Chelsea versus Leeds is a rivalry that likely predates most of us, rooted in the famous and bloody battles of the ‘60s, ‘70s, and early ‘80s (and especially the 1970 FA Cup final). But if Saturday’s match is any indication, it’s been resurrected to a large degree following Leeds’ return to the Premier League last season, with the “spygate” spat between Marcelo Bielsa and Frank Lampard in the Championship prior to that serving as an appetizer of sorts as well.
As far as the game itself, in light of recent results, Chelsea were aiming for both a solid display defensively and three points to keep pace with the top of the league.
We got one of the two — the more important of the two!
Bielsa’s published lineup was a 4-2-3-1, a slight departure from his more commonly employed 4-1-4-1, owing largely to the absence of usual lone defensive midfielder Kalvin Phillips through injury — though in practice it was much closer to a lopsided 3-4-3 in possession with Harrison staying wide left but Raphinha roaming free from the right.
As usual however, Leeds employed a strict man-to-man marking system, which in part resulted in our central defenders completing over 100 forward carries on the day.
Chelsea came out in our typical 3-4-3, but our wingbacks did a few atypical things.
On the left, Marcos Alonso only occasionally roamed infield as he normally would, and instead mostly stayed wide and outside of the forward on that side (Timo Werner). This was perhaps intended to utilize his left-footed crosses — and though he was credited with only two, one of those did result in a goal: a low cutback on the counter-press finding Mason Mount in the area to tuck a clever finish inside the near post and equalize in the first half.
Chelsea did it again, easily this time. The Goal started from mistake by Stuart Dallas, the pressure from Marcos Alonso was performed Perfectly. The Cross was World-Class also, and Mason Mount just put it in the net effortlessly. pic.twitter.com/HCSp0AvLJB— Elad Bahar (@MTA0507) December 11, 2021
Meanwhile on the other side, Reece James was at the other end of that role-spectrum as well. After playing as an emergency midfielder against Zenit midweek, in this game, he played a completely hybrid role, at times staying wide for deliveries into the box, and at times fully joining the midfield pairing of Jorginho and Ruben Loftus-Cheek.
However, even with the reinforcement that James would provide, both with his passing ability and defensive nous, the game was frequently quite open with big gaps in various areas and especially midfield.
It frequently also featured harsh challenges that would not have looked out of place in the aforementioned FA Cup final and replay. There were ten fouls called and two yellow cards handed out in the first half alone.
While it was often a frantic game, Chelsea were in the ascendency early on, and it looked like this might be an easier match than it ended up being. That changed after the opening quarter of an hour, with Leeds showing some great progressive passing and movement, leading to a couple corners and some shaky defending from us.
But it took the gift of an entirely unnecessary challenge from Marcos Alonso on Dan James in the penalty area to open the scoring.
Chelsea were not only set defensively, James had been taken wide due to his own poor touch and dribble. Had Alonso simply stayed on his feet and not allowed James to turn, this play never becomes a problem. Instead, James is brought down and, once again, we concede a penalty goal.
4/10 - 40% of the Premier League goals Chelsea have conceded this season have come from the penalty spot, the highest such ratio in the division. Self-inflicted.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 11, 2021
The game remained very open and Chelsea were afforded plenty of gaps to exploit as well — especially with Leeds tracking runners man-to-man.
Here’s just one such example, right after Mount’s equalizer, with Reece James and Jorginho in midfield and the latter playing in Kai Havertz — only to be denied by a good stop from Illan Meslier.
The second half continued with regular fouling, no less than four in the first ten minutes, one of which led to a Chelsea penalty.
There was an uncalled foul on Jorginho in the build-up to that goal as well, though the one that mattered (and was called) was the one on Rüdiger inside the penalty area — Raphinha going to ground with a silly challenge in a wide area after a deflected shot from Havertz fell to Alonso, who chipped it through to Rüdiger at the end of one of his countless forward runs.
Jorginho put the penalty on a postage stamp in the top corner to take the lead for the first, but not the last time in the game.
It was Leeds’ turn to take advantage of stretched midfield play. In the 64th minute, it took them ten seconds and six passes to carve through Chelsea and go the length of the pitch — Mendy coming up big to deflect the shot and Alonso completing the clearance in the goalmouth.
While the play ended being called offside (correctly), it was a clear warning of the gigantic amounts of space being granted in the middle of the park. We really need to get our regular, starting midfielders back.
And unfortunately that warning went unheeded, with Leeds again playing through midfield far too easily — and taking advantage of a rare error from Thiago Silva as well — to score what looked like another dagger in the heart of our title-challenge late on.
(Substitute) Hudson-Odoi loses the ball in midfield and does not get the expected friendly call from the referee, with Leeds quickly creating an overload on our right side from the turnover. Thiago Silva drops too deep in cover and plays Tyler Roberts onside as Leeds play through (substitute) Christensen and Rüdiger, while Alonso’s unsurprisingly unable to keep up with the fresh legs of 19-year-old (substitute) Joe Gelhardt, who also gets a run on Silva to finish off Roberts’ excellent cross.
And yet, another foolish decision from another substitute would gift us the win. Rüdiger will never stop making his trademark runs forward, and after doing so in added-on time and positioning himself on the edge of their box, albeit in a rather unthreatening position, he gets clipped by a terrible clearing attempt from substitute Mateusz Klich.
Once again, Jorginho disposes of the penalty, this time slotting low and to the right, and Chelsea salvage the full three points the at latest hour in over a decade.
90+ - Jorginho’s winner (93:11) was Chelsea’s latest winning goal in a Premier League game since Florent Malouda’s strike against Stoke in September 2009 (93:36). Gasp.— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 11, 2021
Once again, we have both overperformed on our xG and our opponent has underperformed on theirs. This was a trend in the beginning of the season, but our opponent’s xG was typically under 1.00. They have been alarmingly high in our last three matches.
This game had its fair share of defensive frailties, but by far the most concerning issue remains the midfield. Even with Jorginho back and bagging the brace, the need to shore that up is only more and more apparent.