Leeds United already have more established Premier League peers running scared - Daniel Chapman
Daniel Chapman has co-edited Leeds United fanzine and podcast The Square Ball since 2011, taking it through this season’s 30th anniversary, and seven nominations for the Football Supporters’ Federation Fanzine of the Year award, winning twice. He’s the author of a new history book about the club, ‘100 Years of Leeds United, 1919-2019’, and is on Twitter as MoscowhiteTSB.
Leeds United’s future in the Premier League is still not quite mathematically assured, but league position does not always reflect true status.
Aston Villa proved that on Saturday.
They’ll be sticking around for next season too, helped a great deal by the three points they collected at Elland Road.
They will probably even finish above Leeds, as they should.
Marcelo Bielsa pointed out before the game that Villa are a year ahead of Leeds at this level, benefiting from a full Premier League season of mistakes, improvements and transfers.
Saturday’s result said one thing about the two clubs.
The performances said another. Villa arrived with a plan – supposedly cooked up with help from Anwar El Ghazi, their winger who played for Bielsa during their few months together at Lille.
They stifled United’s creators, blocked space where it could be used against them, ran down the clock and reorganised the referee, all at the expense of their own attacking ideas.
A lucky, early goal was more than Villa had bargained for, and with that in the bag after five minutes, the remaining 85 were a heist, all about making off with what they had.
Aston Villa, in other words, were scared of Leeds.
They had good reason.
They felt first hand what Leeds are capable of at Villa Park, and didn’t dare risk it happening again.
They knew that in another game of football, they’d lose.
So they opted for something else, keeping the ball out of play as much as they could.
It has happened several times this season and it’s frustrating, but only because Leeds haven’t mastered a way of overcoming it.
I’m not even sure Leeds fully appreciate that it’s happening.
Two years ago they were trying to clamber up from the Championship.
Now many of the same players are in the middle of the Premier League, beaten more times than they’ve won.
They’re still themselves.
But other top-flight clubs rate them as a team to be feared, a side you can’t take on with your normal game.
Coaches have to adapt their tactics, players must work harder, focus more.
There are a few teams like that in the Premier League, against whom you have to dig in and hope for the best, like Manchester City and Liverpool. And, apparently, Leeds United.
Leeds have been elevated above their league position, the hot fear of their opponents like air in their balloon.
Our thoughts are already moving to how United can move forward next season, and part of that progress might be psychological. If Leeds could only play as well as other teams think they can, they would be very hard to stop.
It’s a power that Peter Lorimer, who is in everyone’s thoughts at the moment, revelled in.
Don Revie’s Leeds team was packed with enforcers, and the best players around were terrified of Billy Bremner, Norman Hunter and Bobby Collins.
Lorimer’s fearsome emphasis was at the other end.
That shot he had, sending hard leather footballs crashing into the net at 90 miles an hour, was a weapon nobody could disarm.
Even if you blocked his space, as Manchester City once tried to in 1971, Lorimer had the skill to flick the ball over their defence, making room for a 25-yard volley.
That one was better than Tony Yeboah’s at the same end, because he had to make it himself.
Nobody could stop Lorimer, but that didn’t mean what he was doing was easy.
People were frightened of Yeboah’s ability for a while in the 1990s.
Before him, Howard Wilkinson’s Leeds were intimidating champions, especially at home, where they couldn’t be touched. Away teams came to Yorkshire knowing it meant a beating.
But few teams struck fear into so many for so long and with such success as the side Lorimer played in.
Playing Revie’s Leeds wasn’t like playing any other team. You couldn’t do what you normally did. You’d lose, and you might even get hurt.
Pat Bamford isn’t that threatening, but no goalkeeper wants to see him on his left foot this season.
Raphinha can’t be allowed to dribble into the penalty area, but there doesn’t seem much point trying to stop him.
Nobody has outrun Mateusz Klich yet, and if the kid in goals is a weakness, he has a funny way of showing it.
Aston Villa couldn’t be themselves at Elland Road, despite their extra season at this level, their extra largesse in the transfer market.
They won the match, but they also paid homage.
Leeds have overtaken Villa into an echelon of respect reserved for the best in the Premier League.
If United can find the emphatic self-belief of Peter Lorimer within themselves, they might start getting the results to match their reputation.
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Thank you Laura Collins