Gjanni Alioski's real contribution to Leeds United clash with Arsenal lost amid noise created by Nicolas Pepe controversy
It’s even more of a shame that the response of some cowardly social media users was to dish out disgraceful abuse to both men, including vile threats in direct messages and racist tweets.
Whenever something controversial happens in football, it creates noise, some of which is the perfectly reasonable thoughts of the right-minded and some of which is the tribalistic nonsense that we are forced to accept, thanks to the ease with which someone can contribute anonymously to our social media lives.
Pepe’s inability to handle Alioski’s attentions and the Leeds man’s theatrical reaction to one of the least-effective headbutts the game has seen, made sufficient noise to drown out what should have been said in relation to the North Macedonian after the game.
Kieran Tierney’s half hearted attempts to convince everyone he wanted to confront Alioski, at full-time, did little to help.
It was left to Marcelo Bielsa to do his level best to steer the conversation back on track after the game, although he did initially come across like a parent who swears their child is simply high spirited, not unruly or at all capable of the naughtiness of which you speak.
“I don’t think this is something distinct in Gjanni,” said the head coach when asked about his left-back’s nuisance factor and ability to get under opponents’ skin.
“It is the very time I’ve heard it. That’s not to say you’re not right. He perhaps uses these resources and I haven’t noticed.”
Bielsa must not know of ‘Gjanni-cam’ or the tunnel shaking or the disbelief of the Polish national team who turned to Mateusz Klich after their game against North Macedonia and asked ‘why is he like that?’.
“I said ‘sorry, he’s crazy’,” laughed Klich.
Too crazy, for Pepe, it would appear.
To Bielsa, he’s just a bundle of energy.
“What I do notice is that he’s a player with a lot of enthusiasm, with a lot of passion for every moment in the game,” said the Argentine.
“For example today’s duel with Pepe was a very difficult one and the winger that came on, Nelson was also a player who can unbalance. In this sense I saw Ali as very effective.”
It could be argued that he is not among the group of players Leeds fans expected to play a major part post promotion, given Stuart Dallas’ status as Bielsa’s first-choice left-back and Jack Harrison’s vice-like grip on the left-wing berth.
His presence in the starting line-up, while record signing Rodrigo sat on the bench, definitely raised some eyebrows.
Yet it allowed Dallas to play in midfield and give Leeds the numbers to play an effective, slick-passing game through the centre of the pitch. And Alioski did more than a job at left-back, against a side with top-class attackers, pace and skill.
Time and time again he drove the Whites forward, at pace, keeping them on the front foot, keeping Arsenal on the back foot and playing the game in the safest part of the pitch.
He was crucial to Leeds’ progression, covering a greater distance forward with the ball at his feet [325 yards] than anyone else.
He was crucial to retaining and regaining possession, winning nine ground duels and six tackles – half of which were in the Arsenal half – recovering the ball six times and intercepting it three times.
No one won more tackles or made more interceptions. Almost all of Leeds’ problems came down the other side; the left flank looked safe as houses for the most part.
When he had the ball, he used it well, particularly in the final third, where he had the highest pass-completion percentage of any player for either side who attempted 10 or more final-third passes.
His overall pass accuracy was a shade under 90 per cent.
He gave Arsenal a far more severe headache than Pepe managed to give him, creating two chances, one of them a big chance and getting four crosses off.
Energy is what Alioski is known for on and off the pitch and, as with anyone with the ability to make others laugh, or the willingness to play the clown, people fall into the trap of not taking them seriously or not thinking them capable of being serious.
He is the joker in the pack and while his high-pitched squeals and penchant for horseplay with both willing and unsuspecting team-mates must, at times, grate a little, it belies a serious football player.
For Bielsa, football is deadly serious and he trusts Alioski to go about it in the according manner, even in the Premier League, even against top teams and world-class players.
As Arsenal and Pepe discovered, he is no joke.