Jesse Marsch’s Leeds United side extended their undefeated run to five Premier League games on Monday night, with the 0-0 draw at Crystal Palace seeing the Whites keep their second consecutive clean sheet away from home, as well as securing what could prove to be an all-important point in their fight for survival.
Indeed, the result sees Leeds pull five points clear of 18th-placed Everton – although the Toffees do have a game in hand – something which, with just five and six league fixtures left to play for the respective teams this season, would appear to give the Whites a fantastic chance of enjoying top-flight football once again in 2022/23.
However, that is not to say the job is done for Marsch and his side, and, with the Whites’ next three fixtures consisting of Manchester City at Elland Road, Arsenal at The Emirates and Chelsea at home, should the 48-year-old manager wish to give his side a chance of securing safety during this run of fixtures, he must address a glaring issue in his lineup.
With Patrick Bamford remaining sidelined due to injury on Monday night, one of the biggest challenges the American faced when putting his starting XI together was who to deploy through the middle of his attack – Dan James, Joe Gelhardt or Sam Greenwood.
And, despite being on a run of seven games without a goal when played up top, Marsch once again decided to go for James – a decision which, not for the first time in the manager’s reign at Leeds, did not pay off.
Indeed, while the 24-year-old’s work rate in running the channels cannot be questioned, anyone with two functioning eyes can see that the £25m summer signing is simply not suited to playing as a lone centre-forward – something Marsch must realise.
Over the course of his 59 minutes on the pitch, the £50k-per-week attacker enjoyed just 14 touches of the ball, completed a mere seven passes, managed no shots at the Palace goal, failed to find his man with his one attempted cross and ceded possession for his side on seven separate occasions – meaning he gave the ball away with every other touch.
The Wales international also offered little from a defensive point of view, losing all of his two ground duels and one aerial duel, as well as committing one foul – a rather cynical challenge on Joel Ward, for which the winger received a yellow card and was dubbed “pathetic” by Chris Sutton.
These returns saw James receive a disappointing SofaScore match rating of 6.6, ranking him as the Whites’ joint-worst starter on the night, while Leeds Live journalist Beren Cross also appeared unimpressed with the performance of the forward, awarding him a three in his own player ratings, as well as stating:
“Still hard to see what the gameplan is with the diminutive forward in the frontline. Whatever it is, it’s not getting the best out of him. Another hour of chasing shadows.”
As such, while it is true that none of the Whites’ attacking cast particularly impressed on Monday evening – with Jack Harrison, Rodrigo and Raphinha being awarded a three, a three, and a five in Cross’ ratings respectively – it is evident that playing James as a lone striker does not benefit the player himself or his team, as the Welshman failed his manager once again at Selhurst Park.