In a relegation fight there is a need for aggression and competitiveness. But there is also a requirement for self-control and calm. Leeds currently have the balance of that equation hopelessly wrong and it threatens to drag them all the way in to the Championship.
Leeds, managed by their American coach Jesse Marsch, are like a greenhorn heavyweight boxer, too full of adrenaline and nerves. All their energy is spent in the wrong places and on the wrong things.
Here, in front of an admirably supportive home crowd that is nevertheless beginning to fear the worst, they imploded in much the same fashion as they did in losing at Arsenal at the weekend.
Chelsea midfielder Mason Mount opened the scoring in the fourth minute against Leeds
MATCH FACTS AND PLAYER RATINGS
Leeds United (5-4-1): Meslier 6; Raphinha 5 (Gelhardt 78min), Koch 5.5, Llorente 5.5, Cooper 6, Struijk 6; James 4, Phillips 5.5, Bate 5 (Klich 59, 6), Harrison 5.5 (Firpo 36, 5); Rodrigo 6.
Sent off: James.
Manager: Jesse Marsch 5.
Chelsea (3-4-2-1): Mendy 6; Chalobah 6, Christensen 6, Rudiger 6; James 8 (Azpilicueta 78), Jorginho 6, Kovacic 6 (Loftus-Cheek 30, 6.5), Alonso 6; Mount 8.5, Pulisic 7 (Ziyech 78); Lukaku 6.
Scorers: Mount 4, Pulisic 55, Lukaku 83.
Manager: Thomas Tuchel 7.
Referee: Anthony Taylor
Bad tackles, bad goals and red cards. It’s a catastrophic combination and Leeds, without a shot on target all night here, now have just two games left in which to try and save themselves.
Chelsea were impressive here in dealing with what was in front of them. The English duo Mason Mount and Reece James were particularly good to watch.
But there are some opponents in sport who seem intent on beating themselves from the outset and Leeds are currently in that category.
A run of games that saw them face Manchester City, Arsenal and Chelsea in a week and a half was always going to be difficult. Even a mug punter would have predicted three defeats.
But there are ways of playing when your back is against the wall and there is indeed a way of losing.
Right now, Marsch and Leeds are placing ticks in all the wrong boxes and, as was the case at Arsenal, this was a game that began badly and ended with no straws left to clutch.
Leeds were not so much beaten as swept aside and it is the psychological damage of the last 11 days that Marsch has to repair before Brighton come to Elland Road on Sunday.
Here, Marsch didn’t exactly help himself.
The 48-year-old had raised eyebrows on Tuesday by reeling off the list of historical figures from whom he has borrowed what he believes to be inspirational quotes. That kind of stuff only really washes if you are winning and here it was his team selection that spoke volumes.
He handed 19-year-old midfielder Lewis Bate a first league start and played the Brazilian forward Raphinha at wing-back. It all looked rather desperate and certainly felt that way after half an hour.
By then Leeds, in desperate need of early security, were a goal and a man down.
Mount scored the game’s opening goal with a first-time effort from outside the box
Leeds winger Daniel James was sent off in the 24th minute on Wednesday night
James was sent off for a dangerous high tackle on Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic
Chelsea were sharp from the first minute, as though sensing opportunity. Their need was also great, having lost their way recently, and their first goal really was lovely.
Mount was involved as the play was spread across the field to the Chelsea right and when James pulled the ball back to the England midfielder at the top of the penalty area, he swept it first time high to Illan Meslier’s left and in to the top corner.
With only four minutes gone, Leeds were already drowning.
A low Mount cross from the right was only inches ahead of Romelu Lukaku while another Mount shot was deflected wide. Then, in the 34th minute, James crossed neatly for Lukaku who glanced a header an inch or so beyond the back post.
By this time Leeds were down to ten men. Once again mirror images of the Arsenal game – in which captain Luke Ayling was sent off – were available.
Christian Pulisic doubled Chelsea’s advantage in the second-half against Leeds
Pulisic slotted Mount’s pass into the bottom corner from 20 yards in the 55th minute
The home fans – desperate for something other than their own team’s failings to chew on – were quick to blame referee Anthony Taylor for his decision to show Daniel James a red card.
But the Welshman’s tackle on Mateo Kovacic was wild and reckless. He did make a passing contact with the ball but the follow through on to the Croatian’s shin could have left serious damage. So James walked and, not long after, Kovacic also left the field unable to shake off the effects of the assault on his lower leg.
Leeds attempted to rally and their supporters – waving their white scarves above their heads – tried to help them.
But this is a Leeds team without a focal point in the absence of striker Patrick Bamford and they quite simply never looked like hurting Chelsea.
Romelu Lukaku – who earlier had a goal disallowed – sealed victory in the 83rd minute
Lukaku held off three Leeds defenders before rifling his shot into the corner of the net
The second goal didn’t arrive until the 55th minute but again it was easy on the eye. Mount’s flicked lay off to Christian Pulisic spoke of intelligence and vision while the low finish to Meslier’s right was accurate and firm.
Then, with seven minutes left, came the third. Leeds defender Diego Llorente dallied, Ruben Loftus-Cheek robbed him and fed Hakim Ziyech and when he passed inside to Lukaku, the Belgian made rather a fuss of scoring his third goal in two Premier League games.
This was a big win for Chelsea who will qualify for next season’s Champions League if Tottenham fail to beat Arsenal tonight. It was, however, an even bigger defeat for Leeds. If they are to save themselves, they simply must find a way to clear their heads.