Jesse Marsch has spoken harshly about his use of motivational quotes like Mahatma Gandhi to inspire his Leeds players, but given that his team’s wealth is spinning in a spiral, it might be wise to draw inspiration from Harry Houdini instead.
Rudyard Kipling’s legendary song, If, talks about the importance of keeping your head when everyone around you loses theirs, but as a door to Leeds United’s Premier League status a few inches closed, the last four days showing that they are playing with an inverse way of thinking. Defeats by Arsenal and Chelsea should not normally define a team’s chances of surviving in the Premier League, but their nature is worrying.
Easing ahead of time is catastrophic enough, as Leeds did on Sunday and again here when Mason Mount hit Illan Meslier after four minutes. But getting red cards in the first half of both games for fights that can be completely avoided is the very definition of deepening your own mud. After the dismissal of Luke Ayling at Arsenal three days earlier, Dan James followed this example with a terrible blow to Mate Kovačić who left Anthony Taylor with little choice but to fire him.
James looked stunned. Marsch looked anxious on the sideline. But the reality from that moment on was this match a formality, with further goals by Christian Pulisic and Romelu Lukaku worsening Leeds ’misery and starting Chelsea eight points more than fifth-placed Tottenham. Leeds now know that with their inferior goal difference, even wins against Brighton and Brentford in the last two games may not be enough to sustain them.
“The guys are exhausted because we don’t give ourselves the chances we want to get into the match, and that part hurts,” Marsch said. “We have six points left and we have to do everything to recover and stay mentally strong. We are not perfect, but we are together. We have to be aggressive against the ball and try to win the ball, and sometimes we were too aggressive in certain situations and it cost us. ”
With three days left until the FA Cup final, this was a welcome return to form Chelsea. Yes, they were helped by James ’red card, but they were much stronger on both sides, which underlined Mount’s shot after just four minutes. It always felt inevitable that they would increase that lead when Leeds were reduced to 10 men, and soon after the restart they did so when Pulisic shot low next to Meslier.
We played very well from the first minute, Tuchel said. “I was pleased with the level of focus and determination. You have to be disciplined because Leeds never stops running. ”
However, it was a consequence of this polished Chelsea display, with Kovacic injured after that attempt by James and now “very unlikely” to play at Wembley on Saturday. “We’ll see, we’ll have to wait and pray for a miracle,” Tuchel said.
Mount’s introduction certainly suffocated the pre-game atmosphere inside Elland Road, and the tension was too palpable as the games began to run out. Leeds could and may have been more than one goal away at half-time, but the result was decided by James’ shocking shot. He certainly got the ball, but the Welshman was also tall, reckless and dangerous in it, and despite protests from home fans, the replays left James with little evidence.
So when Pulisic scored next to Meslier 10 minutes after the restart, any thought that Leeds could get at least a point out of such a desperate situation was dismissed. There was effort in response, but no shots on target, highlighting another of Leeds ’key concerns. But Chelsea are credited with the way they coped with a tumultuous home crowd and a potentially awkward evening job.
A third goal always seemed inevitable, but after a series of missed opportunities it took until the last seven minutes. Diego Llorente played possession in the midfield, Chelsea jumped into the counter, and Lukaku eventually scored in the top corner and sealed the win bringing Tuchel’s side one step closer to securing a place in the top four, which, at one stage, seemed inevitable. This result will surely instill confidence before the finals on Saturday night, if nothing else.
But as Chelsea raced to victory, and the momentum since Marsch’s arrival dissipated into a mere flutter, it was hard not to think of Marcel Bielsa’s last days and wonder if, indeed, Leeds was any better than the day they decided to break up. with the Argentine. The answer will tell us only the next two meetings, their biggest in vivid memory.