brentford 2-0 leeds united: confidence, manBack
Leeds United played pretty well for the first half hour at Brentford, in a way they didn’t at Reading.
There were five changes from that team, one enforced, as Liam Cooper was beginning an umpteen match suspension for some idiotic clumsiness involving Reece Oxford’s head; whether Pontus Jansson was back in the team by strict enforcement isn’t known. The wingers changed, Mo Barrow and Stuart Dallas spinning lucky this time, and Luke Ayling came back, Charlie Taylor dropping out because Gaetano Berardi plays where he wants. Kalvin Phillips replaced Ronaldo Vieira in midfield. There was a lot to take in.
It looked okay. Leeds were attacking, and passing the ball, and Dallas and Berardi had things going on down the left; Pablo Hernandez saw what was going down and came over to join them. Barrow had at least one hare-paced break into the penalty area. But the problem always seemed to be the same: there was only one Chris Wood in the penalty area, and Leeds couldn’t get the ball to him.
The other problem was that Brentford were playing much, much better, and scored twice. The uncomfortable truth about Leeds looking good going forward was that Brentford were allowing it. Reading try to shut everything down in a game, starting with themselves, trying to nullify the opposition; it worked at the weekend. Brentford try to play football, though, and their football was letting Leeds play theirs. Brentford, though, were doing better at it.
Leeds were doing the attacking but Brentford were getting the chances, from as early as the second minute. It wasn’t particularly about counter attacking, more that Brentford could attack dangerously whenever they felt like it, and do whatever they wanted. I’ve been critical of Liam Bridcutt in recent weeks for haunting his central defenders when he could be upfield, but now he and Phillips ghosted out of the picture, letting Brentford pass with pace, purpose and other P words around the edge of the box. Pontus and Kyle could only do so much.
Leeds weren’t particularly bad by our standards, but this was a harsh reminder that our standard has often involved winning games from set-pieces, amid sustained spells of difficulty going forward. Brentford, by contrast, had no such problems, and their attacks were filled with ideas and possibilities.
For the first goal Jota sauntered through midfield, drew most of Leeds’ defence towards him, and passed wide to Canos. Robert Green did a good job of parrying his shot, but when it bounced to Sawyers the only player who might have got near him — Phillips — was far away, jogging and watching, watching and jogging, on his heels. Sawyers hammered the ball into the bottom corner.
For the second goal, Josh Clarke took a long pass on the right wing, looked up, and passed the ball in a straight line, square across United’s penalty area. It went past four Leeds players to Canos, who beat Bartley easily and shot. Again, Green saved well, but Leeds had run out of defenders to challenge Vibe, and he scored from the rebound.
After the second, what confidence there had been disappeared. Leeds had been passing well, building patient attacks; the struggle had been stopping Brentford. Now Bridcutt and Monk were having words on the sideline, Berardi was losing out in the tackle, attacks were ending at the halfway line, and Brentford could have gone in at half-time leading by four. This was another game where we had a lot to thank Robert Green for.
Leeds managed to make more chances, and hold onto more possession, in the second half, a lot of which was thanks to the introduction of Kemar Roofe; Alfonso Pedraza also offered more, although comparing his contribution to Barrow’s would be faint praise. Roofe had the best chance, a low shot from close range, and drew the best save from Bentley.
There were other opportunities but, again, there was always a question about whether Brentford were letting Leeds have the play, secure behind their 2-0 lead, knowing that Leeds rarely have three goals in them. One Leeds attack was quickly turned into Leeds defending; a throw from the goalkeeper turned the game around, and Brentford were straight away into United’s penalty area, where they had at least three shots before the ball was finally cleared.
That fragility was unusual; normally Jansson or Berardi would have at least cleared one of their players out, leaving the ball to Bartley. Perhaps it was all just too late. As the game wore on, United’s players looked like they knew they didn’t really have three goals in them. They weren’t going through the motions, but they weren’t playing like a side that thought it was coming back. Brentford finished strongest in a game they’d won by half-time.
That was perhaps the most concerning aspect. Tactical questions can be answered. Hernandez or Roofe? Barrow or someone good? Bridcutt’s positioning? Wood’s isolation? That’s all stuff Monk, Clotet and Beattie can make decisions about and work on changing. And, yeah, if you could, lads. But if confidence has gone, six games from the end, that’s harder to repair.
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