Brighton's Neal Maupay secures invaluable win as Leeds labour

Louise Taylor at Elland Road
·4-min read
<span>Photograph: Jon Super/AP</span>
Photograph: Jon Super/AP

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’s once solid midfield seemed to be dissolving in sympathy.

Leeds have had much better days but a big part of that was down to Brighton’s excellence. They were so good it seemed almost unbelievable this was their first Premier League win since November.

On Saturday’s immensely encouraging evidence it is hard to imagine Brighton being involved in the struggle to avoid relegation for much longer, but recent results tell a different story.

Potter’s mission is to inspire consistency. “Our challenge now is to turn good performances into results,” he said. “We have to fight. We have to be brave.”

It was the first time Leeds had lost three successive games during Marcleo Bielsa’s tenure and bar Jack Harrison bending a shot wide of the post they created precious little.

“We can defend much better, and we can create much more danger,” he said. “We should have managed a better result. Normally our opponents have more difficulty managing the ball.”

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Considering it involved a once cherished former employee and a compatriot, the construction of Neil Maupay’s early winner can only have exacerbated Bielsa’s agony.

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 on loan at Boca Juniors, played an exquisite one-two with Leandro Trossard before taking goalkeeper Kiko Casilla – making his first Premier League start of the season in place of the absent Illan Meslier – out of the equation with a perfectly weighted low pass across the box that invited Maupay to dispatch the ball into an unguarded net.

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.

Brighton made light work of a heavy pitch with their clever positional interchanges and uplifting one- and two-touch passing but Leeds looked as if they were merely continuing where they left off last Sunday.

That surprise 3-0 FA Cup reverse at Crawley was made to look like more than just a blip as Brighton out-manoeuvred Leeds in all departments and Trossard’s shot hit the crossbar after taking a deflection off Luke Ayling.

Brighton teammates hug Neal Maupay in celebration
Brighton teammates did hug Neal Maupay (right) in celebration, despite requests for players to keep their distance. Photograph: Jon Super/AP

Bielsa was missing his suspended holding midfielder Kalvin Phillips and it must have hurt to see White excelling in his new role as a midfield anchor for Brighton. He represented a big reason why the visitors were so omnipotent in central midfield where Pascal Struijk, Rodrigo and Mateusz Klich were not only persistently second-guessed but frequently looked exhausted.

Maybe all those Murderball sessions – Bielsa’s favourite training ground game that permits no breaks in play and features the ball remaining in constant motion – are finally taking their toll.

Alternatively, it might purely have been a case of the increasingly muddy pitch being better suited to Brighton’s short, geometric passing game than Leeds’s more direct and dynamic high-tempo approach.

The home side ratcheted up the intensity a little after the break but still rarely looked like scoring, while Trossard missed a sitter after an awful defensive slip by Ezgjan Alioski permitted Maupay to dissect Leeds’s backline.

Casilla was otherwise left largely underemployed as Potter switched his tactics to defensive mode, withdrawing his three most attacking players and ordering his increasingly nervous looking side to retreat behind the ball, cede possession and wind down the clock.

This arguably high-risk ploy paid off, leaving Brighton’s manager – praised for his “tactical diversity” by Bielsa – quietly exultant.

“It was a fantastic performance; I’m very proud of my players,” he said. “To come here and keep a clean sheet is an incredible effort.”