27 Jun 2022 | 08:34 | Football
In the 1960s and 1970s, Leeds United and Chelsea saw their unlikely rivalry as the biggest game of the season.
At the time, the two teams were fighting for the Division I title, but the fierce rivalry faded in the early 2000s.
Leeds United’s decline in the English league has coincided with Chelsea’s rise following the takeover of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich.But as both sides face key moments of the season, the tension between the two teams in Wednesday night’s battle – continues sky sports – It feels like this competition hasn’t gone away from the start.
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The omens did not look good for relegation-threatened Leeds, who returned to the relegation zone for the first time since October after a dire form.
Not only have Jesse Marsh’s side dropped from an eight-point lead three weeks ago to the bottom three, but Leeds have also lost 11 of their 11 games against the Premier League’s top six this season – on average 4 goals dropped. in these games.
But Chelsea were in trouble themselves, with just eight of their last possible 21 points, just one point ahead of fourth-placed Arsenal. The Blues still need just four points to secure next season’s Champions League spot – but that game against Leeds is now a must-win distraction ahead of Saturday’s FA Cup final against Liverpool.
Marsh took over Leeds United two months ago, a team that was leaking goals under his predecessor Marcelo Bielsa, despite the Argentine’s four-year spell at Elland Road. Here comes the exciting brand of offensive football
Stopping the number of goals the team conceded was the first task on the German-American manager’s agenda, and he did just that. Under Marsch, Leeds have conceded fewer goals per game, while their possession and tackles have improved under the new manager.
But there’s a reason Leeds have outscored opponents in eight of Marsch’s nine Premier League games, and they’ve had to work more without the ball. Under the German-American leadership, Leeds have a different control of the game than Bielsa.
The reason Leeds are really chasing the game rather than controlling it is their efficiency in possession. Their players are struggling to create enough passing options in the first two thirds of the pitch, which results in fewer completed passes, balls in the opposition’s half and overall chances created — and possession per game .
Take Eddie Nketiah’s first goal against Leeds’ Arsenal on Super Sunday. The visitors’ lack of passing options meant Ilan Meslier was forced to dawdle on the ball, allowing the Gunners forward to close the Leeds keeper and score with ease.
A potential reason behind this is Marsch’s formation change, which affected the midfield. Calvin Phillips has been the only midfielder under Bielsa for the past four years, but Marsch has brought in another team-mate to help him in the area – currently Matthaus Clichy, while Adam Forshaw is out with injury.
Both Phillips and Marsh discussed how changes to the system could affect chance creation, especially as teams look to move away from Bielsa’s style of play, in Leeds’ 0-0 draw with Crystal Palace on Monday Night Football last month. .
“I wish I played a little bit better,” Phillips said sky sports, the midfielder is playing in the first game of the new formation following the injury to Marsch in his first game at Leeds. “I’m trying to master the new formation and the way we play. It’s very different.”
Meanwhile, Marsch added: “Some of the possession we wanted to create and the connection and confidence we wanted to have, we couldn’t build enough of it in the game, [along with] Winning the game is more dangerous.
“They still have moments of being marked. It takes time. It’s such a unique project, trying to change the philosophy of the game, to survive and thrive in the relegation battle.”
Under Marsch, Leeds spent a lot of time moving from full-back to attacking wingers Raphinha and Jack Harrison, but in the tight spaces on the wing, they demanded a lot from the pairing.
Harrison and Rafinha have had more failures in catch and overall duels than they have succeeded, which could explain why Leeds United have removed more possession of their opponents after changing managers.
Since coming in, Marsch has managed to reasonably close Leeds’ back door, but the way he rearranged the furniture hasn’t helped them knock down the front door well.
But this Leeds side still has a lot to fight and Wednesday’s game against Chelsea may be their best chance to show that.
Chelsea were nine points clear of fifth in a game in mid-March, and Thomas Tuchel’s side were moving towards a top-four spot. No one has seen such a horrific form.
Two wins and three losses in the next seven games means the Blues could start next weekend with just a two-point cushion of fifth place – if they lose to Leeds in Thursday’s north London derby and Toth Naum Hotspur beat Arsenal in Thursday’s north London derby, live on Sky Sports.
While Chelsea have averaged more possession and shots per game than any other Premier League team over the same period, the dire performances since the start of April have come. Meanwhile, only Manchester City (2.5) have had a higher expected goals per game (xG) than Chelsea in their last seven games, and the Blues’ waste in front of goal has come to light.
Since the start of last month, Chelsea have been fifth in the Premier League in conversion rate and fourth in goals conceded over the same period. In short, Tuchel’s team could be more efficient at keeping teams out of the two boxes.
Kai Havertz’s goals have really dried up, and he has only scored once in the Premier League in his last seven games – despite his xG being close to three.
On the other end of the spectrum, Timo Werner and Romelu Lukaku actually look in good shape, with the duo – who cost a combined almost £150m – scoring more than they should have done in xG totals.
Chelsea’s defence is also sloppy, with Tuchel’s side making three mistakes leading to goals since the start of last month – no Premier League team has scored more in that period. The Blues are heading into this weekend’s Wembley final in pretty bad shape for the teams in the cup final on Saturday.
But while the FA Cup final with Liverpool could be seen as a distraction, Wednesday night’s game saw Tuchel kill two birdies with one stone by winning. The first stone is taking three points to help improve their top-four qualification – but the second is the German manager getting a better idea of which players can best handle the pressure ahead of the Wembley final.
For Leeds, Wednesday’s game at Elland Road is their own cup final – and the home fans will create a hostile atmosphere that few can match. Chelsea showed last month against Everton that they struggled to deal with a team fighting for their lives on the bottom line and with a group of rabid fans – and the Blues’ ability to handle pressure will be tested again here .
It’s time to see if Chelsea’s mettle can stand up to another big test.
Can’t decide which key Premier League games to watch on Wednesday? Wolves v Manchester City kicks off at half-time between Leeds United v Chelsea, both live on Sky Sports and you don’t need to miss our second screen on the Sky Sports app.
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