Imagine you closed your eyes at the end of the Derby game in May, and didn’t open them again until the first match of the new season.
And the first thing you saw was Kiko Casilla, dribbling around a striker in his own six-yard box. Just thinking about it has me gasping for air.
Kiko is confident, that’s for sure, and against Bristol City it was admirable, because it wasn’t shared by many Leeds supporters before kick-off. A lot of us are still reeling from the play-offs, and the swift double-sale of Bailey Peacock-Farrell and Kemar Roofe hit a lot of fans hard.
We didn’t need this on the eve of the season, like we didn’t need a Cruyff-turning goalkeeper after six seconds of the first game. Or so we thought. With that panic out of the way, Leeds set about proving that Kiko’s confidence is shared throughout the team, and it’s all, of course, drawn from a deep well of faith in Marcelo Bielsa. Perhaps that’s what the bucket is for.
Against Bristol we ticked off the doubts that crept in over the summer while Bielsa was away from the touchline.
Leaving £15m worth of Helder Costa on the bench didn’t blunt our attack, after all. Ben White, strong and calm, looked born to play Bielsa-style, something Pontus Jansson always seemed to be fighting against.
Jack Harrison carried his pre-season improvement into competitive football. Patrick Bamford defied his critics and invoked memories of, unlikely as it sounds, Ian Baird with a powerful front-post header. Pablo Hernandez defied his age and invoked memories of, well, a slightly younger Pablo Hernandez, proving that genius is timeless.
A major doubt after the play-offs was whether Leeds could do it all again, or if a second season of Bielsa would put too much strain on players who had already given him their best, and on a club anxious to please its unique head coach. Beating Bristol City 3-1 didn’t prove Leeds can do it all again – all is a long time in the Championship – but there was nothing in United’s performance to suggest decline.
There was nothing in Nottingham Forest’s opening defeat to West Bromwich Albion to suggest they’re any better than Bristol City so, at the risk of getting too cocky too soon – and if I am, I’m only following Kiko Casilla – confidence should spread to the pre-match stands for the game at Elland Road on Saturday.
That’s not insignificant; United’s home crowd never hide their mood, and putting an away defeat against a backdrop of player sales might have stretched new-season nerves into outright hostility.But, as of Sunday, United are back, and will be backed. By next Saturday, all being well, we’ll also be talking about arrivals rather than departures.
This summer, only Helder Costa got pulses racing, the way only expensively acquired attackers can, and Bielsa left him on the bench.
A stale feeling crept in around United’s insistence on continuity, until we saw those same-old players play.
But we’ve room now, and a certain need, for new faces, and perhaps a new impetus. If Kiko Casilla is unpredictable, Bailey Peacock-Farrell was unfathomable. Burnley think he’s got what it takes, and must think they know where he’s been hiding it.
And while Kemar Roofe was brilliant last season – I had him as a side vote for player of the year – that followed two years spent searching for his spark, and no guarantee of another season of moxie. I put a bigger question mark against his apparent preference for the Jupiler League over Elland Road; trying to get Anderlecht back into the Europa League seems like a poor way to spend a season, when you could be trying to get Leeds United back into the Premier League. Even watching Pablo Hernandez from the bench should tempt a striker. Both players are replaceable, and United have no choice now but to enter the transfer market with a late-in-the-window flourish. Who they bring in this week won’t dictate United’s ambition: the football at Ashton Gate was ambitious enough.
But replacing Roofe’s goals, for one thing, will make Marcelo Bielsa happy, and what makes him happy makes me happy. Apart from staying up all night with videos of the Icelandic amateur leagues. That’s all his thing.
l 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.