Lethal, leaky Leeds United not making sense but at least win over Fulham was lots of fun - Graham Smyth's Verdict

This is the year in which nothing seems to make sense anymore, so why should Leeds United be any different?

By Graham Smyth
Sunday, 20th September 2020, 5:42 am
LETHAL - Patrick Bamford has two in two games, as does Helder Costa after his brace against Fulham for Leeds United. Pic: Getty
LETHAL - Patrick Bamford has two in two games, as does Helder Costa after his brace against Fulham for Leeds United. Pic: Getty

It doesn't make sense that a team who became known for the tightest of defences should start shipping goals left, right and centre, struggling with balls into the box and giving away penalties for fun.

Nor does it compute that an attack that for two full seasons under Marcelo Bielsa required a plethora of chances to score a goal should start being so ruthlessly efficient, scoring goals for fun.

Leeds scored from all three of their shots on target against champions Liverpool in a 4-3 defeat. They scored four from the seven they mustered in a 4-3 win over Fulham.

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It's all a bit mad, but not the madness that Bielsa is known for. His madness is not a reckless abandonment of defence in favour of basketball-style end-to-end high-scoring feasts. At Elland Road attack has become defence but it's a smothering attack that takes the ball off opposition teams deep in their own half and then refuses to give it back.

This was not the case when Fulham came to visit for their second behind-closed-doors game at Elland Road this year.

And while Bielsa may have pointed out that no conclusions can be drawn or tendencies found with such a small sample size, Leeds are lethal and it's incredible to watch so long may the senseless destruction of opposition defences continue.

If he is as good as his word and they can identify and rectify the issues behind the defensive frailty, while retaining this new-found goalscoring efficiency, football could be at least a little more palatable in this behind-closed-doors new normal.

COOL - Mateusz Klich rolled home a penalty and slid in a through ball for Patrick Bamford's goal against Fulham, in Leeds United's 4-3 win. Pic: Getty

Nothing will fully compensate for the absence of supporters, however. If anything the more goals that Leeds score the more painfully obvious it is that football needs fans for it all to make sense.

The roar that would have accompanied the sight of Liam Cooper leading United onto the pitch for Elland Road's first Premier League game since 2004 would only have been bettered by the sight of Helder Costa thundering in a fifth minute opener.

It was left to banners, a Premier League anthem and sponsor wraps on seats to herald the Whites' return to the top flight and it was down to Victor Orta to try and represent the club's emotions when Fulham were drawn to the near post by a flurry of movement and Kalvin Phillips' corner found its way to Costa who lashed the ball in off the bar.

The Premier League looks good on Costa, thus far. But it still sounds hollow, as he runs defenders ragged and scores goals like that one, without the response his skill should elicit from the stands.

Leeds are a threat from corners now, by the way. Phillips produced some terrific deliveries and new boy Robin Koch attacked one in a way few of his team-mates managed last season, Alphonse Areola having to tip it over the bar.

It was a start that would have been met with resounding approval from all four sides of the ground, back when life made sense.

It was a good game throughout, in fact. Two teams who are both good in possession tried to play nice stuff, some of which didn't quite work out, some of which did yet all the major first half chances came from set-pieces.

When Fulham equalised it wasn't from open play, but a penalty, awarded when Koch took a good look at Joe Bryan's run into the area and decided to dive in. Realising his mistake, the German attempted to abort the challenge but the change of heart came too late and down went the full-back.

Aleksandar Mitrović beat Illan Meslier from the spot to restore parity, for seven minutes at least.

Jack Harrison's cross looked a good one, Patrick Bamford went up and then down, a helping hand in the back from Bryan sending the striker to the turf, allowing Mateusz Klich to produce one of his characteristically cool penalties, rolled slightly to the right of centre.

A tight affair, so finely poised at the break, soon got wildly out of hand.

When Klich slid a through ball into the path of Bamford for a composed right-foot finish, his second in as many games, it was a reminder that this can be a wonderfully simple game that we overcomplicate.

Leeds' fourth, before the hour mark, was a similarly straightforward move executed excellently. Meslier chipped the ball down the left, Harrison headed it on, Bamford left Denis Odoi for dead with an unexpected burst of pace and pulled it back for Costa to hammer in another spectacular finish.

At 4-1 up, Leeds were coasting to three points. Yet if 2020 has taught us anything it is to expect the unexpected.

Fulham had thrown on Bobby Decordova-Reid and when he drifted into the space between Cooper and Stuart Dallas, André-Frank Zambo Anguissa found him with a simple pass and the substitute whacked the ball beyond Meslier.

A cross from the right later and we had a contest, again. Fulham, dead and buried after an hour, were back to 4-3 as Mitrovic got up above Cooper and buried his header.

It threatened to get worse, Neeskens Kebano's shot threatening to creep past Meslier before the post kept it out, Mitrovic stealing in front of the defence to stoop and head just wide.

Leeds remembered what it was that brought them to the dance, however, and with Gjanni Alioski on the pitch and creating overloads on the left with Harrison and Dallas, the hosts attacked to defend.

Both Alioski and Tyler Roberts were denied by Areola and Harrison shot over.

Klich, a man whose career trajectory over the past couple of years is difficult for even him to make sense of, became more waspish than ever, nicking the ball high up the pitch, snapping at ankles and playing clever, neat football when in possession.

Odoi had Fulham's last hurrah, running a long way to shoot a long way over, and that was that, the full-time whistle and finally a chance to breathe.

Two newly promoted sides brought a little of the Championship's renowned insanity to the Premier League and combined to make an advert for both leagues - a hard sell is not needed, when the product is this entertaining.

But terms and less than ideal conditions do apply and the small print will tell you that this product does not come with an atmosphere. Only when Leeds are plugged into a full Elland Road will the Premier League be selling the total package. Only then will the footballing world make sense again.