The Yorkshire Evening Post jury saw Leeds United dismantle Championship promotion favourites Stoke City 3-1 at Elland Road yesterday. And they were very impressed by the performance in Marcelo Bielsa’s first game in charge.
Well, I didn’t see that coming!
I was convinced that the team that Leeds would put out for this game would not be strong enough to compete with a Stoke City club had spent £30 million.
I was confident that the team would be largely the side that failed us last season which it was, save for the inclusion of Barry Douglas at full-back.
But a combination of the Marcelo Bielsa effect, that had Leeds pressing high and working their socks off, and a lacklustre City that looked as though they had clearly not expected such a shock, turned expectations on their heads to give Leeds a fairly comfortable win.
Many of us had wondered what improvement Bielsa could effect on the players retained – and the answer seems to be plenty! The new questions are now whether this group of players can continue to play with this intensity every game and whether the gradual introduction of Pontus Jansson and the new recruits can build on this platform and improve us even more. It’s going to be fun finding out!
Man of the match: Kemar Roofe
Wow. With all of Marcelo Bielsa’s prestige, experience and tactical know-how, few would have expected a performance like that against a Stoke City starting XI like that.
After a quick look on Twitter as the teamsheet was announced, it was plain to see that many fans weren’t so optimistic. Barry Douglas was the only new face in an otherwise familiar team. But Bielsa has been lauded by Pep Guardiola as a coach who improves players significantly, and this was obvious from the outset at Elland Road.
The Samu Saiz we fell in love with early last season reappeared, while Pablo Hernandez shone too. The performance also showed what we missed last season in Mateusz Klich – a calm and smooth passer of the ball capable of making things tick in central midfield.
In truth, this rejuvenated Leeds team made Stoke look poor, with Tom Ince their only bright spark. We’ll no doubt see better things of Stoke this season, but the main question is if Leeds can build on this performance?
Man of the match: Mateusz Klich
It’s very hard to explain why most of the players, Barry Douglas apart, were the ones that faltered so badly last season after an impressive start.
This season they are more intense, first to the ball and effort wherever you looked on the pitch. Strong defensively, with captain Liam Cooper marshalling his co-defenders, very busy in midfield with my man of the match, Mateusz Klitch, in every piece of the action, he was superbly supported by Kalvin Phillips.
With Phillips and Klitch taking care of the ‘muscle’ in the middle, Gjanni Alioski, Samu Siaz and Pablo Hernandez could weave their magic to help Leeds open up a two-goal lead.
A debatable penalty gave Stoke hope, but a delightful corner into the heart of their defence minutes later was met by the head of Liam Cooper.
Despite the introduction of “nuisance” Peter Crouch, it was never going to stop Leeds winning. A great start to the campaign and I’m very hopeful the influence of Marcelo Bielsa will continue to give Leeds a good start to the season.
Man of the match: Mateusz Klich
There was always an inkling, more a hope than an expectation, but a thought we dared not vocalise that maybe Marcelo Bielsa could actually work some magic and turn last year’s failures into a well-oiled machine.
On yesterday’s evidence, he has done, and then some.
This was a superb performance for a team that is clearly very fit and well drilled and these same players played with a discipline and determination that was totally absent for large parts of last season.
In one sense we need to take it in our stride, we started last season well and tailed off early once teams had worked out how to beat us and that could easily happen again. But we should also enjoy this.
Whereas last year we looked good against Bolton, Sunderland and Burton, it is no small achievement to beat one of the league favourites.
Everybody played their part in a memorable win but captain Cooper proved his critics wrong (again) with a fine performance and a goal for good measure.
More of this please.
Man of the match: Liam Cooper
Rising from my seat at full time, floating beyond the roof of the East Stand, I banked over the goal at the South Stand where Mateusz Klich had slipped in that masterpiece of a goal.
Thinking of Pablo Hernandez’s well-worked second goal, my thoughts were rudely interrupted by Benik Afobe’s penalty for Stoke, before normal service was resumed, with Liam Cooper’s bullet header.
Dipping my left hand I banked to fly down Elland Road and on over the city. The strains of ‘Leeds are going up’ drifted on the still evening air.
I smiled to myself as I swerved to avoid the spire atop the DWP building. I’m too old in the tooth to get carried away.
With home in view, I descended and landed softly on the doorstep.
My wife was at her mother’s but not to worry, she had arranged for South American songbird Shakira to cook my tea.
“Being a Leeds fan must be so exciting,” said Shakira.
And it’s only going to get better.
Man of the match: Liam Cooper
A Scorching hot afternoon brought favourites Stoke City to Elland Road.
The team selection was predictable and consisted of the group who played in the senior pre season games plus Mateusz Klich and Barry Douglas.
United started like a house on fire and were just too much for a bemused Stoke side who were on the back foot for most of the first half.
The noise was deafening when Klich stretched to meet a fine through ball giving Leeds the lead after fifteen minutes.
United continued to dominate despite a speculative shot from Tom Ince which hit the crossbar with BPF beaten.
On the stroke of half-time Pablo Hernandez made it 2-0 when Jack Butland failed to hold his shot.
On 52 minutes, City’s Benik Afobe reduced the deficit with a well-taken penalty after Douglas was supposed to have fouled Tom Ince. Five minutes later Douglas fired a great low corner across for Liam Cooper to restore the lead.
A fine performance from a confident team.
Man of the match Barry Douglas