This was a statement of intent: Leeds United are back

In the first of his new monthly columns for the YEP, poet and Leeds United fan Matt Abbott reflects on the club’s first week of Premier League action.

Saturday, 19th September 2020, 6:00 am
On the opening day of the Premier League season Anfield got its first taste of Bielsa-ball. PICTURE: Phil Noble/NMC Pool/PA Wire.

It’s a funny old thing: pride in defeat. But as Bielsa’s men left the home of last season’s runaway champions, they rightly had their heads held high.

There are positives to be taken and lessons to be learnt, but let’s not dwell on the minutiae.

This was a statement of intent: Leeds United are back.

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Pride in defeat can easily be misconstrued as being happy to lose. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. We’re not here to survive or to make up the numbers. To sit back, or to compromise, or to cling on.

We equalised three times at Anfield and had two disallowed for offside. I don’t think I was alone in fearing the worst when Mo Salah smashed home his penalty after four minutes.

And for a short spell afterwards, we barely managed to leave our own half.

But then something clicked, and the peacocks’ feathers spread to match the liver birds’, and on 12 minutes, we were level. It was surreal, and exhilarating, and terrifying in equal measure, and we loved every second of it.

The similarities between Harrison’s goal in front of the Kop on Sunday and Hasselbaink’s in 1998 are remarkable.

Check them out online if you’ve yet to see it. And for the first time in 16 years, we can re-watch those top-flight highlights without it feeling tainted and bittersweet.

It no longer feels utterly inconceivable to be celebrating goals against the Premier League champions.

What’s most vital for us as fans, and for Leeds as a team, is that we can now approach the next 37 games without fear.

When Salah beat Meslier from the spot once again with two minutes of normal time remaining, the feeling was drastically different from his opener.

This Liverpool side are undoubtedly one of the best in the world right now, and we were toe-to-toe with them right until the closing moments.

It’s like a huge weight has been lifted from our shoulders. We knew what Bielsa’s side were capable of – we’d seen glimpses of it in the FA Cup tie at Arsenal.

But even with our skipper side-lined and a central defensive pairing who’d barely even trained together, we held our own.

What amuses me is how shocked a lot of people were by Leeds’ performance.

They knew of Bielsa: knew his name and his reputation.

But for some reason, despite what we did in the Championship, they were totally knocked for six.

Relegation in 2004 brought an overwhelming sense of disbelief and a fear of the unknown.

And in many ways, promotion in July felt the same. But that’s no longer the case. So, strap in. It’ll be one hell of a ride!