Leeds United weakness exposed in defeat to Brighton
For all the praise rightly coming Leeds United's way in recent weeks they still have a way to go to be genuine top six contenders, as their performance in defeat at Brighton showed.
Yes, they have never won at the Amex Stadium, yes they were crucially without key midfielder Kalvin Phillips and three more first team regulars, but they have saved their worst two Premier League performances of 2021 for their two games against Brighton who have been battling to avoid relegation most of the campaign.
Brighton clearly deserve credit for the way they have stopped the Whites playing in both their encounters this season with Marcelo Bielsa's men failing to score in the matches and, worse still, never really looking like finding the back of the net.
However, the return match just as clearly showed just how much this Leeds team miss Phillips when he does not play.
Their poor record without him proves that and it was German defender Robin Koch who got the short straw to try and replace the England midfielder on this occasion until a late change around saw him finish the game in his more accustomed centre-back position.
Koch tried hard and came up with a few timely interceptions when playing just in front of the back row, but still looked like a fish out of water at times and United's fluency suffered as a result.
The match also highlighted that the Leeds squad will need strengthening this summer if they are to kick on after this promising first campaign back with the big boys.
Wingers Raphinha and Helder Costa also both missed the match with injuries and the Whites badly missed some creativity as they had plenty of possession without doing anywhere near enough with it.
It is clear that a couple of attacking players will have to be brought in and a left-back as Stuart Dallas had to be employed there in the second half at the Amex with the result that the team missed his work rate and ability going forward in midfield, where he has been outstanding in recent weeks.
Head coach Bielsa agreed Leeds had been weak in attack.
He said: "Fundamentally, it was due to a certain sector of the pitch where we couldn't prevent their three centre backs from playing the ball out cleanly, nor could we overcome them.
"Our game in attack was very weak.
"I always think when we don't attack well, or defend well, it's a collective problem.
"The passing from back to front wasn't clean, nor could we win the ball back in their half, they were very organised.
"Their three centre backs protected the wide areas, they protected the backs of their two defensive midfielders and they always managed to bring the ball back out when the goalkeeper didn't go long."
For Leeds it was a first Premier defeat in six games and they paid for a sluggish start.
Only a good save from keeper Illan Meslier prevented Brighton from opening the scoring through Leandro Trossard in the first five minutes.
Trossard's shot from the edge of the box brought another save from Meslier and the visitors could have no complaints that they went a goal down on 14 minutes.
They could complain about the manner of the goal, though, with Brighton given a dubious free-kick for a non-existent foul by Jack Harrison then a soft penalty.
After the ball was delivered into the box Ezgjan Alioski found himself on the floor and he made contact with Danny Welbeck with his arm. The home player went down easily and referee Chris Kavanagh without hesitation pointed to the spot.
Meslier came close to saving Pascal Gross's penalty, but his shot was hit too powerfully and the hosts had crucially been handed the opening goal.
To United's credit, they did improve from this point, but their domination did not bring much in the way of clear chances.
Diego Llorente shot over from just inside his own half after spotting Brighton keeper Robert Sanchez off his line. Harrison's cross almost resulted in a Dan Burn own goal then Harrison's volley from the edge of the area went inches wide.
Eight first half corners did not bring any reward and it was Brighton who went closest to a goal late in the half as Trossard shot wide of a gaping goal after Welbeck took the ball off Llorente in the area and set up his teammate.
Welbeck fired just wide from an angle after the United defence was caught out again.
Despite a half-time substitution with Ian Poveda on for Alioski there was little improvement from Bielsa's men and it was their opponents looking more dangerous with their breaks, Joel Veltman shooting over and Ben White heading over.
Neal Maupay should have done better with a clear opportunity before United finally fashioned a chance when Dallas got forward from left-back to hit a volley just over.
Brighton finally secured the points 10 minutes from time as Pascal Struijk tried to be too clever to clear a ball into the box and presented it to Welbeck, who produced a smart turn then fired a shot past Meslier into the bottom corner of the net.
(Gross 14, pen, Welbeck 80)
Leeds United 0
Brighton: Sanchez; Veltman, White, Webster, Dunk, Burn; Gross, Bissouma (MacAlister 90); Trossard (Jahanbakhsh 81); Welbeck (Moder 90), Maupay.
Leeds: Meslier; Ayling, Llorente (Hernandez 79), Struijk, Alioski (Poveda 45); Koch; Dallas, Klich, Roberts, Harrison; Bamford (Rodrigo 59).
Referee: Chris Kavanagh