Leeds battled for a 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace on Monday Night Football which leaves them five points clear of the drop zone.
Seventeenth-placed Burnley’s 1-0 victory over Wolves on Sunday piled the pressure on Leeds ahead of their trip to Selhurst Park but Jesse Marsch’s side were unable to find a win of their own, with just three points separating the teams ahead of the final five games of the season.
Leeds head coach Marsch told Sky Sports it was a “big point that gets us closer to our ultimate goal” while admitting that there was some disappointment with the overall performance.
- Kalvin Phillips made his first start for Leeds since December
- Tyrick Mitchell was unavailable for Crystal Palace due to injury
It was a game of few chances, but Palace were dominant and will feel disappointed they failed to secure a win that would have taken them to 40 points and put to bed any remaining concerns of relegation.
While Leeds will be pleased to have come away with a point, it leaves them in a precarious position ahead of a tough run-in which includes matches against Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal.
Eighteenth-placed Everton have a game in hand on Leeds and Burnley, which if they win could see Frank Lampard’s side close the gap between themselves and the Whites to two points.
Leeds hold on at Palace
Sixteen days on from their 3-0 win at Watford, Marsch blamed a lack of “game sharpness” on his side’s slow start in south London, with Palace twice coming close to opening the scoring inside 20 minutes.
Jean-Philippe Mateta was involved in both incidents, with a case of poor finishing letting him down initially, before Leeds defender Diego Llorente’s vital touch in the six-yard box prevented a certain goal after an inviting low cross from Jordan Ayew.
For Leeds, it was a half of few chances, with Liam Cooper registering their only shot on target with a header from a corner that was easily held by Vicente Guaita.
Head coach Marsch tried to freshen things up at half-time by bringing on Robin Koch for Mateusz Klich, but Palace continued to look the more threatening side.
And the arrival of Michael Olise off the bench only made matters worse for Leeds, as he and Wilfried Zaha wreaked havoc for the visiting defenders on either wing.
However, Leeds continued to prevent Palace from carving out any clear-cut chances, with Joel Ward and Conor Gallagher coming close with efforts from outside the area.
Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier produced a fine double save to deny Palace forward Zaha with less than 10 minutes to go. Olise found Gallagher inside the penalty area late on, but the midfielder’s effort was tame and straight at Meslier.
It may not have been pretty but Marsch has transformed a Leeds defence that has shipped more Premier League goals (68) than every other team aside from basement club Norwich (69).
Leeds’ new-found solidity could prove to be vital, with three of their final five games against teams in the top four.
Man of the Match: Illan Meslier
In what was a backs-against-the-wall display from Leeds, they needed their goalkeeper, Meslier, to keep the scores level at Selhurst Park as he made seven saves to deny Palace.
Monday night’s performance takes his tally up to 125 saves for the season – a total beyond that of any other goalkeeper in the division.
It was also the 12th time this season that the France U21 international has made more than five saves in a single game, another feat no other goalkeeper in the Premier League has managed.
Marsch doing things his own way at Leeds
Marcelo Bielsa left Leeds as a legend after restoring the club to the top tier of English football, playing an expansive and frenetic brand of football that made his side the most exciting to watch in the Premier League.
But, as Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher put it, when Bielsa left, Leeds were in a “mess”.
When he arrived, Marsch was tasked with shoring up what was the leakiest defence in the league, which on Monday night meant Leeds took a ‘defence first’ approach at Selhurst Park.
The Leeds head coach described it as “a night where we bend but don’t break” – a phrase used in American football, cue the Ted Lasso jokes – and it perfectly summed up the change that Leeds are experiencing post Bielsa.
The Argentine would never depart from his philosophy. It was the only way for Bielsa.
But Marsch is bringing a fresh approach to Leeds, and while some fans may feel disgruntled after their love affair with Bielsaball, it could be the American’s adaptability that keeps them in the Premier League this season.
After all, Marsch has picked up 11 points in his seven league games in charge, which is seven more than they managed in Bielsa’s final seven matches as head coach.
