TO HIS credit, however the relationship soured, Garry Monk made a fist of turning water into wine at Leeds United. On Saturday Thomas Christiansen served up champagne, timed nicely for the birthday of an owner who cannot have seen many as happy as his 43rd yesterday.
Andrea Radrizzani stood by the home dug-out and sipped a modest bottle of lager after Elland Road emptied and Burton Albion beat a sore retreat but Leeds are at the top table and drinking in style after six games of the season.
Radrizzani was born in 1974, two days before Leeds put a stake through the ill-advised appointment of Brian Clough as manager.
United filleted Clough’s son Nigel on Saturday, leaving the Burton boss with no choice but to fete a club who do not rank among his favourites.
Is this Leeds squad promotion material?
“If they play like that, certainly,” a shell-shocked Clough replied. “They were excellent from start to finish. They were top class.”
The thing is that as a striker you need the confidence to prove your skills. Today was a good start for him. A good performance and two goals will help him to get that confidence.Leeds United head coach, Thomas Christiansen
A 5-0 scoreline was no more than a headline. Clough’s players failed to answer 18 attempts on their goal in the first half and fashioned one of their own over 90 minutes in response to Leeds’ 30: a tired swing from a tired Jamie Allen which sailed into the Kop. It will serve as proof to future football historians that Burton in fact turned up.
Clough’s could only argue that a relative shoestring of a budget, his team were prone to bad days in the Championship. For Leeds, the rout was their biggest win for 13 years and the sight of a fifth goal on 59 minutes, neatly taken by Pierre-Michel Lasogga, brought the club unusually close to their record league victory, an 8-0 demolition of Leicester City inflicted when television footage was black-and-white in 1934. Christiansen’s players let Burton lie eventually but only after a good hour of torment.
Six games in, Christiansen has Leeds and the Championship on a string; his squad unbeaten, up to second place and without a concession in almost 500 minutes. Members of his family flew in for Saturday’s game and were given the exhibition which Darko Milanic’s hoped for when they travelled to watch the Slovenian for the first time three years ago. Milanic’s relatives instead saw him sacked in quicker time than Brian Clough.
Burton survive on their own turf and are already into double figures for concessions away from home this season.
“What I was concerned about before the game started was that I knew it would be a difficult game if we didn’t do things right,” Christiansen said. “The things we had worked on all week. But the players once again did everything. We took a good result.”
Lasogga, Christiansen’s newest signing, began the rout and his own professional revival by stabbing home a low, left-footed shot after Eunan O’Kane fed a pass through Burton’s defence in the 20th minute.
In loaning Lasogga from Hamburg, Leeds brought in something of a lost soul; a player whose star has dimmed in Germany and whose last start, in November of last year, ended in a 5-2 defeat to Borussia Dortmund and his substitution on 52 minutes. As Lasogga toiled and reached the end of the line with Hamburg, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang ran riot.
On Saturday, and in the best league debut Elland Road has witnessed in years, he scored twice – his second a header from Kemar Roofe’s cross – and threatened to score five, denied by the post and last-ditch blocks from Stephen Bywater and Ben Turner. It was a natural number nine let loose.
Leeds’ unbeaten form in August watered down the question of how the club would live without Chris Wood. Lasogga’s performance on Saturday seemed to answer it.
“He’s a very good striker and he proved that,” Christiansen said.
“They were two nice goals but he combined well also. He came good in support and kept the ball.
“The thing is that as a striker you need the confidence to prove your skills. Today was a good start for him. A good performance and two goals will help him to get that confidence.”
Clough, as finance dictates, has loaded his team with cost-effective experience; Bywater, Stephen Warnock, John Brayford and Kyle McFadzean. The flair and fluidity of Christiansen’s front four ate into it brutally, forcing Clough to substitute McFadzean before half-time, Burton 2-0 down and the midfielder carrying a yellow card after hacking down Samuel Saiz.
From the outset, Saiz and Pablo Hernandez conducted the orchestra as Christiansen demonstrated the range of his chess pieces by naming Gjanni Alioski on the bench. Burton danced to the tune.
“What we analysed and expected was an opponent where we had to play fast football, creating space and opportunities,” Christiansen said. “The goals arrived at good moments and that helps to unlock a team like Burton.”
After Lasogga’s first, it was a case of how many. Kalvin Phillips scored the second with a curling finish from inside the box on 35 minutes, the result of Leeds turning the screw, and Hernandez tucked away a penalty after referee Oliver Langford picked out a foul on Luke Ayling beneath a Hernandez corner a minute before the break.
In different circumstances the award would have been fiercely contested. Clough did not even mention it.
“My message for the players at half-time was to continue and finish the good work they started,” Christiansen said. “At 3-0 it was a moment to enjoy – respect the opposition and score more goals.”
Roofe rifled in a low shot from 20 yards nine minutes into the second half and Lasogga wrapped the win up five minutes later, stepping into space to dispatch Roofe’s cross with a hanging header. Lasogga left the field soon after to a standing ovation and, later, to his mobile phone to check for news from Germany.
His girlfriend was due to give birth yesterday and there was doubt last week about whether he would be in Leeds on Saturday or for tomorrow’s game against Birmingham City.
“I need to have a direct line with his wife to tell her not to have it until after Tuesday night,” Christiansen joked.
Fate, for now, has given up conspiring against Leeds. Leeds in turn have given up fighting each other.
On Friday the Leeds United Supporters Trust finished a mural on the M621 underpass on Lowfields Road, depicting the warming image of Howard Wilkinson and four members of his title-winning squad.
The paint covers two old messages spray-painted there in years gone by: Bates Out and Cellino Out. It speaks volumes for a club who think they have passed a tipping point.