Leeds United 2 Bolton Wanderers 1: Eight changes can't halt Leeds' charge

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The queues in the car park stretched a mile from the ticket office, as if there was any doubt that Marcelo Bielsa is starting to draw a crowd. Eight changes to his team last night but the same brand of imaginative football and the same undeniable value for money.

Bielsa’s persona is selling itself and two weeks into the season it is tempting to think that the bargain in negotiations which made him Leeds United’s highest-paid coach was actually struck by the club. How much is too much for the architect of the football Bielsa is trying to turn out?

There is, as a 63-year-old as wily as him is always at pains to point out, plenty of time for history to judge this project harshly but there was a brilliant nonchalance about Leeds’ first two Championship games and a swagger which carried into the Carabao Cup yesterday.

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Even the opening round of a maligned competition has become an attraction with Bielsa turning the straw of last season into gold.

Patrick Bamford scores his first goal for LeedsPatrick Bamford scores his first goal for Leeds
Patrick Bamford scores his first goal for Leeds

Their 2-1 defeat of a heavily-changed Bolton Wanderers side was not the mesmerising display that Saturday’s annihilation of Derby County became but it said much about the depth to which Bielsa’s methods have seeped.

His system was identical, the attitude unchanged and despite their attempts to make Leeds play through them, Bolton were impervious to a counter-attack which spanned the full length of the pitch and ended with Samuel Saiz bringing up a 2-0 advantage in the 36th minute.

That attack saw United through to round two, providing breathing space after Erhun Oztumer replied seven minutes into the second half.

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Eight minutes before Saiz scored, Patrick Bamford registered his first goal on his first start, tapping into the feeling that everything around Bielsa was going to plan.

Samuel Saiz clears as Josh Vela closes in.Samuel Saiz clears as Josh Vela closes in.
Samuel Saiz clears as Josh Vela closes in.

Bolton kept that confidence in check by shaking some nerves after the break, growing into the game as Leeds grew shaky, but could not find a way to bring Elland Road back to earth.

The challenge for the players chosen by Bielsa – an unforgiving one at that – was to impress as his team had done in the spellbinding week behind them, making the switch between line-ups seamless.

There were six full debuts and changes across the board, though it went too far to describe a team containing Saiz, Patrick Bamford, Pontus Jansson, Luke Ayling and Kalvin Phillips as second string. Bolton, before half-time, could hardly spot the difference.

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The questionable size of Bielsa’s first-team squad does not equate to a shortage of ability in it.

Patrick Bamford celebrates his first Leeds United goal.Patrick Bamford celebrates his first Leeds United goal.
Patrick Bamford celebrates his first Leeds United goal.

There are players, notably Bamford and Jansson, who many expected to make Bielsa’s Championship side and others who can only sit on their hands until chinks appear in front of them. Injuries and bans are the threat to Leeds, rather than an endemic lack of talent.

On Monday, Bielsa wistfully recounted his experience of managing at Wembley with Argentina’s national side, before the Twin Towers came down and the stadium joined the 21st century, and in hypothesising about another appearance on the touchline there, he set aside the thought that he might embrace a typically English trait by disregarding the early rounds of the League Cup.

“Every official game is important to us,” he said, and the inclusion of Saiz after his exhausting shift in Saturday’s thrashing of Derby implied that Bielsa meant it.

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Saiz was given no time to coast, the automatic focal point of Leeds’ passing and impetus.

Lewis BakerLewis Baker
Lewis Baker

He took 14 minutes to unlock Bolton, knocking a chip over the visitors’ last defender, only to see Bamford bundle the dropping ball wide of Remy Matthews’ near post.

Bamford, having watching Kemar Roofe finish with aplomb at Pride Park, was among those trying to alter Biesla’s pecking order and his shot soon after – a foot away from 20 yards out – showed some intent. A goal was not far behind.

Bolton, for a while, were savvy enough to have identified the damage that gaping holes in the centre of the field allowed Leeds to do to Derby and Stoke City. Their risk-taking was conservative and their chances direct: Jack Hobbs heading a corner weakly into Jamal Blackman’s arms and Gary O’Neil skying a volley when Luke Ayling nodded a throw-in to his feet.

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But when the pitch opened up in the 28th minute, Bamford began repaying his £7m price tag. Possession spilled out of a tackle involving Saiz and Bamford pounced on it before working the ball cleverly into space 18 yards out and rattling a low shot past Matthews. Finishing like that was what Leeds went looking for after failing to sign Abel Hernandez or Matej Vydra last month.

It was Saiz, though, who ran the show, underlining the banner flown in the away end on Saturday which stated, simply, ‘Saiz Matters’.

His pass on 34 minutes was a repeat of the early opportunity served up for Bamford, falling perfectly to the onrushing Jack Harrison at close range. With only Matthews to beat, Harrison hacked his finish beyond the near post.

Patrick Bamford strikes Leeds opening goal.Patrick Bamford strikes Leeds opening goal.
Patrick Bamford strikes Leeds opening goal.

That reprieve was temporary and very brief. Two minutes later, Bolton bombed another throw into Blackman’s area and were caught upfield as Leeds broke in an instant.

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Lewis Baker teed up Saiz in the box, inviting the Spaniard to bring the ball under control and bury it cleanly as defenders massed around him.

Game over with the bulk of the match to play, or so it seemed.

There was, it transpired, some fun to come. Marc Wilson got the benefit of the doubt when a cross from 18-year-old Jamie Shackleton, fielded at right-back, struck his arm in Bolton’s box and the visitors, with little to lose, made a game of the last half-hour when loose defending from Leeds gave Erhun Oztumer space to ping a kind ricochet into the bottom corner of Blackman’s net.

In brief moments, a penalty shoot-out was on the cards. Jonathan Grounds lashed a rebound hopelessly wide after Blackman got down to meet Yanic Wildschut’s bullet and Wildschut found the goalkeeper’s hands after sprinting clear with 17 minutes left.

The swagger had faded and a ragged second half gave Bielsa something to mull over but with three games down, the revolution rolls on.