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The Bielsa Way: All hands on deck as Leeds top Stoke

The Championship opener at Elland Road brought a 3-1 win for Leeds as the Bielsa era picks up it’s first three points in style.

Leeds United v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship
Hernandez scored United’s second goal.
Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images

The Whites started off the campaign in fantastic fashion as a fully housed Elland Road cheered on an energetic and aggressive Leeds team. Marcelo Bielsa began his reign as Leeds United manager in style as his Leeds United side recorded a 3-1 victory over Championship new-comers Stoke City. After a decade playing in the top flight of English football, The Potters and new gaffer Gary Rowett have been tasked with an instant return to the Premiership.

Rowett has so far retained players such as Joe Allen, Ryan Shawcross and former Whites loanee and England international Jack Butland. These were amongst the big names added to the squad, with Tom Ince and Benik Afobe dropping to the second tier. In front of a packed Elland Road, the Whites would only field one new signing; Scotsman Barry Douglas joined from Wolverhampton this summer for £3 million after winning the league last season, slotting in at left-back. Peacock-Farrell got the nod over Chelsea loanee Jamal Blackman while the rest of the defence was filled with fan-favourite Luke Ayling, Captain Liam Cooper and full-back Gaetano Berardi filling in at centre-half while Pontus Jansson gets up to speed with the Leeds team following his World Cup campaign with Sweden.

Phillips sat just ahead of the two centre-backs, dropping in when the full-backs pushed forward to support the wingers. Mateusz Klich partnered Samu Saiz in the centre, with Alioski and Hernandez manning the wide positions. Last season’s top scorer Kemar Roofe was given the nod up-top rather than new striker signing Patrick Bamford, arriving at Elland Road for between £7 million - £10 million in the biggest Leeds transfer since Robbie Fowler in 2001, he was only named on the bench. Summer loan signings Harrison and Baker were also on the bench, as was Stuart Dallas and Tyler Roberts.

As we have seen during pre-season, Leeds were on top of the opposition from the get-go, applying constant pressure on the ball, starting with the striker. Roofe put himself about for much of the game, Bielsa has demanded pressure on the ball wherever it is on the park, including at the feet of the goalkeeper. The players successfully applied the ‘5 second rule’ where if the ball must be approached by two players within five seconds of a pass being made to close out space for the ball until possession is inevitably won.

Although this seems simple in theory, it takes great physical ability to pull it off and for many times in this game, we saw that from Bielsa’s Leeds side. From winning the ball, the Whites moved the ball quickly into the attack, Stoke couldn’t handle it, especially in the first half. Leeds put the Potters under severe pressure and although Leeds may not have held loads of the ball, they made sure that Stoke wouldn’t bring the ball into the danger area of the Leeds half.

Leeds were quick to test Stoke and before long, the Whites took the lead. Here we saw Leeds once again working the ball around the box to find the pockets of space inside that must be taken quickly, though if the final ball is successful, the defence is caught of guard and the final finish can be taken from close-range.

Mateusz Klich’s opener was a perfect example, during pre-season he has emerged as a new man since returning from his loan spell back in Holland. Klich brought the ball out before playing the ball wide to hi left, continuing his movement into the middle. Saiz recieves the ball and skips a few touches inside on the edge of the penalty area. From here, Klich has snuck between Shawcross and Martins-Indi and Saiz finds the pass before the Polish international poked the ball home past Butland.

The second goal from Hernandez showed great team ability to go from the keeper with possession to the ball ending up in the other net. Peacock-Farrell started off the move, playing the ball to Phillips. The deep-lying midfielder played a high ball to the left, a couple short passes in-field gave Hernandez plenty of room to try and hit the target from the edge of the box. His low strike was headed towards the bottom left corner where Butland pounced. Though to the crowds surprise, he seemingly spilled the Spainard’s drive. As the ball trickled over the line, Elland Road erupted for a second time.

Norwich City v Leeds United - Sky Bet Championship
Cooper captained the side and grabbed the third goal in the second half.
Photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images

The 34,000 fans inside the ground were thoroughly impressed at half-time, the Whites had caused a lot of problems for the Championship new-comers, while at the other end, Stoke were struggling. Stoke were given a life-line early in the second period of play, a tangle in the penalty area between Douglas and Ince, Benik Afobe blasted his spot-kick down the middle. But Bielsa’s side would not be fazed as they may have been last season, five minutes later and the two goal cushion was restored. Captain Cooper headed home from a corner kick from new-boy Barry Douglas as he capped off a rather impressive debut display.

In yet another Championship opener, Leeds have been closely observed under a new head-coach, This has been the most promising first game yet. Recently it has been reported that Marcelo Bielsa calculated that it took three hours of work for each supporter to earn a Leeds ticket, and ten had his players clean the training ground for three hours themselves to learn and appreciate what the fans would do to come along and support them. The stadium had 105,000 hours worth of work to watch their team, and the players worked just as hard to deliver the Leeds United faithful with a fantastic first game of the Bielsa reign.