It was an away day to forget for Chelsea at Elland Road, as we suffered a heavy defeat to Leeds United, with much of the damage being done by two rapid first-half goals.
For spells the game wasn't anywhere near as one-sided as the scoreline suggests, with the Blues going close to opening the scoring in the first half, although we struggled to contend with our opponents' relentless high press throughout.
Raheem Sterling and Mason Mount were both unlucky not to give us the lead, but then Leeds scored twice in the space of five minutes and from that moment on it was always going to be an uphill struggle to salvage anything from the game.
First Edouard Mendy was the victim of Leeds' harrying, as he was dispossessed close to his goal by Brenden Aaronson, who promptly opened the scoring. Then, a soft free-kick awarded against Sterling was curled into our box, where Rodrigo was able to head in from the near post.
We tried to strike back after the break with a change to a back four, and it briefly showed promise, but then Leeds' third goal on the counter, turned in by Jack Harrison from close range, took the home side out of sight and knocked the last of the fight out of the Blues. The feeling that the game was over was only exacerbated by the late sending off of Kalidou Koulibaly.
Conor Gallagher, who came off the bench in our two previous Premier League fixtures this season, started for the Blues for the first time at Elland Road, replacing the injured N'Golo Kante in midfield alongside Jorginho, who captained the team.
Elsewhere it was an unchanged side from Thomas Tuchel following our 2-2 draw with Tottenham Hotspur, meaning Edouard Mendy continued in goal behind a back three of Reece James, Thiago Silva and Kalidou Koulibaly.
Ruben Loftus-Cheek stayed at wing-back on the right side, with Marc Cucurella on the left. It was an unchanged attack for the third game running, with Mason Mount, Raheem Sterling and Kai Havertz forming a front three.
Sterling was just inches away from opening the scoring inside the first minute, as both teams came out of the blocks at pace. Koulibaly stepped in to intercept the ball just inside the Chelsea half and quickly exchanged passes with Cucurella to release Gallagher, who drove forward and slid a ball through to Sterling. He cut inside and ghosted past a huddle of Leeds defenders into the box, but his powerful right-footed shot flew wide of the far post.
We had to be a bit more patient after that, as the onslaught of furious pressing Tuchel had gone into the game expecting arrived, making it difficult for us to play out from the back, while Daniel James blazed over from range and Mendy saved comfortably from Jack Harrison.
Instead, just as that first effort by Sterling had shown, it was the quick counters that were giving us our best hope of finding the opening goal. Loftus-Cheek will be slightly disappointed not to have scored via that route when another slick move ended with Sterling running at the Leeds defence, before Havertz helped the ball on to Loftus-Cheek in space on the right, but he hesitated and was soon crowded out.
The game calmed down a little bit as the first half drew on, although we were still finding it difficult to settle into a rhythm and prolonged possession due to the relentless way Leeds were denying us time and space on the ball.
Sterling did manage to get the ball in the back of the net for Chelsea with a fine effort, when Cucurella took advantage of a loose touch by a Leeds defender and dinked a lovely ball over the top for the winger, who calmly side-footed a shot into the bottom corner, but the linesman’s flag went up for offside.
We were starting to look more dangerous as we passed the 20-minute mark, as shown when it took a finger-tip save from Illan Meslier to keep the scores level. It was another direct move from the Blues, as Koulibaly went long from the back and Havertz headed the ball into space ahead of Mount. Our No19 turned inside cleverly and dragged a low shot back towards the near post with his left foot, which looked destined to nestle in the back of the net until the Leeds keeper just managed to turn it behind for a corner.
Although our share of the ball was increasing the longer the game went on, it wasn’t translating into chances, as most of our time in possession was spent working to keep it away from the frantic pressing by Leeds and it was still anyone’s guess which way the first goal would go.
Unfortunately for the Blues, it went the way of the home side shortly after the first half-hour, and it wasn’t a goal that made happy viewing for the travelling supporters. Thiago Silva played a pass back to Mendy, who was instantly charged down. When our keeper hesitated on the ball and tried to buy himself more time with a dummy, Aaronson dispossessed him and rolled into the empty net from a yard out.
