Match Analysis: '˜It seemed almost shameful that a match choreographed by two innovative tacticians was ultimately settled by one mistake'
According to those who know him best, Marcelo Bielsa spent nearly a day poring over footage of past Leeds performances before accepting their offer to take charge at Elland Road.
It will not take hours of forensic analysis or pain-staking research for either the Argentine or Chris Wilder to understand why this match turned out as it did. With less than 10 minutes remaining, as Sheffield United edged closer to the draw both managers intimated would have been a fair result, a moment of madness from the otherwise immaculate Dean Henderson presented Pablo Hernandez with an absolute gift.
"If we get that first goal, Leeds have to be that bit more expansive and obviously, the one we conceded was sloppy," David McGoldrick, the United centre-forward said after Henderson's pass had been intercepted by Jack Clarke before the Spaniard rolled the ball into an empty net. "Hendo is young and he's a good goalkeeper. It is one of those things.
"If there is a positive to take, it is that we were the better team in a top of the table clash and the fact we know, on our day, we can beat anyone."
It seemed unjust, almost shameful even, that a contest which had been choreographed by two innovative tacticians was ultimately decided by an individual mistake. Wilder's revolving system, coupled with his preference for over-lapping centre-halves, fascinated and flummoxed Bielsa in equal measure. Indeed, despite the Argentine's depth of knowledge, it required some words of advice from one of his assistants before Leeds made the changes that saw them establish a foothold in the game.
United's biggest failing, until Henderson's howler, was their inability to translate chances into goals. The visitors' were durable but, after both Billy Sharp and McGoldrick both spurned excellent opportunities, fortunate to still be on level terms when the 21-year-old made his costly miscalculation.
"Leeds made it difficult," McGoldrick acknowledged. "But every team does that. No-one makes it easy. But, I will say it again, we were the better team. If we score first, we go on and win the game.Â
"We are a big club and have some really good players. The way we play, no-one can play like that.
"We have nothing to fear. It was our fault. I should have scored. We should have more wins on the board. But we have to stay positive. It is only the start of December and there is a long way to go."
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Listening to Bielsa pick apart the fixture was a masterclass in positional play, shape and other nuances of the game. Chris Basham's driving runs from deep, he later admitted, had forced him to convene a brain-storming session on the touchline while Oliver Norwood and McGoldrick were also cited as Leeds' tormentors-in-chief.
"Their number six caused us problems," Bielsa confessed. "So did their number 16 and their number 17. What I can say is we played against a serious opponent. It was hard for us to find a solution to the project of play of Sheffield United."
In the end it was Henderson, after being sold short by John Egan, who provided Bielsa with the answer when he tried to play his way out of trouble rather than simply lump the ball upfield.Â
Until that moment, Henderson actually appeared the more assured of these two young goalkeepers, with Bailey Peacock-Farrell twice denying McGoldrick with important saves but struggling with the nuts and bolts of his profession. Leon Clarke's absence meant United had to wait for set-pieces before attempting to exploit the Northern Ireland international's vulnerability in their air but other clubs might not prove so generous or committed to playing their football on the floor.
"We always try to press high because some times the mistakes can appear and this is the case," Hernandez said. "We pressed high, the goalkeeper from Sheffield made a mistake and we had a chance which we scored and got the three points.This is team work because we always try to press high and sometimes the mistakes of the opponent appear and this is the case."
Although Leeds dictated for periods of the second-half, particularly after Kemar Roofe had been nudged out wide, United should have been leading by the time Hernandez unwrapped his early Christmas present. McGoldrick, who had already seen a shot blocked by Barry Douglas, gazed skywards in frustration when Peacock-Farrell turned another effort, this time from long-range, around a post.
Henderson excelled himself to deny Aapo Halme, on for the injured Liam Cooper, but United continued to create the better openings. McGoldrick went close again, shooting straight at Peacock-Farrell, before Conor Washington struck the crossbar with an outrageous overhead kick following Henderson's error.
"There were big moments," McGoldrick said. "I had some. Definitely one in the second half. Billy had a big moment as well. When we get in those positions, the box is crammed. It is not easy to pick someone out in the six yard box.
"You don't have the time to pause. We have to go on to Reading next week. If we play like we did against Leeds, i am sure we will collect a lot of points this season."