Leeds United 2 Villarreal 2 - Impressive Whites almost sink Yellow Submarine with signs promising for Manchester United opener - Verdict
Pre-season results don’t matter do they?
They do when you’ve just drawn against the Europa League winners.
Events since indicate that Marcelo Bielsa’s Whites are a different animal to back then.
The very first game of the forthcoming Premier League season will provide a decent measure of that theory when Leeds again face the Red Devils in their own backyard.
But whilst pre-season can be misleading, Leeds appear to be heading for Manchester in decent shape based on an impressive display against a side heading for the Champions League and Super Cup against Chelsea.
Villarreal might not be recognised as one of European football’s true heavyweight giants but the side nicknamed the Yellow Submarine will be facing the best teams the continent has to offer over the forthcoming campaign.
Victory on penalties in May’s Europa League final against Manchester United sealed qualification for the Champions League and also a one-off tie against Chelsea in the UEFA Super Cup which pits the Champions League and Europa League winners against each other.
With Villarreal facing that contest in just four days’ time on Wednesday evening, Leeds United’s final pre-season friendly against them looked like a sizable test.
Rather like Wednesday evening’s clash at an Ajax side who blitzed the Whites 4-0 in Amsterdam.
Four days earlier, Leeds had faced a team that actually finished above Villarreal in last season’s La Liga campaign in Real Betis who recorded a 3-2 victory in a game played in Loughborough.
Quality opposition - but United’s quality also shone through clear against Villarreal who were heading for defeat until the final nine minutes.
Quite what it all means ahead of Leeds’ second season back in the Premier League remains to be seen.
After all, last September the Whites were beaten 3-0 at Championship outfit Stoke City just 11 days before the start of their first season back in the top flight which ended in a superb ninth-placed finish.
Nevertheless, even in friendlies, wins are better than losses and Leeds looked set for another summer defeat against Villarreal when falling behind after just nine seconds of a game played behind closed doors at York City’s new LNER Community Stadium ground.
Whites head coach Marcelo Bielsa made one change to the side that lined up against Ajax on Wednesday as captain Liam Cooper made his first start for the first team this summer.
Jamie Shackleton dropped out of the side having been forced off following a blow to the head during the latter stages of the defeat in Amsterdam.
Diego Llorente and Junior Firpo who are recovering from knocks were also still missing whilst England international star Kalvin Phillips only made the bench having bagged his first 45 minutes of the summer for a United XI against Ajax’s under-21s on Wednesday.
Phillips had barely taken his seat for the Villarreal fixture when Spaniards went ahead with less than ten seconds on the clock.
The La Liga outfit featuring former Whites loanee Alfonso Pedraza stormed forward and Alberto Moreno sent in a low cross from the left that hit Robin Koch and flew past ‘keeper Illan Meslier for a bizarre own goal.
But Leeds quickly recovered and drew level in the ninth minute when Mateusz Klich fired home from the edge of the box after a corner was cleared.
United were giving as good as they got and whilst there were chances at both ends, Patrick Bamford twice went particularly close within two minutes.
First the Whites no 9 glanced a header just wide and the striker then unleashed a vicious effort from the edge of the box that clipped the crossbar.
Bamford and Leeds were then denied what looked like a stone wall penalty when Jorge Cuenca clipped the Whites forward as he latched on to a Raphinha cross but referee Tony Harrington waved away the calls for a spot kick.
But Bamford would not be denied and fired Leeds ahead seven minutes before the break when hooking home on the rebound from close range after Liam Cooper’s bullet header from a Stuart Dallas corner had smashed the bar.
Rodrigo was played through and denied by a save from Sergio Asenjo shortly afterwards but Leeds were good value for their 2-1 lead at the break.
Bielsa made a double change during the interval as Phillips and Tyler Roberts were brought on for Koch and Rodrigo.
Koch had formed the right side of a three-man centre-back axis alongside Pascal Struijk and Cooper, meaning Phillips went into the back line as opposed to his natural holding midfield role.
For Leeds, the second half was largely about digging and a couple of particularly impressive tackles from Phillips and Struijk helped United’s cause as Bielsa marched up and down his technical area as he does, bellowing out instructions at the top of his lungs.
It hardly felt like a friendly and Leeds almost went 3-1 up when Jack Harrison played in Bamford whose deft dink over Asenjo was cleared off the line by Raul Albiol.
Despite strong Leeds defending, Villarreal finally drew level with nine minutes left when United were left exposed attacking at the other end and Dani Raba eventually fired home from Yeremy’s cross.
Both sides then pushed for a winner and Villarreal looked certain to get it in the 88th minute as a looping cross headed towards Boulaye Dia at close range but Meslier somehow managed to save.
His efforts ensured Leeds held the Europa League winners to a draw, just as Manchester United did in May, only to lose on penalties. Spot kicks were not called for on Saturday evening in York.
No thanks. We’ve all had enough of them.
Leeds United: Meslier, Ayling, Koch (Phillips 45), Struijk, Cooper, Dallas, Klich, Raphinha (Costa 75), Harrison, Rodrigo (Roberts 45), Bamford. Subs not used: Klaesson, Drameh, Greenwood, McCarron.
Villarreal: Asenjio, Gerard Moreno (Raba 78), Foyth (Morlanes 45), Trigueros, Alberto Moreno, Pena, Mandi (Albiol 45), Pedraza (Estupinan 60), Cuenca, Yeremy, Nino (Dia 60). Subs not used: Gaspar, Nikita, Alvarez, Baena.
Referee: Tony Harrington.
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Thank you Laura Collins