A Leeds side in a relatively rough run of form have a tough task ahead of them when they host in-form Chelsea at Elland Road on Saturday (12:30pm; TV: Live on BT Sport 1).
Leeds are very comfortably placed in mid-table and could still, in fact, easily finish the campaign inside the Premier League’s top 10. They come into this weekend’s match on the back of four defeats in their last five matches and five in their last seven.
The latest defeat came away to West Ham on Monday. Leeds were two goals down by the half hour mark. Although they pressed forward thereafter and created a good number of chances, including a couple of very presentable ones that fell to striker Patrick Bamford, they were unable to find the goal that might have offered them a way back into the match.
It was the third time in their last four matches that Leeds had failed to score. Marcelo Bielsa didn’t appear too concerned in his post-match press conference, emphasising instead that they had created enough to have found a way back into the game. In the long term, it is creation of good-quality opportunities that is the important part, but when you concede as many goals as Leeds do, any dry spells in front of goal almost inevitably lead to defeats.
Matches involving Leeds have featured more goals (3.30) than those of any other Premier League teams this season. They have the division’s seventh best attack, with 1.59 goals per match, and its third worst defence, with 1.70 conceded per match. Bielsa’s approach is balls out, win or lose: No side have drawn less matches than Leeds’ total of two.
In sum, it has proved effective. Leeds have never really been in danger of falling into the relegation battle in their first season back in the top flight since 2004. There have been runs such as this when if the goals don’t come then results become very hard to come by.
Saturday’s opponents Chelsea have been almost the exact opposite of Leeds since Thomas Tuchel replaced Frank Lampard as head coach towards the end of January. Tuchel has been leaning on a very strong defensive record to put together a run of six wins and three draws that have righted a campaign that seemed to be drifting and offered swift evidence of his competence.
The key has undoubtedly been their miserly defensive record. Chelsea have conceded just twice across his nine matches in charge, 11 if you include their 1-0 FA Cup win over Barnsley and their 1-0 triumph away to Atletico Madrid in the first leg of their Champions League last 16 tie.
Neither does that figure seem unduly exaggerated by good fortune. Chelsea have conceded just 6.5 shots per match in that run – only runaway leaders Manchester City have conceded less, 5.50, on average – and the shots they have conceded have been the lowest quality in the league. They are simply doing an excellent job of limiting opponents’ ability to penetrate their defence and create good looks at goal.
It is an approach that may seem somewhat strange given their huge outlay on attacking talent last summer, but Tuchel and his side have so far made it work, with two one-goal wins, three two-goal wins and a pair of draws moving them up into the top four, at least for now. The main British-facing bookmakers now have them as the third favourites to claim a top-four place, behind only the top two and ahead of third-placed Leicester, three points up the road.
Chelsea’s hopes of solidifying their Champions League place are likely to be boosted by a further victory on Saturday. They were 3-1 winners when the two sides met at Stamford Bridge earlier this season and while Tuchel’s time in charge to date suggests this weekend’s encounter will be less open, the end result will probably be the same. Backing them to win without conceding seems a solid play. So, at the odds, the Leeds vs Chelsea betting tips verdict for this match preview is:
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