Elland Road on Saturday found Leeds United at their most relaxed.
Amusement ranged from a young mascot kiboshing the club’s chances of promotion – “probably not,” he replied when asked by the stadium announcer if Leeds were going up – to a streaker whose ball control needed some work.
In between, where it actually mattered, the football left its own impression. Clubs like to look ready on the last weekend of pre-season and Leeds on the evidence of a win over Everton have their preparation under control. A winger should sign today and the hunt for that elusive animal is done. “We’re ready,” said head coach Uwe Rosler, turning his thoughts to the start of the season.
Rosler promised a certain style of football when he took the job of head coach in May and there is no ambiguity in the methods of his team. A young Everton side were met with the shape, the intensity and the pressing that Rosler promised and Leeds turned them over with two unanswered goals. They were contained for the best part of an hour and run into the ground towards the end.
It was easier to name the players missing from Everton’s side – Lukaku, Baines, Jagielka, Pienaar – than it was to list those included but as Rosler pointed out afterwards, the average age of the two line-ups was not so different and the inability of Ross Barkley, Steven Naismith and others to control the friendly was not his problem.
“They had senior players, some top players, and young talented ones too,” Rosler said. “It was a very good encounter.” Everton’s manager, Roberto Martinez, skipped the post-match press conference, perhaps an admission of the fact that he had less to enthuse about than his German counterpart. With Duncan Ferguson’s testimonial against Villareal awaiting him yesterday, Martinez seemed to take the view it was best to prioritise a packed Goodison Park.
Rosler never lets his confidence run wild but he had masses to talk about at full-time. His team were compact and disciplined, with exemplary organisation and pleasing knack of having numbers wherever the ball ran. Alex Mowatt’s opening goal was the product of a fine array of passing and Chris Wood’s 20-yard finish on 81 minutes was his first since joining the club for a fee of over £2m.
“We’re not finished and we’re not there yet,” Rosler said, “but that’s not a criticism. It’s normal because we’ve only worked with the players for six-and-a-half weeks. Some issues will take longer to sort out but in that short time we’ve come a long way.
“The team is prepared for the season and I said to the players ‘enjoy the weekend.’ From Monday we refocus on Burnley. We’re ready to go.”
Leeds’ first Championship game is ahead of them now, at home to a club who won automatic promotion to the Premier League in 2014 and were relegated immediately last year.
Rosler said before United’s friendly against Everton that his team for the visit to Burnley was not a closed shop but when the final whistle came on Saturday, he did not pretend that his existing line-up was about to change drastically. “You’ve seen the consistency we’ve shown in the last three or four games,” he said. “I think that answers the question.”
The only change of note is likely to come if Stuart Dallas, as expected, completes his transfer to Elland Road from Brentford today.
Rosler is preparing to sign the winger for the second time having taken him to Brentford three years ago and Leeds will pay around £1.3m for his signature once he passes a medical.
Souleymane Doukara manned the left wing on Saturday and was involved in a sequence of passes which played Mowatt into score on 57 minutes but the Frenchman’s input, and that of other players in that role this summer, explained again why Rosler wants a winger like Dallas on board.
Mowatt had earlier produced the best of the first-half efforts, curling a shot wide from outside the box after Wood chested down Giuseppe Bellusci’s clearance and invited Lewis Cook to break forward. Everton were toothless without the injured Romelu Lukaku but bullied too by Sol Bamba, a defender who Leeds are expected to name as club captain this week.
Martinez watched his team’s clearest opportunity go begging early in the second half when substitute Conor McAleny steered a free header close enough to Marco Silvestri for the goalkeeper to parry it and Leeds scored with their next attack.
Pass followed pass through midfield before Doukara read Sam Byram’s run towards the edge of Everton’s box. Byram’s backheel to Mowatt was followed by a 1-2 between them which left Everton dancing in circles and Mowatt free inside the box. He swept his shot high into Joel’s net.
“Those are the goals I like to see from my teams,” Rosler said. “In the first half our shape was very good. Everton found it difficult to break us down.
“At times we could have used the ball better and helped Chris Wood up front but the shape overall was good. The players were disciplined and organised. In the second half it was the plan to play Mowatt almost as a second striker to give us more offensive power.”
In isolation, Wood coped well, holding up possession, running into space and working an inexperienced defence who were still some of Everton’s better performers. His goal when it came nine minutes from time looped over a resigned-looking Joel with the help of a deflection off Antonee Robinson but the build-up was well worked by Tom Adeyemi, a convincing holding midfielder.
“I’m delighted for Chris to be off the mark,” Rosler said. “It does the world of good for his confidence. You want your strikers to score goals.
“Chris now has to grow into a player who plays 40-plus games a season. It’s a big ask. Wherever he’s played he’s always been an important part of the squad but for us he’s an integral part of the spine of the team. That’s his next task – to play 40-plus games – because I know he will score goals.”
There is a degree of surety about a lot of what Leeds are doing and a crowd of 17,000 felt it. Rosler was surprised by the turn-out. “Wherever I managed before, there was never 17,000 at a last pre-season game,” he admitted. “I hope we can create an appetite for the Burnley game.
“We’ll be facing a Premier League team, with Premier League players, a Premier League manager and a Premier League budget. That for us is the next big challenge. The fans know that and after today I think they’ll come.” He might just be right.
Leeds United: Silvestri, Berardi, Bamba, Bellusci, Taylor, Adeyemi (Wootton 81), Cook (Phillips 70), Mowatt (Antenucci 81), Byram, Wood (Morison 81), Doukara (Erwin 72). Subs (not used): Turnbull, Coyle, Cooper, Sloth, Horton.
Everton: Joel, Robinson, Pennington, Browning, Jones, McCarthy (Cleveley 46), Barkley (Ledson 76), Oviedo, Dowell, Naismith (Mirallas 76), Kone (McAleny 46). Subs (not used): Stanek, Mirallas, Cleverley, Osman, Grant, Walsh.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire).