Leeds United moved five points clear of the relegation zone with a hard-fought point at Crystal Palace on Monday evening.
Jesse Marsch’s side were far from their best down at Selhurst Park but few teams have taken anything away from the Eagles on their own patch this season, including the likes of league leaders Manchester City (0-0), Arsenal (3-0 loss) and Spurs (3-0 loss).
It was a pretty disappointing display from the Yorkshire giants, making that point all the more valuable and not to mention the fact that Premier League safety is still firmly in their grasp.
The Whites mustered up only two shots on target, in comparison to Palace’s seven, also managing nine fewer shots inside the penalty area, so you could even argue that they were lucky to return north with a point.
Dan James, Jack Harrison and Raphinha all struggled to make their mark in the attack, though there was one shining light for the American head coach in skipper Liam Cooper, who was an absolute rock at the back.
As per SofaScore, he earned the highest rating of any outfield player for Leeds (7.6) and it’s easy to see why as he won absolutely everything up against their former transfer targets Jean-Philippe Mateta and Conor Gallagher, as well as Wilfried Zaha and co too.
The 6 foot 2 colossus, 30, won a whopping nine of his 11 duels (81%), both in their air and on the ground, and also registered a match-high seven clearances, two tackles, one interception and one block.
It seems no one was getting past the Scotland international on the day and without his leader-like presence in the backline, the Premier League’s second-worst defence may well have crumbled from the Eagles’ pressure, particularly in the second half where they managed a 56% share of the ball.
Elsewhere, Cooper was among the most active players, registering the third-highest number of touches (69), which was more than Kalvin Phillips and any of Leeds’ attack, whilst one of his 34 accurate passes resulted in a key chance created – the same as James and Rodrigo, and more than Raphinha.
Yorkshire Evening Post reporter Graham Smyth was certainly left impressed by the skipper’s display as he wrote in his post-match ratings column: ‘Solid with few mistakes, lots of full-blooded defending and aerial battles.’
Whilst young goalkeeper Illan Meslier will take plenty of the plaudits for keeping out Palace’s seven attempts on goal, it was the colossal captain in front of him that helped thwart the home side to stop there being way more chances on the night.
As such, the £35k-per-week Cooper was Marsch’s big shining light down in south-east London.