New head coach Marcelo Bielsa fielded an eleven of last season regulars at Forest Green Rovers, and it’s fair to say that the performance was encouraging, but there is still plenty of work to be done. New players are definitely required, especially in the centre of defence, as Gaetano Berardi stepped in to play centre-back in the absence of Pontus Jansson. Liam Cooper was alongside him though he does not seem to be a popular option with the fans at the moment. The formation was a little bit ambiguous, but 4-3-3 and 4-1-4-1 are the general shapes that were used, though the movement was very fluid so this shape was often shifted throughout the game.
Stuart Dallas and Luke Ayling provided the width of the team from their full-back positions as they were licensed to get forward as wing-backs while Kalvin Phillips dropped into a back three in defensive support. Ayling provided a serious threat down the right hand side, he was usually left in plenty of space to cause problems, especially in the first half. After such a performance from him, it shows that if he keeps it up, he won’t be playing centre-back much this season, despite what was first thought.
In the midfield Adam Forshaw sat in the middle of the pitch as he pressed the Forest Green midfield and defence, he passed the ball around well and when the ball went forward, he would also drop to cover for a counter attack. Samu Saiz was placed just in front of Forshaw, with Pablo Hernandez playing on the right. Hernandez would often find himself in an inside-right position while Saiz shifted to the left, briefly swapping a couple times while trying to carve an opening. Alioski was out on the left side with Dallas over-lapping him, though he looked to have been given slightly different instructions to Hernandez as he also gave a lot of defensive support on the left hand side. Kemar Roofe played up top, often moving wide for the ball or when the ball was down the other end.
Throughout the game, Leeds tried to keep the ball rolling without many holding the ball for too long. This worked well to create small but significant openings into the penalty area. These windows of opportunity had to be taken quickly; some were, some weren’t. The first goal came from a corner kick on the far left hand side, The Pablo Hernandez in-swinger found Roofe the the back post as he dropped back from the main swarm of green and blue shirts. A nice first touch before a rather simple finish gave Leeds United the lead in the 16th minute.
The second goal came from some tightly worked passing on the left side, dragging defenders out before the ball popped out in a bit of space for Hernandez who quickly whipped the ball from the corner of the box to Roofe twelve yards from goal. With one defender in-front of him, he waited a moment for Ayling to swing his run around to his right side. He handed the ball to the right back and his left footed finish put the Whites two goals to the good.
During the first half, Leeds had plenty of the ball and the defence were not really pressured a whole lot. Something that many fans found refreshing is the high pressing style that Bielsa’s side displayed, as the midfield pushed the home side to the limit when on the ball. Rovers snatched a goal back with a great 25-yarder from Forest Green’s Grubb, though Peacock-Farrell will be rather dissatisfied at getting beating at his near post. The defence seemed to fall asleep at the point which furthers the point that Leeds need some new defenders.
In the second half, Leeds continued to try and work those opening once again, though Rovers had found a bit of confidence and proved a more stern challenge for Leeds in he second 45’. Both teams had decent chances, with the home keeper Montgomery having to do the most work as the game remained 2-1 right up to the final whistle.
At the end of the game, Leeds had been given a good workout, all the players looked very fit as Peacock-Farrell told LUTV of the twelve hour days at Thorp Arch. The game had encouraging signs, with some quality signings and more work on the training ground, Leeds can challenge. Onto the next one, where the other half of the squad face York City.