11 destined to be immortal - Matt Abbott
According to BT Sport commentator Ian Darke, Leeds United’s players looked as though they were “plugged into the national grid” last weekend.
The final game of our first season back in the top-flight. Not to mention, it was a Premier League season like no other: an unusually hectic schedule, next to no pre-season, and no fans for the vast majority.
If ever there were a recipe for the infamous ‘Bielsa Burnout’, this would be it. Pair this with the fact that 10 players in Sunday’s match-day squad were also in Bielsa’s first ever matchday squad, against Stoke in 2018. It would’ve been 11 if Mateusz Klich hadn’t been given an early holiday.
Our achievement is phenomenal. If the Premier League suddenly slashed our points total in half on Monday, we’d still have avoided relegation. If we’d played no fixtures either before or after 1 February, we’d still have avoided relegation. And if we’d beaten Leicester, West Ham, and Chelsea at home, we’d have qualified for the Champions League.
Not to mention the graphs that show how much we outran and outsprinted; the ‘points per value’ calculations; the sheer number of defensive combinations in the first half of the season. The fact is, pretty-much everyone in the football world is shocked by how well Leeds United did this season. Apart from us. This blueprint’s been in place since the arrival of the Argentinian maestro three years ago. And it’s not built to rely on fortune or rolls of the dice. It’s built to win.
For most of us, though, Sunday meant a whole lot more than graphs and stats. There was the best part of 10,000 fans back inside Elland Road for the first time in 15 months. Teary farewells to Hernandez and Berardi. Overdue tributes to Charlton, Lorimer, Cherry, and Hunter.
And a vivid, visceral reminder of how tight knit the world of Leeds United is right now. The players, the blazers, the backroom staff, and the fans. Singing from the same hymn sheet, defiant as ever, and ready to rip it up again next year.
I want to round-off by paying tribute to Stuart Dallas. His accolades on Sunday speak volumes, but I don’t think enough can be said about what he symbolises. He’s played in at least four different positions this season and excelled in all. He scored goals, created goals, and played a vital role in a makeshift defence.
His lung-busting stamina and under-the-radar match-winning performances perfectly embody what Leeds United is to me. Sure, he’s not one of Revie’s hard men. Or one of Wilko’s troops. But he’s one of Bielsa’s machines.
Perhaps now, at long last, we’re witnessing another team that’s destined to be immortal.