Wily Leicester City show beauty is in the eye of the beholder to beat Leeds United - Graham Smyth's Verdict

ROUGH NIGHT - Leeds United were beaten 4-1 by a Leicester City side who showed their own form of footballing beauty on a rain-soaked Elland Road pitch. Pic: Bruce RollinsonROUGH NIGHT - Leeds United were beaten 4-1 by a Leicester City side who showed their own form of footballing beauty on a rain-soaked Elland Road pitch. Pic: Bruce Rollinson
ROUGH NIGHT - Leeds United were beaten 4-1 by a Leicester City side who showed their own form of footballing beauty on a rain-soaked Elland Road pitch. Pic: Bruce Rollinson
Beauty is one of Marcelo Bielsa’s self-imposed obligations as Leeds United manager and one of the reasons he is so revered in the city.

His first obligation is to win games, but he wants to win them in a way that enflames the passion of supporters, he wants to win beautifully.

“I believe we have an obligation regarding the beauty of the game,” he said during a presentation in Affligem, Belgium in May 2017.

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“As managers of a football team we have two obligations, well actually one, we have to win. And the way you win is no longer important. And in my fantasy, just as there is financial fair play, there should be a punishment for those who ignore the beauty of the game to achieve victory.

“It is difficult for me to accept that the only thing we are going to offer these people is the results. Because if we do not offer them football as an aesthetic element, we are making them worse as human beings.”

Against Leicester City Bielsa and his players were unable to give Leeds fans a result or replicate much of the beauty that shone even in other defeats this season.

There were flickers in the second half, hints of the football everyone knows Leeds can play, but even the goal they scored in the 4-1 defeat didn’t particularly meet their usual aesthetically pleasing standards.

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Instead, a wily, experienced and clinical Premier League veteran showed that beauty is very much in the eye of the beholder.

With Jamie Vardy up front, Brendan Rodgers knew his side could still pose problems if they allowed Leeds to have the ball, sat deep, defended stoutly and exploded forward on the break.

Aided by some sloppy play from a team reknowned for the crispness of their passing football, that is exactly how the Foxes won this game, showing quality on and off the ball.

Leeds could have been ahead inside the opening two minutes thanks to a lovely move, but instead found themselves behind and always chasing the game.

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With Rodrigo self-isolating having come into close contact with someone who subsequently tested positive for Covid-19, Pablo Hernandez came into the starting line-up and some of his trademark trickery started Leeds’ first attack.

Helder Costa’s perfect cross was then headed back across goal by Jack Harrison and Patrick Bamford peeled off his marker but could only nod it into Kasper Schmeichel’s arms.

It was a sliding doors moment.

The goalkeeper rolled it out, Leicester sent it down the left channel and Robin Koch’s attempted back pass to Illan Meslier was poor enough for Vardy to intercept, round the stopper and give Harvey Barnes a tap-in.

A sequence of play so rapid that Sky were still showing a replay of Bamford’s miss as Vardy went past Meslier summed up the way the first half went. Leeds looked to create and score a beautiful goal, Leicester got it downfield as quickly as they could. It was no-nonsense but it was still impressive stuff all the same and beautiful in its own way.

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That early goal allowed Leicester to play the game exactly as they wanted, sitting deep out of possession, keeping bodies between Leeds and the goal, picking off passes across the middle that that too often went astray and then haring into space. Mateusz Klich and Hernandez were struggling to find men and at the other end, both Leeds centre-halves kept losing Vardy. His pace and movement have been nightmarish for defenders since he broke into the Stocksbridge Park Steels senior side 13 years ago and he's no less thrilling to watch in the Premier League as he was tearing up defences for Halifax or Fleetwood on his rise to the top.

It was his near-post dart that allowed him to escape Robin Koch and dive to head the ball at goal, Meslier’s save brilliant but ultimately futile as Youri Tielemans followed up, alone, to make it 2-0.

Most of the rest of the half followed a familiar pattern, Leeds taking the ball up the field, meeting a blue wall and struggling to break it down, all the while conscious of the danger possessed by the visitors on the counter attack.

When going round the wall didn’t bring dividends, Leeds tried to go through it, first through Hernandez, then Harrison and finally Luke Ayling, whose clever dinked pass put Bamford in on goal, the striker’s poor first touch allowed Schmeichel to make the save.

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Bielsa replaced Shackleton with Ian Poveda at half-time and changed the shape, Harrison playing inside Costa who was now on the left wing. Leicester, all of a sudden, did not look anywhere near as comfortable. And when Leeds pulled a goal back it heightened the discomfort.

A short corner routine saw the ball pushed back to Stuart Dallas, 30-plus yards from goal on the left and his swinging cross was not only allowed to bounce but to creep inside the far post.

Another corner from the same side was half-cleared as far as Hernandez and he took it down, beat a man and curled the ball out of Schmeichel’s reach and onto the woodwork. That was about as beautiful as it got.

Bielsa elected to make another change with 23 minutes left, sending on Tyler Roberts for Hernandez who showed his displeasure with the decision, having finally started to enjoy the contest.

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Leeds, having had the blue wall wobbling for a spell, couldn’t knock it down. Roberts never really got into the game, the Whites got down the flanks but couldn’t find a final ball and even when Poveda played an incisive pass to put Ayling into the box, the right-back tried to win a penalty with an all-too-obvious dive.

Brendan Rodgers made second-half changes too and they had a definitive impact.

The first time the Foxes really created danger after the break, James Maddison’s through ball put Cengiz Under in behind the Leeds defence and he simply cushioned it past Meslier with the deftest of touches to give Vardy an empty net to score in.

His threat might have been dormant for a while but it was still there and had he not clipped the ball wide of Meslier’s goal after running in behind Cooper, Leicester would have been out of sight with seven minutes remaining.

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The late minutes brought nothing but more frustration for Leeds, Klich’s challenge on Maddison was ignored by Andre Marriner until a VAR check prompted him to watch it back on the monitor, a penalty the only likely outcome.

He pointed to the spot, Tielemans stroked it home and Leicester were home and hosed.

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