Opinion: Leeds United well-equipped to beat Manchester United because of one key player

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Leeds United host Manchester United in the Premier League this weekend and it’s a chance to prove how far the side has come since that 6-2 decimation.

There was a huge amount of anticipation ahead of Leeds’ trip to Old Trafford back in December. However, it was quickly doused by a Scott McTominay brace inside three minutes, before the Red Devils continued to run riot that day.

Four more goals were shipped in an embarrassing outing for Leeds that day. 6-2.

Justifiably so, Leeds came in for huge criticism for their defensive display, and how they approached playing such a tough opponent.

We know that, under Marcelo Bielsa, we’re not going to shy away from trying to match our opponents with possession and attacking intent.

It backfired that day with Ole Gunnar Solkjaer getting the better of the Leeds chief, but the issues ran deeper for Leeds than just an ‘off day’.

Leeds’ back four struggles

Set-piece defending, man-marking, and naive approaches. All three of these have been slated before, during, and after the Man United defeat.

What was very rarely noted was that Leeds went into that game with a back four of: A left-winger at right-back (Dallas), a right-back at centre-back (Ayling), Liam Cooper, and a right-winger at left-back (Alioski).

So, not one player of our ‘full-strength defence’ was playing where they should be.

Obviously, that’s not an excuse for shambolic defending, but it’s a key reason for why Leeds’ shape and quality of defending was sorely lacking.

When you’re playing against one of the best attacking forces in Europe, these fine margins can prove so costly.

With that in mind, addressing said margins could be huge in Leeds getting a result against Man United.

Llorente’s the man

Enter Diego Llorente to solve our defensive woes.

You wouldn’t think one player would be able to solve what appeared to be a fundamental weakness of the system, but Leeds have massively improved in 2021.

Before Llorente’s current run of eight consecutive starts, Leeds averaged 1.72 goals conceded per game. In his current run in the side, it’s down at 0.88.

A marked difference.

3.4 goals in every game has shifted to 2.13 in the same periods.

Set-piece goals conceded is always a nice topic for pundits to slam Leeds for. Only two goals conceded from set-pieces in these eight games, out of a whopping 15 in total.

What is hard to quantify is the level of control we appear to have at the back with the Spaniard at the heart of the defence.

With large spaces still being exploited in the counter, Llorente looks so much more assured in dealing with it than others in his position.

We’ve been crying out for a balanced back four under Bielsa and we’ve now got it.

It’s not going to be an easy feat halting Man United, but it’s quite clear we’re in a far better place to do so with a Spanish international controlling the game from centre-back.

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Leeds United season ticket holder since 2013/14, currently situated in the middle of the FA5 noise. From Pablo Hernandez to 5-1 drubbings, I've seen it all at Elland Road.