Leeds' late-season collapse only highlights USMNT captain Tyler Adams' impressive debut Premier League campaign

Tyler Adams Leeds 2022-23
The team's defense has crumbled in recent weeks and part of the reason is the absence of the club's No. 6

If you look closely, you can see the exact moment when Leeds' season truly went off the rails. It's gone so far off the rails, in fact, that Sam Allardyce has been brought in to try to fix it. In the Premier League, there's no bigger admission that things have spiraled out of control than a phone call to Big Sam.

That point, that moment, is when Leeds lost Tyler Adams, the U.S. men's national team midfield destroyer. Ever since Adams went down with a hamstring injury, things haven't been the same for Leeds, who now find themselves in very real danger of going down.

Defensively, Leeds are a disaster, which is the main reason they're in this position. Without their midfield shield in Adams, there's nothing stopping teams from taking shots at Leeds' brittle backline until it collapses.

Can Big Sam save them? We'll find out, but it's clear to see that the job would be significantly easier if Adams were involved.

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  1. Adams' debut season
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    Adams' debut season

    It didn't take too long for Adams to endear himself to Leeds fans.

    The No. 6 was brought in from RB Leipzig last summer, an old favorite of Jesse Marsch dating back to their days with the New York Red Bulls. But any notion that Adams was not up to the task were put to bed relatively quickly as he rapidly became a vital part of Leeds' midfield.

    Playing next to the more savvy-on-the-ball Marc Roca, Adams provided the defensive steel. He then went to the World Cup as the USMNT's captain, putting on a show against England, in particular, to silence any critics of his game.

    By the time the hamstring problem struck in March, Adams had featured 26 times in all competitions for Leeds, proving vital under Marsch and his successor, Javi Gracia. That injury kept him out of the USMNT camp for the Nations League and, more importantly for Leeds, the home stretch of their season which has, thus far, been nothing short of a disaster.

  2. Defensive disasterclass
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    Defensive disasterclass

    Any number of things can be blamed for Leeds' recent slide: instability at the top, struggles at striker, the manager, the schedule, whatever. But the main culprit, and yes there are several, is the team's defense, which has been brutally exposed in the weeks since Adams went down.

    In the 24 games which Adams featured for Leeds before his injury, Leeds conceded 35 goals, an average of 1.45 per game. Not good at all, but certainly survivable in this relegation battle.

    In the eight games since, though? 25 goals conceded, 3.125 per game. That, ladies and gentlemen, is relegation form. You can't give up three goals a game and survive. No chance.

    Blowout losses to Arsenal and Liverpool are excusable, of course, and those two teams account for 10 of the 25 goals. As a manager or fan, you can write those off.

    What you can't write off is the five shipped at home to Crystal Palace or the four conceded at Bournemouth. For those, there are no excuses. And it's those losses, as well as the recent late goal conceded in a draw with Leicester, that may just send Leeds down.

  3. What's gone wrong?
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    What's gone wrong?

    The short explanation? Leeds have no direct replacement for Adams. The long explanation? Adams had been masking deficiencies for some time.

    Adams' sudden injury wasn't the lone cause of Leeds' defensive decline. Rather, it just exposed the fact that the Leeds defense just isn't very good.

    Since their Premier League return in 2020-21, Leeds' defense has been right near the bottom of the Premier League in goals conceded. Last season, when Marsch came in to steady the ship after Marcelo Bielsa's departure, only Norwich (84 goals) conceded more than Leeds (79) as the club barely escaped relegation.

    During the summer, knowing their defensive frailties, the club signed just one defender: Rasmus Kristensen. In January, they signed another, Max Wober, who to be fair, is probably the best of the bunch.

    However, the Austrian's arrival was soon followed by Marsch's departure, and his recent absence through injury has done little to help the team's defensive issues.

  4. 'Really poor defenders'

    'Really poor defenders'

    After the 6-1 loss to Liverpool, Sky Sports' Jamie Carragher took aim at the club's backline, saying what basically everyone else had been thinking.

    "They’ve got really poor defenders – really poor," he said. "They make big mistakes every time they play."

    Kristensen hasn't made an impact since his arrival, while Bielsa holdovers Liam Cooper and Luke Ayling have struggled.

    Pascal Struijk and Robin Koch, meanwhile, have done little to help matters. Neither have Roca and Weston McKennie, both of whom have been miscast as destroyers, totally upsetting the balance of Leeds' midfield.

    The point is this: it isn't a coaching problem or a mentality problem or necessarily a tactical problem. The Leeds defense, by any measure, simply isn't any good, especially without Adams proving a much-needed buffer in front of them.

  5. Gracia pays the price

    Gracia pays the price

    The defensive frailties, ultimately, cost Gracia his job, as he arguably took what was already a bad situation and made things worse.

    Gracia, though, does admit that the loss of Adams is one thing that ultimately doomed him to failure, as he was dismissed in favor of Allardyce with just four games left in the season.

    “We had a squad that was hit by injuries that impacted the balance of a team that I wanted to make more solid and consistent," Gracia told the Athletic. "The injury to Tyler Adams did not help us because we don’t have so many players of this profile in central midfield.

    “He is a player who really makes a difference when it comes to interceptions and recoveries and he really covers ground. It was a big blow to lose him for the season, but we also had injuries to Max Wober and the winger Luis Sinisterra. This took things away from our potential as a team.”

    Under Marsch, Leeds played 32 total games across two seasons, collecting 33 points with a -8 goal difference. In Gracia's 12 games, Leeds collected just 11 points with a -14 goal difference, leading Leeds to where they are now.

  6. Welcome, Big Sam!
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    Welcome, Big Sam!

    Can Allardyce fix this? Is it even fixable? The answer is probably not.

    Anyone who follows the Premier League knows what you get from Big Sam: defense-first, hard-nosed football designed to get results. It usually isn't pretty, but it is usually successful. When Allardyce is brought in, the goal is to simply survive, with or without style points.

    This, though, may just be Mission: Impossible. His first game? Against Manchester City, of course, as Pep Guardiola's side continues to run rampant through the Premier League. After that comes Champions League-bound Newcastle before a visit to West Ham and a clash with Tottenham at Elland Road to end the season. A difficult run, for sure, especially considering the fact that are level on points with 18th-place Nottingham Forest, who play last-place Southampton this weekend.

    For Allardyce, the key to survival is fixing the defense, and he's going to try and do it his way.

    "They are comfortable in possession, seem to be able to handle the ball in attack, but in recent weeks probably one of the worst defensive records in the Premier League over the past 10 games," he said.

    "My call to those players is to be able to be more adaptable. Maybe that was not the previous manager's way of working, who knows, maybe he had one way of playing, and only wanted to play that way.”

    He continued: "They have to be better out of possession on Saturday then they will have to be in possession because they won’t be in possession as much against Manchester City, that’s a fact.

    "We have to be the best we can possibly be out of possession, which will actually give us a chance of gaining more possession than we would do normally, and attack Manchester City.”

    Having Adams around would have gone a long way, even with that schedule. A draw or two may just be enough somehow, and it'll be Allardyce's job to try and find those points somewhere in the coming weeks.

    The only way that happens is if Leeds stop conceding multiple goals a game. It'll take a miracle but, if there's anyone that can pull it off in these conditions, it may just be Big Sam.