eagles to full flight.

Leeds kept fighting – Dallas attempting a tackle with his head – and persisting. And then came the moment.

Marc Guehi met a corner with a raised arm, Friend signalled for another corner and the reaction of Leeds players in the vicinity made it very clear, very quickly, something was amiss. The referee’s finger went to his ear, he set off for his monitor and when he came back he was pointing to the spot. Raphinha stepped up, ran up, checked and tucked the ball into the net.

As Elland Road lost its collective mind Charlie Cresswell came on to help shore things up and when Phillips cleared a free-kick from the Leeds area, the final whistle went.

Leeds United are not flying, they’re not at their best but they’re still fighting.

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