Unbelievably, Leeds were two ahead just a few minutes later, although there was a feeling of injustice as it resulted from a free-kick awarded just outside the Chelsea box despite there appearing to be very little contact, with Sterling looking bemused when he was also shown a yellow card for the perceived offence. When the set-piece was curled in, Rodrigo got to the front of the queue at the near-post and glanced a header inside Mendy’s back post.
The Blues pushed forward and tried to hit straight back after that double blow, with Cucurella firing wide at the near post with a first-time shot from Loftus-Cheek’s cut-back. Now we were the ones trying to up the tempo, and there was no doubt about which team was having the most possession anymore, with our longest spell of the game coming just before half-time, but it came to nothing.
Trying something different
Tuchel clearly felt we needed to alter the way we were approaching the game if we were to salvage anything from it, responding with a change of shape after the break. It was a narrow 4-2-2-2 formation, with Loftus-Cheek coming into midfield alongside Jorginho, Gallagher and Mount roaming ahead of them, while Sterling and Havertz formed a front two.
It nearly produced an instant impact at the start of the second half, when Loftus-Cheek produced a brilliant bit of skill before combining with James to break into the box. Mount nudged his drag back towards Cucurella on the edge of the box, but his effort looped over the crossbar. It was a promising start to the second 45 minutes for the Blues, who had their work cut out to salvage something from this trip to Elland Road.
We were really turning up the pressure in search of a way back in, with Sterling and Mount looking a constant threat as the outlets for quick attacks. One more patient move ended with Loftus-Cheek driving low at goal from 20 yards. It hit Sterling in a crowded box and fell to Gallagher, but Meslier made himself big to block the shot and Raheem was flagged offside anyway.
With 25 minutes remaining, Tuchel also opted for a change to his personnel. Jorginho and Gallagher were the two to make way, with Christian Pulisic and Hakim Ziyech introduced to bolster our attack.
Mountain gets higher
By this point Leeds were dropping deeper and deeper, while surrendering more and more possession, as Chelsea pushed on looking for a lifeline. However, when Reece James charged forward on the ball and unleased a low shot towards the bottom corner, Meslier managed to get down to save at full stretch, and Koulibaly's header from the resulting corner couldn't trouble the goalkeeper.
However, the next goal went the other way, just as it looked like we might be gathering some momentum. Daniel James got free for Leeds down their left and when his cross was headed down awkwardly, Jack Harrison was marginally onside to sweep in from close range, extending the home team's lead to three and draining the last hope out of the Chelsea supporters inside Elland Road.
Things nearly got even worse as Leeds tried to replicate their quick double in the first half, but a last-ditch intervention from Cucurella took the ball off Rodrigo's foot as he was poised to volley on the penalty spot.
The pain wasn't quite over yet at Elland Road, though, as Koulibaly was penalised for pulling substitute Joe Gelhardt back on the break, with the referee showing him a second yellow card and sending him off with six minutes remaining.
All in all, a day to forget for the Blues then, with one of the few positives being that with no midweek fixture Tuchel now has a whole week to work with his players on the training ground and fix the things that went wrong in Leeds before our next fixture.
We stay in Premier League action but are back at Stamford Bridge next weekend, when we host Leicester City at 3pm on Saturday 27 August.
Chelsea (3-4-3): Mendy; James, Thiago Silva, Koulibaly; Loftus-Cheek, Gallagher (Pulisic 64), Jorginho (c) (Ziyech 64), Cucurella; Mount (Chilwell 77), Sterling (Azpilicueta 87), Havertz
Unused subs: Kepa, Ampadu, Chalobah, Chukwuemeka, Hudson-Odoi
Booked: Koulibaly 9, Sterling 36
Sent off: Koulibaly 84
Leeds United (4-2-3-1): Meslier; Kristensen, Koch, Llorente, Struijk; Roca (Forshaw 61), Adams; Aaronson (Klich 83), Rodrigo (c) (Greenwood 83), Harrison (Gelhardt 83); James (Sinisterra 70)
Unused subs: Klaesson, Hjelde, Drameh, Summerville
Scorers: Aaronson 33, Rodrigo 37, Harrison 69
Referee: Stuart Attwell