Gjanni Alioski claimed Leeds United were better placed to maintain their position at the top of the Championship table this season after a 3-0 win over Norwich City set up a fascinating meeting with Middlesbrough.
Elland Road will host a clash between the league’s first and second-placed clubs when Middlesbrough come to Leeds on Friday with the sides locked on 13 points and separated by goal difference.
United emerged from the weekend at the head of the field after another fluent display secured a fourth win of the Championship term at Carrow Road.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side eased to another straightforward and convincing success on Saturday through unanswered goals from Alioski, Mateusz Klich and Pablo Hernandez.
The start under new head coach Bielsa is reminiscent of the early progress made under Thomas Christiansen last season, when Leeds opened their campaign with a seven-match unbeaten run and topped the table in mid-September.
Christiansen’s squad fell away badly, leading to his dismissal in February, but Macedonia international Alioski said the momentum felt different under Bielsa and would be helped by the impact of a schedule which saw United’s squad back in training at Thorp Arch yesterday.
Last year we had good results at the beginning but we were not winning with the confidence like this.Gjanni Alioski
“Last year we had good results at the beginning but we were not winning with the confidence like this,” he said.
“We won 1-0, 2-1 but now you see we’re winning away at Derby 4-1, against Stoke 3-1, and here 3-0. We have more more confidence with the coach and all his staff. It’s really different and it’s nice.
“I hope it will be like this for the whole season. I’m sure because when we play like this, with the power we have and the pressing, the other team don’t have too many chances to score goals.
“It’s possible because of the work that we do in the preparation. After the games you can see how many kilometres we run and it’s really different from last year. We have training again now and no day off.”
The initial results under Bielsa, yielding four wins and a draw in the Championship, have dramatically raised expectations of a concerted promotion bid and Leeds will enter the first international break with a three-point advantage if they beat Middlesbrough at Elland Road.
Before that fixture, Bielsa’s side host Preston North End in round two of the Carabao Cup tomorrow evening. The United boss is set to impose a raft of changes having made eight before a first-round defeat of Bolton Wanderers.
Asked if Bielsa had the capacity to deliver promotion, Alioski said: “When the results are like this at the beginning it’s easy to speak and to say he’s the man. It’s better to speak after 20 games.
“The Championship is really hard and it’s a long season. You don’t have a break in the winter and it can all happen so I say it’s too early. But he can be the man. He’s changed much and we are playing better football.”
Bielsa surprised onlookers after full-time at Carrow Road by leading out his backroom team and insisting they tidy away rubbish from around the away dug-out.
Alioski said: “He wants this with the players also. All football players, they are the same, they leave things here or there, but he wants to change this mentality so we are clean. Maybe it’s about how clean it is inside the dressing room.
“The coach, he helps also, he cleans and takes things out. It’s a respect that he wants. He wants us to learn that it’s not only important about the football but also outside and away from the pitch.”