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Reporter notebook: Is Leeds' season unravelling at worst possible time as they fight for Premier League survival?

Leeds are two points above Premier League relegation zone with seven games remaining; after losing their past two matches 5-1 to Crystal Palace and 6-1 against Liverpool at Elland Road, is their season beginning to unravel at worst possible time? Sky Sports News' Tim Thornton discusses

Seven games to go and Leeds United's form is deserting them at the worst possible time.

It was only a fortnight ago they beat Nottingham Forest at Elland Road to move out of the bottom three. But two heavy home defeats in just over a week have now put them in danger of finishing the season in those relegation places.

The big disappointment for Leeds fans is that this season was supposed to be different.

Chairman Andrea Radrizzani said he had 'no doubts' that Leeds would avoid the scenario that saw them narrowly stay up on the final day of last season at Brentford. But here we are, almost 12 months later, hurtling again towards that end of season jeopardy.

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Sky Sports News senior reporter Tim Thornton takes a closer look at Leeds Utd as they battle to avoid relegation from the Premier League and the damage done by a 6-1 defeat at home to Liverpool.

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The Daily Mirror's chief football writer John Cross questions if Javi Gracia can turn the negativity around at Leeds after two heavy home defeats against Liverpool and Crystal Palace

On the plus side, Javi Gracia has shown that he can get the team organised to win games. But there have been worrying signs in the last two matches with question marks over team selection, substitutions and tactics.

A lack of leaders when the going gets tough has been apparent, yet captain Liam Cooper has become a peripheral figure under Gracia and was again on the bench last night. The absence of Max Wober and Tyler Adams through injury has had a major impact. Wilfried Gnonto, a shining light earlier in the season, also finds himself out of the starting 11.

Tactically Leeds have looked to have more structure under Gracia. But some of the intensity has been lost and the team have looked far too vulnerable on the counter-attack in the last two games.

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Leeds also need more of an impact from their January transfer window signings. With the exception of Wober, the other recruits are taking time to find their feet. Record signing Georginio Rutter has struggled to make his mark.

Leeds signings - 2022/23 season

  • Joel Robles - Real Betis, free
  • Tyler Adams - RB Leipzig, £20m
  • Brenden Aaronson - Red Bull Salzburg, £24.7m
  • Darko Gyabi - Manchester City, £5m
  • Rasmus Kristensen - Red Bull Salzburg, £10m
  • Marc Roca - Bayern Munich, £10m
  • Luis Sinisterra - Feyenoord, £25.4m
  • Sonny Perkins - West Ham, free
  • Wilfried Gnonto - FC Zurich, undisclosed
  • Max Wober - Red Bull Salzburg, £11m
  • Georginio Rutter - Hoffenheim, £35.5m
  • Weston McKennie - Juventus, loan
  • Diogo Monteiro - Servette, undisclosed

There is a certain irony that Cody Gakpo, the man that Leeds were close to signing last summer, got the first goal at Elland Road last night.

It has been another season of flux for Leeds, but the one constant has been the fans. They have stuck with the team even during those heavy defeats against Crystal Palace and Liverpool. With home games to come against Leicester, Tottenham and Newcastle, they could yet have a crucial part to play in helping the players recover from the two ruthless beatings that threaten to derail their season.

Carra: Leeds have really poor defenders


Sky Sports' Jamie Carragher:

"They've got really poor defenders, really poor. And I've never been convinced with the goalkeeper Illan Meslier. I know he's a young player and Marcelo Bielsa brought him up from the Championship and he was young then.

"He was good on the ball and with using his feet, but he's got no presence. It looks like they've got a kid in goal, and I've always felt that.

"He was a young goalkeeper, learning his way, but I've never been convinced with him at all and when I see the defenders they've got, individually, they're really, really poor.

"They make big mistakes every time we see them play."

They are capable of better, but time is running out to prove Carragher wrong.

