Leeds United have lost their shield and need to regain discipline as 49ers watch this climax closely
No fingers were being pointed in the post-match press conference by Jesse Marsch, but the spotlight is firmly on discipline within his Leeds United squad. The team is evidently in a highly pressured situation currently, with emotions running high, but they have to remain in control.
Daniel James must have seen the recriminations, heartache and pained fallout generated by Luke Ayling’s thundering, unnecessary tackle on Sunday. The Wales international and the whole team had the perfect, fresh reminder of what the team could not afford to do during this run-in.
Just three days later, with the squad already decimated by injury and suspension, a goal down, the 24-year-old smashes into Mateo Kovacic with a challenge that ends with his studs above the Croatian’s ankle. Entirely avoidable.
Did Marsch do enough to remind the players of their responsibilities after Ayling’s red? Did the Elland Road hierarchy? There is only so much management can do to stop one player’s thoughtless actions, but two needless dismissals in three days is a worrying trend.
It is easy to see why Marsch has not thrown James under the bus after the tackle. He has two matches to keep the club in the division and if he starts shelling the players in the media he could find any remaining morale draining away quickly.
However, he cannot afford to be seen to allow or condone these challenges. The players, at least privately, have to know this is not acceptable and not going to keep Leeds in the Premier League.
It was odd to hear Marsch say, twice, he had not seen the challenge back on replay when he faced the press after the game. Sky Sports had earlier shown a replay of him watching the challenge on a tablet and appealing to the officials James had won the ball.
It is of little consolation to anyone involved, but Leeds did not look threatening with 11 men on the field, as it was. The biggest impact now is on the remaining experience available to Marsch across the next 10 days.
Jack Harrison’s knock added insult to injury while Raphinha was hopefully just cramping as he came off in the second half. If Patrick Bamford has any miracles in the soles of those eco-friendly shoes, now’s the time to pull them out.
Dispensing with the top-four shield
Any questions or concerns about the performances on the field across the last three matches have been swatted away with the fact these were top-four clubs who scored early and played against 10 men. That’s not going to cut it on Sunday.
Brighton & Hove Albion, with one loss in six plus wins over Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester United, are ninth in the table with no relegation or European jeopardy to play through. They should be on the beach, but they are flying.
Great form or not, on paper this has to be a side Leeds target and, if we are being honest, the opposition does not matter anymore. The Whites simply have to win their final home game of the season to give themselves any chance with that appalling goal difference.
If Burnley upset the odds on Sunday and beat Spurs, a Brighton win would effectively relegate Leeds because of the mammoth goal deficit. We are in the endgame, the chips are down and the supporters cannot wait for points any longer.
These anaemic attacking displays must improve immeasurably and there has to be some semblance of threat from Raphinha, Rodrigo and, depending on injuries, Joe Gelhardt. It really is do or die on Sunday.
Elland Road stands united
As we have said all season, the fans were incredible on Wednesday and there is no lack of fight or support from the terraces for this group of players. There were pained groans when passes went astray, but this was a crowd firmly backing the players.
There was nothing like the vitriol aimed at the directors’ box which we saw during the Aston Villa 3-0 loss. Victor Orta and Angus Kinnear were joined in the front row by Stuart Dallas this time, while Andrea Radrizzani sat a couple of rows back.
To hear Marching on Together burst out as Christian Pulisic wheeled away from Chelsea’s second goal summed up, once more, the defiance of a crowd that is not about to be ushered out of the Premier League quietly. They are Leeds, this is their stadium and their team, whatever the result may be.
Paraag Marathe was in the directors’ box alongside Orta, Kinnear and Dallas on Wednesday night. The vice-chairman cannot be at every match because of his San Francisco residence and 49ers obligations for much of the year.
This was the first time he had been seen at Elland Road for several months and as the face of the 49ers investment vehicle, his opinion counts hugely. Future strategy on how the NFL franchise does or does not invest further in United is driven by Marathe and his colleagues.
Slipping out of the Premier League less than two years after the Championship trophy was lifted at Elland Road was evidently not a part of their five-year plan in this relationship. Whether Leeds survive or go down, Marathe and the 49ers must play an important role in learning lessons from an abject 21/22.