Palace lack cutting edge
Crystal Palace managed to recover from the hangover of their FA Cup semi-final defeat to Chelsea at Wembley and a lacklustre display at Newcastle last Wednesday, to produce an energetic performance that deserved a win against Leeds on Monday night.
Wilfried Zaha, Eberechi Eze and Michael Olise all produced moments to get fans of their feet, but lacked the cutting edge in the final third that is perhaps the missing piece in Patrick Vieira’s Palace side.
Jean-Philippe Mateta was guilty of spurning two good opportunities in the first 20 minutes, while Conor Gallagher had a good chance inside the penalty are deep in the second half that he hit straight at Illan Meslier in the Leeds goal.
As this season comes to a close, Vieira is sure to be thinking about how he can improve his squad in the summer.
And based on Monday night’s performance, it feels clear that if Palace are to take the step up and challenge further up the table, they need another striker who can guarantee goals.
Marsch: We have to look at it as a positive
Leeds head coach Marsch wants his side to remain upbeat after claiming what he described as a “valuable” point.
Marsch told Sky Sports: “We, as a group, were a little bit disappointed overall with the performance but we have to look at this as a positive. Two clean sheets in a row, it’s a big point that gets us closer to the ultimate goal. It was a night where we bend but don’t break. The guys are disappointed but the point was valuable.
“Some of the things in possession that we wanted to try to make little connections, we weren’t able to establish enough to do that. After 16 days, it was not easy to get game sharpness. But the mentality to fight for everything was there.
“There’s still moments when they get caught in the man marking, or the other players feel like they have to cover behind them. Some of the positioning in the build-up phases in the last third, we need to be better in the connection and timings of plays.
“These games are incredible. They’re tight, every second and every moment can help them in both directions. Being physical and defending in real ways and winning duels is going to be important for how I want us to play. Containing to find ways with the ball to manipulate and unbalance opponents and move and connect in a way that can be a bit more dangerous. We’ll keep working.”
Vieira: Decision-making was missing
Palace head coach Patrick Vieira was pleased his side were able to improve from their performance at Newcastle last Wednesday, but felt they were wasteful with the chances they created on Monday night.
“We were really concentrated on the performance,” Vieira told Sky Sports. “I was really happy with the way we started and finished the game.
“The only thing was a bit of quality up front. We didn’t make the last pass or take our chances well. It was a good team performance and happy with how we played today.
“I was really pleased with the tempo of the game. The only thing missing was decision making in the last third. That’s the part of the game that makes you win games. We had two chances and situations to score and we didn’t.
“This is what I wanted from the players. In Newcastle, we didn’t compete well and today I got the answer I was looking for. We did it for 90 minutes, another day we would score those goals. We managed to create chances, we have to score.”
Carra and Keane tip Leeds for survival
Assessing Leeds’ survival chances on Monday Night Football, Jamie Carragher said: “The one problem they have is the goal difference.
“That is a real problem for them because there’s no way Burnley or Everton are going to get near Leeds’ goal difference, so they’re always going to be worse off in that sense.
“You look at their fixtures and you say they are tough games, but remember, three of the next four are at home.
“I know there are two tough ones, but it’s Chelsea before the cup final and Man City between two Champions League semi-finals. It won’t be easy for either of those teams going to Elland Road.”
Robbie Keane, Carragher’s guest on Monday Night Football, added: “They are so organised now under Jesse, you can see them going to Arsenal and getting something.
“Chelsea at home is always interesting at Elland Road, so you can see them getting something in that too. There are points there for them and tonight will give them confidence.”
Leeds’ remaining fixtures
- Manchester City (H), Saturday April 30, 5.30pm, live on Sky Sports
- Arsenal (A), Sunday May 8, 2pm, live on Sky Sports
- Chelsea (H), Wednesday May 11, 7.30pm, live on Sky Sports
- Brighton (H), Sunday May 15, 2pm
- Brentford (A), Sunday May 22, 4pm
Up next for Crystal Palace is a trip to St Mary’s to face Southampton on Saturday, April 30; kick-off 3pm.
Saturday 30th April 5:00pm
Next for Leeds is a home game against Premier League leaders Manchester City on Saturday, April 30, live on Sky Sports; kick-off 5.30pm.