Leeds United 2 Rotherham United 0: A test of patience but the same conclusion - The Last Word
AFTER seeing Leeds United maintain their perfect start to the season with a 2-0 victory against Rotherham United, the YEP's Lee Sobot has the last word on the talking points arising from Saturday's victory against the Millers.
Doing it the hard way
Marcelo Bielsa's Whites faced a very different test against Rotherham to the Championship assignments that presented themselves against Stoke City and Derby County with the Millers not surprisingly extremely intent on stifling out United's attacks.
That's not to say that Saturday's visitors offered no attacking threat and on the contrary the Millers were extremely unlucky not to score at least twice in the first half with Leeds saved once by Bailey Peacock-Farrell and again by the post.
But in possession, Bielsa's Leeds faced a new test of unlocking a side who quite often had every player bar striker Michael Smith deep in their own half and behind the ball within a very confined space.
Added to that, Semi Ajayi tracked Samuel Saiz's every move with the Millers clearly looking to frustrate Bielsa's naturally free-flowing Whites by ensuring space was at a premium.
Rotherham will not be the only team to adapt such a ploy upon visiting Elland Road this term and the good news for Leeds is that the Whites passed what could have been a frustrating test with flying colours, albeit with a bit of good fortune in terms of Rotherham's missed chances.
Bielsa felt that Rotherham tired slightly in the second half, making their intense defensive work harder to maintain and ultimately allowing United to make the breakthrough.
Kalvin Phillips insisted a few weeks ago that there would be few if any teams in the Championship who would match Bielsa's Leeds for fitness and that is now becoming extremely evident.
Despite being held until the 49th minute, United kept their composure, did not panic and kept plugging away with their intense pressing and free-flowing passing football which ultimately and deservedly won the day.
United's opener might have come from a corner but the build up to Kemar Roofe's strike was a joy to witness and a very dominant Leeds could and should have scored more than two in the second half.
Three teams have now tried to stop Bielsa's Whites in their tracks - four including Carabao Cup visitors Bolton Wanderers - and on Saturday's evidence Leeds are more than capable of unlocking a team who by and large arrive at Elland Road to defend in numbers whilst looking to score on the counter.
This week's trips to Swansea City and Norwich City - where the onus will be on the hosts to attack - could actually suit Leeds even better.
Bielsa not surprisingly named the same starting XI for the third Championship game in succession, resisting any temptation to give Swedish international centre-back Pontus Jansson his first start of the season in place of Gaetano Berardi at centre-back.
Berardi was given the nod in United's opening game against Stoke with Jansson having made a late return to training following World Cup duty with Sweden and Berardi has grasped his opportunity with both hands.
There is no denying that the 29-year-old is a natural full back and Berardi did look stretched at times against Derby but the Swiss footballer again put in a decent shift next to Cooper with United keeping a clean sheet and Berardi will now be looking at his fourth league start in a row for Tuesday's clash at Swansea.
Summer striker signing Patrick Bamford remains the other big hitter on the Leeds bench with Kemar Roofe having been given the opportunity to start United's season opener against Stoke in the lone striker role over Bamford having benefited from a full pre-season.
To say that Roofe has grasped that opportunity with both hands would be the understatement of the year with his third goal of the season arguably his best yet considering not just the striker's burst of pace and finish but also the build-up that began in United's own left hand corner.
In short, Roofe again looks a banker to start at Swansea with United again looking destined to again be unchanged fitness permitting though Bielsa was not afraid to highlight the fact that United's crosses from the left could have been better.
"On the left we had less offensive actions and our crosses were not very good," the head coach admitted.
With Stuart Dallas injured, Manchester City loanee Jack Harrison is the obvious wing alternative at present and Harrison plus Chelsea loanee duo Jamal Blackman and Lewis Baker will naturally be seeking as much first team football as possible during their spells at Elland Road.
But the first XI looks untouchable at present with Dallas and Adam Forshaw set to present Leeds more options when returning from injury though on current evidence only to the bench.
Better still, Whites managing director Angus Kinnear admitted in his programme notes that "one or two opportunities are likely to present themselves" in the remaining loan window which closes on August 31.
Bielsa is thought to be keen on adding another wing option and for all that Cooper and Berardi have been outstanding, there remains a feeling that another centre back option would be useful in addition to another holding midfielder, in effect to replace Ronaldo Vieira.
But the performance of United's starting XI is brilliantly summed up by the fact that after just three league games, already every outfield player apart from Berardi has provided a goal or an assist.
That's some going and even Berardi himself nearly scored against the Millers.
The final final word on the back of Saturday's victory against Rotherham should be about Bielsa who has become the first United boss in history to win their first four games in charge.
That is an incredible and scarcely believable statistic given the club's 99-year history and some of the managers that have passed through the doors but Bielsa is clearly up there with the managerial best.
As Millers boss Paul Warne said himself: "There’s sheep and there’s shepherds. He’s definitely a shepherd.”
You don't receive the praise that Bielsa has had from Pep Guardiola and Mauricio Pochettino for nothing and United really have pulled off a masterstroke with his appointment.
Speak to any United player and it becomes very apparent that Bielsa's attention to detail is obsessive, as his desire to want nothing but the very best.
It goes without saying that his tactical nous is genius.
Yes, we are still only three games into the new season but already Leeds are the only team left in the Championship with a 100 per cent record with second-placed United one point behind Middlesbrough but with game in hand.
Bielsa is right to make sure United's players keep grounded but something special is happening at Leeds and the main question is can this high energy, pressing football be maintained and does United's squad have the strength in depth to cope?
It should be remembered that United's 18 on Saturday did not even include injured duo Dallas or Forshaw or Tyler Roberts with Tom Pearce preferred to Roberts on the bench.
If United's squad can cope with Bielsa's demands and injuries are kind then things are looking very good indeed with Leeds now as short as 4-1 favourites to win the division, ahead of Middlesbrough at 6s and West Brom at 8s.
A Baggies side now featuring Dwight Gayle looked very good indeed in hammering QPR 7-1 though QPR equally looked hapless.
As far as Leeds are concerned, this week's trips to Swansea and Norwich will tell us more but there is no reason why United cannot make it five Championship wins out of five, for all that Swansea in particular will likely present a stern test.
That said, the Swans have not exactly looked spectacular, something that cannot be said about Leeds