Leeds United 2 QPR 1: Marcelo Bielsa's game management, Shack attack and a five point-gap - The Final Word

EXCELLENT: Leeds United's Adam Forshaw. Picture by Gerard Binks.
EXCELLENT: Leeds United's Adam Forshaw. Picture by Gerard Binks.
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AFTER seeing Leeds United win their fourth Championship game in succession, the YEP's Lee Sobot looks at a few key talking points and has the Final Word on Saturday's 2-1 victory against Queens Park Rangers at Elland Road.

Marcelo's masterclass

Whites head coach Marcleo Bielsa is clearly a man of principles and the 63-year-old revealed back in August that there would be no plan-B as such at Leeds, only to execute plan-A of high press, passing and attacking football better.

That football led to the 34th and 35th league goals of Bielsa'a tenure against the Hoops via a Kemar Roofe brace and Leeds were guilty of squandering several golden opportunities at 0-0 in the early stages.

But Bielsa recognised that evasive action was required with United 2-1 up and QPR bombarding the Whites box with "too many tall players."

Bringing on six-foot-five Finnish centre-back Aapo Halme for creative midfielder Samu Saiz with nine minutes left was not the sort of change you would associate with Bielsa's 'plan-A' but it was a change that was needed and one to be applauded in helping keep out the Rs for three precious points.

Making only his third appearance for Leeds, Halme again looked impressive and he could develop into a very important player as he gains experience.

Shack-attack

Bielsa was forced into yet more changes against the Hoops with skipper Liam Cooper and Stuart Dallas added to United's injury woes.

The Whites head coach opted to partner Pontus Jansson with Kalvin Phillips at centre-back as Samu Saiz replaced Cooper in a formation change with Bielsa selecting a back four that saw 19-year-old Jamie Shackleton bag his first home league start at right back in place of Dallas.

There were several contenders for Whites man of the match honours including the excellent Adam Forshaw in the midfield holding role but Shackleton produced an excellent display rocketing up and down the right flank in support to Pablo Hernandez and Gjanni Alioski who swapped flanks throughout the game.

It should be remembered that Shackleton is still only 19 and that he is naturally a centre midfielder. Furthermore, Saturday's outing was still only his tenth game in professional football.

You would never have guessed, with United's Academy continuing to produce the goods.

A Leeds penalty and a five-point gap

The final final word has to be on the fact that Leeds United finally got a penalty. Yes, it's true, and a point definitely worth stressing with Leeds incredibly having gone 14 months, 418 days, 58 games and 5,273 minutes of competitive football without earning a spot kick, a run which began after their 1-0 defeat to Reading in October 2017.

United had conceded 11 in that period and those within Elland Road had to pinch themselves when referee Peter Bankes pointed to the spot by punishing QPR’s Toni Leistner for handball, a decision with left Rs boss Steve McClaren fuming.

After a discussion with Pablo Hernandez as to who should take the spot kick, Kemar Roofe ensured United made the most of their rare opportunity and the strike ultimately sealed an important victory that further extended the gap to the teams outside of the automatic promotion spots with ten-man Middlesbrough only drawing 1-1 at home to Blackburn Rovers.

The fact that Teemu Pukki bagged a 93rd-minute winner for Norwich City to give the Canaries a 3-2 win at home to Bolton Wanderers was rather annoying, denying Leeds top spot and keeping Bielsa's men second and one point behind the Canaries.

But the gap back to third is the one that matters most with Leeds now five points clear of both third-placed Sheffield United and fourth-placed Derby County after 21 games.

Clearly, nothing is settled in the first week of December but there is no denying that things are looking extremely rosy at Elland Road with United continuing to make light of their injuries.

The task now is to extend that five-point gap further and another good opportunity beckons next weekend with Leeds at second-bottom Bolton as part of a weekend which sees Sheffield United host West Brom with Derby entertaining Nottingham Forest and Norwich away at Bristol City.

Better still, several of United's injured players are set to return over the next month to six weeks with Patrick Bamford back on the bench for Saturday's win against the Hoops.

Luke Ayling looks set to be the next to return with Bielsa revealing on Thursday that the 27-year-old would be back this month, a return which would be another enormous boost.

Furthermore, even in spite of Cooper, Dallas, Ayling, Gaetano Berardi, Tom Pearce and Jamal Blackman all being injured, Saturday's latest success was achieved with Tyler Roberts or Izzy Brown failing to make the bench with Brown now back available after his long lay-off. Options, and plenty more to come.