Next stop Manchester City, which is a bit like saying next stop the slaughterhouse. It is true that Leeds United have already made Pep Guardiola with 10 men at the Etihad but that was another level, another life, another stratosphere. Now Leeds are going there to die, a shell of everything that made them easy to love.
The reality is that bad and even owner Andrea Radrizzani cried ‘that shit’ as the embarrassment of a 4-1 rout at Bournemouth shuffled into the notoriety book, the penny falling with him last. The team is down, the club is sinking and a private message sent by the Leeds chairman to a fan on Twitter mid-game was from a man who had tried to smile to keep the fire in his house away, only for him to he ignites his hair. Impossible was how Radrizzani described relegation heading into the season. Inevitably more precise sounds, the whole facade creaks furiously.
Bournemouth were so terrible, so terminally weak that, as the away end beat the full-time Leeds players, the players stood there, watched and took it; almost nothing in the form of applause, almost nothing in the form of apologetic gestures, just shocked faces that don’t know what to do, but suck it in. And where to look for reassurance? In the meeting room, the hope was emptied of the majority shareholder.
In the canoe, control deserted Javi Gracia. On the pitch, the team have mellowed at the stadium where gently turning and leaning on them, as Bournemouth did, is enough to knock them sideways. If Leeds feel doomed, then nothing inside the building belies the pessimism. And it’s not the last hurray for games of the coming month either.
The color Gracia had on his cheeks when the club appointed him is gone, the latest manager to discover that however alluring the gates of Elland Road are when they tempt you through them, very few jobs in gambling are more likely to bleed you. dry before properly tidying up your desk. Three weeks ago, he had the leash in his hand and the animal under his spell.
Then, at a speed he obviously couldn’t imagine, the animal dashed away from him, only to be revealed to have no teeth anyway. There was no fight in his words after Bournemouth, no convincing answers, no credible roadmap to get out of the desert. “I have to help my players play better,” he said, prompting the obvious question of how. “That’s my job,” Gracia replied. Although you wonder for how much longer.
There’s nothing that sums up a year-long car crash better than the realization that if Leeds choose to roll the dice again for the remaining four matches, they might as well. Gracia looks worn out, Leeds look cooked and it’s only Erling Haaland next.
It’s not a strategy anyway, nothing more than an indictment of the board’s strategic failure, and heaven knows what the alternatives would be – but it’s not as if the answers seemed to come and 22 goals conceded in a calendar month is the definition of a team in freefall, with little to come at the other end. The mystery in all of this is that the club are still 16th. With relegation rivals Leicester City and Everton facing off on Monday, that number could soon increase by one.
Georginio Rutter is more anonymous than ever, lucky to hit an angry ball and reduced to the point where his first goal – if it ever materializes – could be worth more financially than his transfer fee, so tight is the table and so extreme are the issues.
Luis Sinisterra will not play again this season. Patrick Bamford was a few yards short in midweek, although atoning slightly by scoring in the first half at Bournemouth. Brenden Aaronson needs a summer of powerlifting, Rodrigo has a league goal since the first week of January and all Crysencio Summerville came before the World Cup.
Gracia let Willy Gnonto go wild at Dean Court, giving people what they wanted, but the body language saying Gnonto would happily do anything himself wasn’t the same as saying he actually could . Extremely talented or not, the season should never have been so reliant on a teenager in the first place.
He pointed out that if Leeds intend to force their way out of the corner they found themselves in, then they have snuck through security, seemingly without being a threat to anyone.
Bournemouth attacked sporadically and scored four goals, a footballing masterclass in third gear, to get there without having to sweat buckets. No one cares about nuance beyond those points, because scores on the board are all that matters in these circumstances, and that’s perhaps the biggest lesson that Premier’s last two campaigns League taught Leeds: the long game is no game at all unless the results stay at a level that keeps the peace. Anything less and long-term plans – Gnonto, Rutter, aim beyond the immediate horizon – are more likely to benefit someone else.
Gracia, for her part, seemed broken and bereft, almost sorry to have to follow the script insisting that the worst could still be avoided. Maybe Leeds will find three more teams worse than them. Perhaps they will seek results where results are least expected.
Maybe if we stray far into fantasy they will storm the Etihad, but that doesn’t matter when it comes to analyzing how this season has been handled. A horrible relegation scrape is almost understandable, given how easily the Premier League can expose a club. A second is so much harder to forgive. And in the depths of a battered corner of Dean Court, there was no forgiveness to be found.
(Top photo: Steven Paston/PA Images via Getty Images)
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