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Six things we learned from Aston Villa 0-3 Leeds United

Alioski staked his claim for more minutes, Harrison shone down the left and Bamford left fans speechless as Leeds rose to third-place.

Aston Villa v Leeds United - Premier League
Ezgjan Alioski impressed at left-back after Marcelo Bielsa reshuffled Leeds’ back line.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Gabriel Agbonlahor must be seething. Just three days after he branded Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds a myth following their 1-0 defeat to Wolverhampton Wanderers, the Whites responded with their best performance of the season so far to end Aston Villa’s perfect start to the Premier League campaign.

There were countless occasions where the former Aston Villa striker-turned TalkSport pundit was made to look a fool for his comments, with multiple Leeds players shining despite the absence of captain Liam Cooper and lynchpin Kalvin Phillips.

From Ezgjan Alioski and Luke Ayling shining in their makeshift defensive roles, to Patrick Bamford scoring an astonishing hat-trick, here are six things we learnt from last night’s 3-0 victory over Aston Villa at Villa Park.


1 - Bamford is built for the Premier League.

Aston Villa v Leeds United - Premier League
Patrick Bamford had nine shots - four of which were on target - while completing two key passes and winning three aerial duels against Aston Villa.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Six players have scored a hat-trick in the Premier League so far this season: Mohammed Salah, Son Heung-min, Jamie Vardy, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ollie Watkins and now Patrick Bamford.

The player who scored 16 goals from a much greater xG count in the Championship last year is taking no prisoners in the top-flight, having retained his brilliant work ethic off the ball from his second-tier days.

Even before his second half treble, the ex-Chelsea striker was showing promising signs; on two occasions in the opening 45 minutes, he met the end of a Harrison cross having timed his run between Aston Villa centre-halves Tyrone Mings and Ezri Konsa to near perfection. Only the pressure from the two defenders kept Bamford from finding the target, as his shots instead flew narrowly wide.

Despite Harrison and Bamford threatening to connect like they did for the winner at Sheffield United, the number nine did not need the Manchester City loanee to put away his three memorable goals: the opener showcased his anticipation as Emiliano Martinez parried Rodrigo Moreno’s shot straight into the path of the striker; the second was an exceptional finish into the top corner from the edge of the area; the third a delicious dink into the far corner after taking two touches to evade multiple defenders in the box.

No further proof is needed - Bamford is built for the Premier League, and there is a reason he is a mainstay in Bielsa’s starting 11. Having developed his finishing, he is making up for missed chances by truly shining in the Premier League.


2 - Alioski has staked his claim for more first team minutes.

FBL-ENG-PR-ASTON VILLA-LEEDS
Ezgjan Alioski completed 90 minutes for Leeds for the first time since the 3-1 victory over Derby County in July.
Photo by LAURENCE GRIFFITHS/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Injuries to defensive trio Cooper, Phillips and Diego Llorente forced Bielsa’s hand in fielding a makeshift defence at Villa Park, and Alioski took his opportunity to impress at left-back with open arms.

The North Macedonia international linked up well with Harrison as Leeds made regular inroads down the left wing, attempting three crosses and completing three key passes with an 80 percent passing accuracy.

Largely coming out on top in his battle with Egypt international Trezeguet - who was substituted off in the 66th minute - Alioski also delivered a solid defensive and positional display which could give Bielsa something to think about going forward.

The 28-year-old will certainly remain in first team contention in the coming weeks, and should somewhat ease fans’ fears of future first team injuries. Leeds currently possess a versatile squad, and Alioski is among the most useful utility men.


3 - Ayling is a leader and can perform at his best even out of position.

Aston Villa v Leeds United - Premier League
Luke Ayling’s goalline clearance was a key moment as Aston Villa came close to opening the scoring in the first half.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

While playing at centre-back is far from unusual to Luke Ayling, being on the left side of central defence is not something he would have been too familiar with going into last night’s contest.

Even so, the stand-in captain put in a marvellous display, and proved himself to be among the best leaders in Bielsa’s roster; no Leeds player won more than his five aerial duels, and no one on the pitch blocked more shots (3) than the 29-year-old.

Indeed, Ayling quite literally stood between the hosts and a potential path to victory when he blocked Jack Grealish’s shot off the line while the scores were level, and a goal at that point would have completely changed the direction of the game.

Other than the loss of possession that led to Grealish’s chance, the Arsenal academy product did not put a foot wrong, and his leadership made up for the absence of Cooper. It was not surprising to see Bielsa singing Ayling’s praises in the post-match interview.


4 - Struijk will be disappointed, but Shackleton grasped his unexpected opportunity with both hands

Aston Villa v Leeds United - Premier League
Jamie Shackleton made an unexpected cameo with Pascal Struijk at risk of being shown an early red card.
Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images

The injury sustained by Phillips late on in the defeat to Wolves on Monday was met with dismay by some fans, and much of the following days’ discussion was dictated by Pascal Struijk, and whether he would be able to fill the boots of the Yorkshire Pirlo.

