A slow, messy thaw had begun melting the thick snow banked up by the sides of the roads outside the stadium and, inside it, Leeds United’s once solid midfield seemed to be dissolving in sympathy.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side have had much better days and a big part of that was down to Brighton’s excellence. Graham Potter’s team were so good that it was extremely hard to credit that this was their first Premier League win since November.
On this immensely encouraging evidence it is hard to imagine Brighton being involved in the struggle to avoid relegation for much longer but recent results suggest otherwise and Potter will be concerned by his players’ failure to translate considerable superiority into more than a slender one-goal victory.
Considering it involved a once cherished former employee and a compatriot, the construction of the opening goal possibly proved extra painful for Bielsa. First Ben White, who excelled on loan at Elland Road last season, dribbled assuredly from central midfield before playing in Alexis Mac Allister.
The 21-year-old Argentinian previously impressed on loan at Boca Juniors and his attacking midfield skills were abundantly evident as he deceived Kiko Casilla – making his first start of the season in place of the absent Illan Meslier – before engaging Leandro Trossard in an exquisite one-two.
It concluded with Mac Allister luring Casilla off his line, leaving Neal Maupay to arrive in the right place at the right time to meet his pass and tap the ball into the empty net from point blank range.
High calibre as that preamble proved, it was facilitated by poor defending, and Stuart Dallas and Liam Cooper in particular will not relish watching replays highlighting their failure to eliminate the danger.
All positional interchanging and uplifting one and two touch passing sequences, Potter’s side were making light work of the heaviest of pitches but Leeds looked as if they were merely continuing where they left off last Sunday. That unscheduled FA Cup reverse at Crawley began looking more than a blip as Brighton outmanoeuvred Bielsa’s players in all departments and Trossard saw a shot rebound off the crossbar after taking a deflection off Luke Ayling.
Bielsa was missing his holding midfielder Kalvin Phillips through suspension and it must have hurt to see White excelling in his new role as a midfield anchor for Potter’s team. The former Elland Road loanee represented a big reason why Brighton were so omnipotent in a central midfield sphere where Pascal Struijk, Rodrigo and Mateusz Klich were not only persistently second-guessed but frequently looked absolutely exhausted. Maybe all those murderball sessions – Bielsa’s favourite training ground game, which permits no breaks in play and features the ball remaining in constant motion – are finally taking their toll.
Alternatively it may purely have been a case of the increasingly muddy pitch being better suited to Brighton’s short geometric passing game than Leeds typically much more direct and dynamic high‑tempo approach.
Bielsa’s side ratcheted up the intensity a little after the break but Leeds still rarely looked like scoring. Granted Casilla was left largely underemployed as, appearing ever more nervous, Brighton began retreating behind the ball, yet Trossard still missed a sitter after an awful defensive slip on Ezgjan Alioski’s part permitted Maupay to split Bielsa’s backline.
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