Patrick Bamford’s passport may not be gathering dust at the back of a draw for too much longer. In scoring his 13th Premier League goal of the season, the Leeds striker made it that little bit harder for Gareth Southgate to continue overlooking his increasingly compelling candidature for England’s European Championship squad.
Two more goals, from Stuart Dallas and the excellent Raphinha, lifted Leeds to 10th, emphasising precisely why the Leeds board are so keen to extend Marcelo Bielsa’s one-year managerial contract beyond the summer.
The Argentinian seems minded to stay but Southampton’s Ralph Hasenhüttl is starting to look on slightly shaky ground as his side’s new year slump continues. Southampton remain 14th but are eight points clear of the relegation zone.
Bielsa switched from his default 4-1-4-1 formation to the 3-3-1-3 configuration he favours when facing teams fielding two strikers. Yet systems are only as good as their personnel and, whatever shape their manager selects, Leeds are invariablya slightly lesser team when Kalvin Phillips is unavailable.
Their midfield anchor was absent, injured, and Southampton sensed opportunity. Jannik Vestergaard quickly headed narrowly wide from James Ward-Prowse’s free kick after losing Pascal Struijk, while the impressive Nathan Tella sashayed beyond a static Liam Cooper before offering Leeds a reprieve by shooting benignly at Illan Meslier.
It was hard to believe they had collected only four points in 2021 but, initially at least, Southampton adapted better to the slippery, sticky pitch that was cutting up quickly.
The underfoot conditions seemed to be particularly affecting Diego Llorente as he made his Elland Road debut on the right of the’s back three but if the Spaniard’s passing radar was a little awry, Raphinha soon found his range to eye-catching effect.
As the Brazilian combined cleverly with Luke Ayling and used his considerable skill to dodge Mohammed Salisu a goal beckoned for Tyler Roberts. When Roberts met Raphinha’s cushioned cut back he really should have scored but, instead miscued, driving ver the bar from 12 yards.
Like Raphinha, Southampton’s Tella was raising the tone and he thought he had won a penalty after Andre Marriner adjudged the midfielder to have been brought down by Llorente in the box. A VAR review changed that decision, with a look at the pitchside monitor revealing that Llorente was attempting to withdraw from the challenge but Tella’s trailing leg invited what appeared minimal contact.
By half-time Leeds would have been ahead but for an outstanding tackle on Raphinha from Oriel Romeu. They had broken swiftly from a Southampton corner, with Stuart Dallas’s ball leaving Raphinha accelerating towards Alex McCarthy’s goal. Just as the Brazilian shaped to shoot Romeu intercepted to goal-preventing effect.
An absorbing opening 45 minutes concluded with a slightly strange cameo involving Che Adams shooting low into the bottom corner after Ward-Proswe caught the home defence cold with the swiftest of free kicks. To Southampton’s considerable chagrin, Marriner disallowed it, ruling that Ward-Prowse had not waited for him to blow his whistle.
There was no such controversy about Bamford’s 48th-minute goal. Leeds’s leading scorer had hitherto been restricted to half-chances but after connecting with Roberts’s intellligent through pass his well-timed run left Jan Bednarek and Vestergaard bisected. All that remained was for Bamford to shift the ball on to his left foot and evade McCarthy’s reach courtesy of a beautifully weighted, cleverly placed low shot the diving keeper could not quite prevent travelling into the bottom corner.
Roberts subsequently shot wide after being expertly cued up by Raphinha but Leeds had Meslier to thank for preserving their lead when the Frenchman performed wonders to divert Stuart Armstrong’s dipping shot.
Hasenhüttl introduced Danny Ings and Takumi Minamino but a Leeds counterattack concluded with Raphinha’s decoy run enabling Helder Costa to square for Stuart Dallas to shoot the home side’s second goal from the edge of the area.
Raphinha inflicted further pain on the visitors, eluding McCarthy with a characteristically high-calibre left-foot free kick.
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