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Jamie Carragher assessed the state of Leeds' defence after their 6-1 defeat by Liverpool at Elland Road

Is Meslier going backwards?

Illan Meslier
Image: Illan Meslier's performances for Leeds have been criticised

Sky Sports' Lewis Jones:

"Leeds goalkeeper Illan Meslier is not a kid anymore. He turned 23 last month but is the youngest goalkeeper in Premier League history to rack up 100 appearances. The shirt has been his ever since Marcelo Bielsa put ultimate faith in his ability with a clear liking for his savvy use of the ball. However, is he developing at the rate you would expect with a goalkeeper playing at this level? That is certainly up for debate when assessing his record in the past two seasons.

"Although he wasn't at obvious fault for any of the Liverpool goals, the damming statistic of him conceding 11 shots on target in a row over two consecutive games doesn't look good.

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights of Leeds against Liverpool in the Premier League

"Trying to showcase how important a goalkeeper is to their side is a difficult conundrum but a starting point is to analyse the expected goals data and see whether that goalkeeper is overperforming or underperforming when it comes to quality of chances being fired at his goal.

"Well, he underperformed by 16.8 goals last season - the worst record of any Premier League goalkeeper. He's at an underperformance of 7.8 this season - only Gavin Bazunu (9.74) is performing worse in that regard.

"Maybe it's time for a change to try and ignite some stability back there for a Leeds team that is out of control defensively."

Have Leeds always conceded easily back in top flight?

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Leeds boss Javi Gracia was extremely disappointed with his side's mistakes in their thrashing by Liverpool.

Yes they have. They had the seventh worst goals against record (54) in their first campaign following promotion (2020-21) and only bottom club Norwich (84) let in more last term when Leeds (79) escaped relegation on the final day.

It is a continuation of a problem inherited by Gracia that previous head coaches Marcelo Bielsa and Jesse Marsch failed to resolve.

Did Leeds strengthen with new defenders last summer?

Hardly. Right-back Rasmus Kristensen was the only new defender signed under Marsch last summer, while left-sided central defender Max Wober made the switch from Salzburg in January. Leeds opted to keep faith in the likes of skipper Liam Cooper, Robin Koch, Pascal Struijk, Luke Ayling and Junior Firpo.

Has that decision backfired?

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FREE TO WATCH: Highlights from Crystal Palace’s win against Leeds in the Premier League.

It has, in hindsight. Kristensen has not consistently reached Premier League standards and, while Wober has added steel and consistency, the Austrian has missed the last four games through injury and has been sorely missed.

Stuart Dallas has been a huge loss since fracturing his femur in April last year and the form of both Cooper and Ayling - key to Leeds' success under Bielsa - has wavered.

What else has contributed to Leeds' porous defence?

A collective frailty. When Leeds lose possession, Premier League opposition far too easily expose their defensive shape.

Kalvin Phillips glued Leeds together before his departure to Manchester City last summer and, while Tyler Adams has been largely successful in replicating the role of protecting his back four, the United States captain's five-match absence after hamstring surgery has been another big contributory factor.

Where are all the leaders?

Cooper at his best plays a true captain's role, but his struggles to get back in the side have left Leeds short of natural leaders.

Without the omnipresent drive of Adams and the guile and experience of Dallas, Leeds have a soft underbelly, no better illustrated than in their last two matches when they appeared to be competitive before conceding the opening goal and then capitulating.

Leeds United's remaining fixtures

Leeds fixtures

April 22: Fulham (A) - Premier League, kick-off 12.30pm

April 25: Leicester City (H) - Premier League, kick-off 8pm

April 30: Bournemouth (A) - Premier League, kick-off 2pm

May 7: Man City (A) - Premier League, kick-off 2pm, live on Sky Sports

May 13: Newcastle (H) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm

May 20: West Ham (A) - Premier League, kick-off 3pm

May 28: Tottenham (H) - Premier League, kick-off 4.30pm

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