Having impressed in holding midfield towards the end of last season, and putting in workmanlike displays against Liverpool and Wolves, few expected to see the 21-year-old depart after just 21 minutes.

Already on a yellow card and edging closer to a potential dismissal, Marcelo Bielsa was taking no chances, and Jamie Shackleton came on to make his first appearance since the opening day - we may be seeing more of him over the upcoming fixtures judging by his performance.

The 21-year-old looked extremely positive in possession, and his pace was invaluable to the visitors as they looked to hit Villa on the counter. Bamford’s third goal came as a result of Shackleton linking up well with Helder Costa in the Villa area, as he used his quick thinking to complete a deft one-two with his Portuguese counterpart.

His defensive display was also noteworthy, despite the fact he did not directly replace Struijk, as he won one tackle and completed two interceptions.

His final product was the only aspect of his game that he lacked, as a couple of promising runs ended with Shackleton losing possession. However, this should not sway Bielsa from handing the youngster further opportunities - indeed, the arrival of Rodrigo and failed attempt to sign Michael Cuisance from Bayern Munich placed question marks over the midfielder’s value to the first team.

Do not expect the sudden first half change to become a permanent fixture while Phillips is unavailable, though. Struijk is likely to be handed another chance to shine in holding midfield, and his two accurate long balls and 93 percent passing accuracy prove that Bielsa’s decision to take him off was not down to the player’s performance; indeed, it was a decision that likely kept 11 green and blue shirts on the pitch (well, 10 - Illan Meslier doesn’t wear one).


5 - Klich can be trusted in holding midfield

Aston Villa v Leeds United - Premier League
Mateusz Klich did well to muffle Jack Grealish as best he could while operating in the Kalvin Phillips role.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

If Struijk is given a break from first team football, Mateusz Klich is the man to turn to. He may not be the hard-tackling, midfield engine that Kalvin Phillips is, but the 30-year-old has reinforced the fact that he can do the job after briefly featuring as a holding midfielder in the Wolves defeat earlier this week.

Dropping deeper after Shackleton entered the fray against Villa, the Poland international went on to deliver an all-round display, making the most touches (82) and completing the most passes (52) on the pitch, while making his presence known in both defensive and offensive situations.

While Struijk did not necessarily perform badly before his early exit, his booking in the opening stages left him vulnerable, and his lack of first team experience became more exposed. Klich’s switching of roles massively eased the pressure on Leeds defensively, and enabled them to resume their high intensity approach to winning the ball back.

Contributing across the pitch, Klich dealt admirably with the physical demands of ensuring Leeds had the numbers to drown possession from the hosts in his defensive third before overcrowding the defence at the opposite end of the pitch. This highlights how the skills he harnesses while playing in an more advanced role are transferable, making him more suited to the Kalvin Phillips role than one may have thought.

Mateusz Klich’s 82 touches last night.
WhoScored.com

6 - Harrison can ride the waves with Leeds, even if they achieve their European dreams

Aston Villa v Leeds United - Premier League - Villa Park
Jack Harrison was a constant threat for Leeds against Aston Villa.
Photo by Nick Potts/PA Images via Getty Images

Jack Harrison may never feature for Manchester City, but he has the potential to remain a star player for Leeds, even if the club achieves its long term aim of becoming a regular feature in European competitions.

The 23-year-old was one of the standout performers in the Bielsa masterclass against Villa, completing five key passes and five crosses while proving to be a menace for the highly rated Matty Cash to deal with.

While it was difficult to separate the sides after a relatively even first half, the winger shone throughout the affair, creating two big opportunities by picking out Bamford’s runs between the defenders in the opening 45 minutes.

Having deserved at least one assist before the interval, he became more of a goalscoring threat himself afterwards, and an attempt to recreate his Liverpool goal by dribbling past multiple defenders before firing on goal resulted in a save from Martinez in-between the sticks.

Lively, excellent with the ball at his feet and a creator as well as a taker of chances, Harrison has already achieved so much at Elland Road - yet his future looks even brighter still.

Poll

Which player (besides Patrick Bamford) impressed you the most during the 3-0 win over Aston Villa?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    Ezgjan Alioski
    (23 votes)
  • 38%
    Luke Ayling
    (88 votes)
  • 14%
    Jamie Shackleton
    (33 votes)
  • 11%
    Matuesz Klich
    (26 votes)
  • 21%
    Jack Harrison
    (49 votes)
  • 3%
    Other
    (8 votes)
227 votes total Vote Now

What are your thoughts on the latest Bielsa masterclass? Who among the star performers caught your eye? Vote in the poll above (viewable in browser) and let us know your opinion over @ThruItAllLUFC.