Leeds United began the Marcelo Bielsa era at Elland Road today as the only Championship match of the season, allowing almost every single interested eye in England, and really around the world, the chance to see what kind of magic that the legendary manager could work with a squad that had limped to a dreadful finish to the campaign.
However despite having almost identical ingredients to the previous managers, the new chef in charge of Leeds got the team to play remarkable football and ran out as 3-1 winners, looking all the part of a promotion candidate. Of course, Leeds looked brilliant last August before crumbling, so any enthusiasm will have to be tempered.
The high press was in full display from the very beginning of the match, as Leeds put pressure early and often on Jack Butland’s goal. Leeds got a pair of corners early on as they looked for an opening goal.
Kemar Roofe caused some early problems for Butland, having a shot on goal blocked at point-blank range after a good cross in from Gjanni Alioski.
Mateusz Klich opened the scoring for Leeds in the 15th minute as he did well to stay onside and he latched onto a good through ball from Samu Saiz and put it past Butland, who had absolutely no chance.
Leeds were almost stung in the 22nd minute as Tom Ince got a clear shot on goal from outside the box, but his shot glanced off the top of the bar, luckily for the boys in white.
Leeds continued the high press, and continued to have chances go close. Kemar Roofe had a good shot go just beyond the post and Alioski had a powerful volley once again stopped well by Butland.
And so while it was mainly due to a mistake from Butland, Leeds will feel that they deserved their second goal of the match, scored in first half stoppage time by Pablo Hernandez. Hernandez took a speculative shot from outside the area, sent into the bottom left corner of the goal. It looked to be a routine save, but Butland spilled the ball and it dribbled into the back of the net for Leeds’ second goal of the afternoon.
I swear to God that this has been the best first half of football that I have seen a Leeds team play in ages.— SA (@Aravind_SA) August 5, 2018
Marcelo Bielsa you legend. I have no idea how you will keep this up for the season but boy was this good #lufc #alaw #mot
Leeds were in charge for the entire first half, looking very good and the high press caused Stoke a lot of problems. Without knowing which team had been relegated from the Premier League and which team finished in the Championship in poor form, you would have been hard pressed to guess that Leeds were the team that had finished the season in truly appalling fashion.
GOAL: Afobe with a cool penalty straight down the middle as BPF dives right. 2-1 on 53 mins and very much game on. #lufc— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) August 5, 2018
And because nothing is ever easy as a Leeds fan, Stoke got back into the team as a some dodgy defending meant that Ince was felled by what seemed to be a loose arm from Barry Douglas. Afobe took the penalty for Stoke, and he made no mistake, sending the ball straight down the middle to offer Stoke a way back into the match.
However, soon after the penalty decision went against Leeds, Leeds struck back. Barry Douglas sent in a fine corner kick and Liam Cooper, of all people, got his head to the ball and made Elland Road roar with excitement after the ball flashed into the back of the net.
Leeds had a chance to make it four in the 68th minute as Alioski and Douglas played a good one-two on the edge after Kemar Roofe did well to keep the ball alive. Alioski’s ball in to Hernandez was cheekily played back for Klich to take a shot, but his shot went just wide of the near post and out into touch.
Leeds sub: Klich off after his best performance for this club by a mile. Stuart Dallas on. 76 mins. #lufc— Phil Hay (@PhilHayYEP) August 5, 2018
Stuart Dallas came on in the 76th minute to replace Klich, and he played in central midfield because why not. Leeds did well to continue the pace of the press against the Stoke players, as the visitors made a few changes to try and work their way back into the match.
Peter Crouch was brought on late, and without the aerial presence of Pontus Jansson, Leeds struggled to deal with him in the air. However Peacock-Farrell was equal to the task, as he denied Crouch after a good headed chance was stopped by an even better save.
Alioski and Saiz both went off near the end of the match, and Lewis Baker and Jack Harrison made their Leeds debuts. The Chelsea and Manchester City loanees were brought in to try and finish off the match as Leeds looked to see out the match for a victory on the opening weekend of the Championship.
Stoke almost scored in stoppage time, but Peacock-Farrell made an outstanding save and Leeds almost scored twice off of the ensuing counter-attack. Dallas’ run should have resulted in a goal and Harrison just missed a header in the six-yard box.